Laphroaig’s latest annual edition, dubbed Càirdeas, is described by the distillery as bringing together “the best of much loved Càirdeas releases over recent years.” For 2023, the distillery went in two different directions: 3/4 of the whisky is matured in second-fill Madeira casks (which were the focus with the 2016 Cairdeas release), while 1/4 is finished in first-fill Port casks. The name is a little misleading, as they are not all white Port casks, but “the majority” are. While Port has appeared a few times in the Cairdeas lineup, I haven’t encountered white Port in Laphroaig specifically before.
Ready to see what Laphroaig has turned out for 2023? Let’s dive in.
Looking at the glorious golden color of the whisky and seeing “white Port” on the label immediately had me expecting a rush of sweetness. Rest assured, Laphroaig’s immediate rush of smoke and salinity hit immediately, the nose redolent with bonfire embers and sea spray. There’s fruit underneath that emerges with some time in glass, evoking white grapes and lemongrass, then a light milk chocolate note. Vaguely winey but masked by the high-ish abv, there’s a racy spiciness to the whisky that keeps things punchy throughout the experience.
On the palate, the smoke is tempered with a stronger element of fruit and sweetness, melding lemon peel with apricot elements, applesauce, and a drizzle of sesame oil on top. Naturally the peat doesn’t stay at bay forever, and a warming smokiness infuses the palate as it lingers on the tongue. Creamy and surprisingly chocolaty, the whisky never feels overblown or overly peaty, and I credit the brightness of the white Port for doing most of that work, even though it represents a small fraction of the finishing casks. The fade-out has a peppery bite to it, with its classic, lingering smokiness remaining vibrant and present. The heavy medicinality of many Laphroaigs is largely absent here. Depending on your point of view, that may be a good thing or a bad.
A- / $100 / laphroaig.com