My fondness for Laphroaig is becoming a bit of a cliché. I’m not sure these days whether I pick up the bottles I do because I’m fairly sure I’m going to like them or whether it’s habit. Fortunately so far I’ve not been let down, with the Laphroaig QA Cask, Sherry Cask and various Cask Strength batches I’ve found recently all hitting the spot. However, there’s one bottling that I’m certain I’ll keep on getting as long as they let us buy it from their website – Laphroaig Cairdeas.
Every year for the Islay festival Laphroaig, along with pretty much all of the other distilleries on the island, put together a special festival bottling. However, rather than making the bottle available just to visitors to the distillery, for the last few years they’ve opened up sales to their online fanclub, the Friends of Laphroaig, a short while after the festival ends. Since opening up the bottling to the Friends, whether they can get to the distillery or not, they’ve called each year’s whisky Cairdeas, the Gaelic word for friendship.
Most years it takes a little while for the Cairdeas to sell out, but this year with a raised limit of three per Friend it disappeared in a record three hours. Fortunately I got my order in shortly after it went up and a few days later my bottles (a pair: one for now, one for later) arrived. I’ve still got a bottle of last year’s Cairdeas Origin open so I thought I’d do a bit of a head to head.
Other than the colour difference between the whiskies, the big difference in appearance is the packaging. Laphroaig have just rolled out an update across all of their lines and this is the second release (after the QA Cask) that uses the new look. I rather like it, although the 18 year old seems to stand out in a rather awkward way.
The Origin was bottled in celebration of the 18th year of the Friends of Laphroaig program and according to the bottle it, “combines some of the original liquid used to first create Càirdeas, further matured and complimented with newer Laphroaig spirit that has been fully matured in quarter casks”. The first Cairdeas was released in 2008 and was made up of quarter cask matured spirit finished in first fill bourbon for 3 years (for a total of about 9 years in wood) and a pair of 17 year old sherry butts. So, the rather handwavy description of the Origin, a tradition when it comes to Cairdeas bottlings, implies that it’s some youngish quarter cask whisky vatted with either the quarter cask/first fill bourbon whisky from Cairdeas 2008 further matured for four years, or some barrels of Cairdeas 2008 left to marry and mature until 2012. I suspect the former1. [Update: it’s actually the latter2]
Anyway, on the nose there’s lots of prickly alcohol hiding syrup, swimming pools, ozone, heavy minerality, pine air freshener, rock pools and an unexpected bit of Bowmore-like florality. To taste it has syrupy sweetness up front, although it rapidly dissipates, with medicinal smoke running through the middle. It also has charcoal dust, sour apples, Savlon and the minerality from the nose – crushed lime- and sandstone. It finishes long, with charred logs, brine, stony earth, bitter liquorice pastilles, cinnamon and sweet, damp wood. Water knocks out some of the intensity on the palate, unlocking more floral notes, spice and fruit, although leaving the traditional Laphroaig medicinal quality. All in all a fairly intense whisky with heftier vegetal and mineral notes than I’ve found in an OB Laphroaig before. Water calms things down and makes it rather quaffable, like a more fully flavoured version of the recently released QA Cask.
The Cairdeas 2013 has taken a rather different tack to previous releases, going for a rather simple description of its creation – “double maturation in bourbon and port casks”. The colour alone gives the game away and it now joins my list of pink whiskies, bringing my dream of running a pink whisky tasting one dram closer. Don’t judge me.
On the nose it is soft and sweet with brine, salty butter, ozone, pine and seaweedy peat. Behind that there is a light florality and a plasticine/putty note. To taste it starts out fruity and sweet, with plum jam, raisins and gummy bears. It then gets more savoury, through spiced dark chocolate and bitter orange to ferns, light menthol, stony earth and some alcohol heat. Once you get used to the heat there’s more fruit, both sour and sweet, all mixed in with a dose of spiky, green leafiness – ferns and moss. It finishes quite sweet with more red fruit and a lingering minerality cut with cherry Strepsils. Water brings out the menthol on the nose, and amplifies the fern and menthol notes in the body. It knocks out the alcoholic hit while keeping soft red fruity flavours, although not as sweet as before. It can take a good slug of water, although it loses a touch of sweetness with each drop. I was surprised at how soft this is at full strength, with the alcohol only kicking in if you hold the whisky in the mouth for a good while. An interesting and different Laphroaig, balancing the port cask flavours well with the traditional Laphroaig medicinal notes and minerality.
A rather interesting pair of whiskies with a great deal of connection through distillery character, despite the differences in maturation. So far I see no reason to break my tradition of buying a bottle of Cairdeas each year, although hopefully next time I’ll be able to grab mine from the distillery itself…
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2010 Origin
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 51.2%. Was ~£50 at release, now going for £50-£70 at auction.
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 Port Wood Edition
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 51.3%. Was ~£50 at release, now going for worryingly more at auction.
1The original Cairdeas (2008) was 3600 bottles, which included two 17yo sherry butts in the vatting. Say they got about 600 bottles out of each butt, a ballpark estimate, that would give about a 1:3 sherry:other mix. Tasting notes about the level of sherry influence in the bottled whisky suggest that this sounds about right. The Cairdeas Origin (2012) is meant to be a 50:50 mix of the ‘original spirit’ and the new quarter casks, and has an outturn of 20k bottles, requiring 10k bottles of ‘original spirit’. This would raise the amount of Cairdeas 2008 produced to 13600 bottles, if the ‘original spirit’ were Cairdeas 2008 rather than quarter-then-bourbon-cask whisky from the same batch as used in the Cairdeas 2008. With 13600 bottles the ~1200 bottles of sherried whisky would be around 10% of the vatting, which would make it much less noticeable than is suggested in tasting notes, especially with the lightening in intensity that Laphroaig (and other smoky whiskies) generally go through as they age. QED
2A small discussion popped up on Facebook and Eugene van de Meer poked some of his contacts at Laphroaig for me. Master distiller John Campbell came back with “last year’s Cairdeas was 50% of this original liquid further matured for 4 years and 50% fully matured 7 year old new spirit into quarter cask Laphroaig”. Those sherry casks must have had quite some oomph… Thanks Eugene!