Laphroaig’s annual limited edition release — dubbed Cairdeas, Gaelic for “friendship” — has arrived, and this one keeps the production process a little more familiar than many of its previous bottlings. To wit:
Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask features different ages of Laphroaig matured for more than five years in first-fill bourbon casks, then laid to rest for a second time in smaller quarter casks. Following six months of maturation, the liquid from 177 of the casks was bottled at Cask Strength — no color added, no chilling and a simple barrier filtration.
As Cairdeas releases go, this one is, in some sense, closer to mainline Laphroaig than nearly all of them, offering a heavily smoky nose with overtones of barbecued meat, black pepper, and bacon. The racy palate finds some sweetness to share, a vanilla- and sugar cookie-heavy encounter that melds, somewhat unevenly, with the smokier notes, leaving behind a finish that bends slightly in the direction of citrus. It’s a very bold whisky, stuffed to the gills with flavor, not shy at all about bending your palate to its will.
How does it compare to rack Quarter Cask, you ask? Well, the standard Quarter Cask is by comparison a much gentler expression that drinks beautifully and approachably, even at 96 proof. There’s a little less of everything on this bottling — less sweetness, and less smoke, too — particularly on the finish, where that citrus character, while present, just doesn’t make as significant of an impression.
Water surprisingly doesn’t temper Cairdeas Quarter Cask all that much — its flavors continuing to explode like pop rocks on the palate, almost overwhelmingly. To be honest, it’s a bit much, tossing restraint out the window in favor of pushing the peat pedal to the metal. Ultimately it’s fun as a novelty, but frankly the greater nuance of standard Quarter Cask is more to my liking.