Laphroaig Four Oak – Travel Retail Exclusive

The folks at Laphroaig are fans of the travel retail sector, and the latest launch has added a pair of whiskies to the range. While passing through Aberdeen airport recently, I grabbed the first of the two – Laphroaig Four Oak.

Travel retail has been an important market for Laphroaig whiskies over the years: Three Wood was so popular, that it moved from being an exclusive to now being part of the core range. PX has become a staple for Laphroaig fans. Brodir has been recently revived to capitalise on the critical success of the port-finished Cairdeas 2013. But while those are all great whiskies, other recent releases haven’t been as inspiring.

Until this month, my last foray into the travel retail range was Laphroaig QA Cask, which I charitably referred to as ‘quaffing whisky’ in my post about it. Launched at around the same time was An Cuan Mor, a whisky that I know I’ve tried, but have no memory of. Passable drams, but not up to the standard of previous releases.

Laphroaig Four Oak

The latest pair of whiskies to hit the shelves are Laphroaig Four Oak and 1815 Legacy, which both arrived in April. These are seemingly additions rather than replacements, giving Laphroaig an impressive five-strong travel-retail-exclusive range.

Update: I attended a masterclass with Laphroaig distillery manager John Campbell and global ambassador Gordon Dundas during the Islay Festival, during which we tried both Four Oak and 1815 Legacy. They let on that they are actually replacements for QA and An Cuan Mor respectively. So, the Travel Retail range is staying at three, with the new additions being developments of the whiskies they are replacing.

The 1815 Legacy is a fairly classic bourbon-matured Laphroaig finished in European oak, bottled at 48%. However, the Four Oak looks to be the next step along from QA Cask.

The label gives us an idea of how the whisky has been put together:

‘Matured in four different casks for a uniquely peat-smoked malt’

The casks in question are ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks, virgin-oak barrels and European-oak hogsheads. I’m not a fan of virgin-oak-matured Scotch whisky in general, and QA Cask’s focus on it was my least favourite element of the whisky’s flavour profile. The addition of extra types of cask to the recipe suggests that Four Oak is meant to be a successor, adding more layers the previous whisky’s fairly one-dimensional character.

Laphroaig Four Oak
Always use appropriate glassware…

Nose: TCP and sea spray to start – the textbook Laphroaig nose. Behind that sits sour pineapple and mango, candle wax, singed lemon peel, sour cream and a compressed bundle of sugar and spice: sweet cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper.

Palate: Much softer than expected, with a sweet and syrupy start overlaid with bitter ash, spiced apple sauce, caramel and sultanas. In the middle is a slab of sweet oak – the flavour of younger whisky from new casks – which is balanced by a background creaminess and bitter liquorice.

Finish: Ash, twigs and apples to start, followed by pineapple kubes as the ashiness dies away. The last things left are damp grass, anise, muddy peat and green bark.

While the smoke is overtaken on the palate by wood, this fuses the newer, ash-and-oak-forward style of Laphroaig with some of the fruitiness of older releases. It’s bottled at 40%, which makes it a bit gentle, and I think this belongs in the same quaffing whisky category as QA. That does raise a question of what it adds to the range. However, it feels much more like a success than QA, adding extra depth beyond the flavours of new American oak. That alone justifies its spot on the shelf.

Laphroaig Four Oak. Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. ~£50 for a 1 litre bottle. Travel retail exclusive, although expect to see it in regular shops soon, if it’s not about already. Travel retail is notoriously leaky…

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