When it comes to whisky festival releases, Laphroaig has one of the longest-runnning traditions. Since 2008, the distillery has produced a bottle for Fèis Ìle – the Islay Festival of Malt and Music – as part of the same series: Càirdeas. The 2019 release is a fan request become reality – Laphroaig Càirdeas Triple Wood Original Cask Strength.
Càirdeas and the Friends of Laphroaig
The concept of Càirdeas rose out of the Friends of Laphroaig, the distillery’s fan club. Joining the Friends has been similar since its early days – contact Laphroaig using the details on a leaflet included with each bottle, and you’re in. These days you tap a code into the distillery’s (infamously bad) website, but the idea is the same: buy a bottle and you’re part of the gang.
The difference between the FoL and other distillery fan clubs is that with your membership you received a square foot of Islay. It’s not an actual real estate transfer, but each Friend is assigned a piece of land near the distillery and can collect yearly rent – in the form of whisky – when they visit the distillery.
Càirdeas evolved as a whisky for the Friends – the word means ‘friendship’ in Gaelic (and is pronounced with a soft d – care-chuss). The first edition, a sherry-focused 30-year-old, was released in 2008, quickly followed by the first Islay festival edition. The festival edition has appeared each year since, each time a different spin on Laphroaig’s whisky.
Cask-strength Triple Wood
In 2016, a group of European Laphroaig fans appeared at the distillery during the festival wearing ‘cask-strength Quarter Cask’ t-shirts. It was part of an ongoing campaign aimed at distillery manager John Campbell, asking for a punchier version of the fan favourite Quarter Cask release. At John’s 2017 festival tasting, where I heard him recount the tale of the t-shirts, the distillery launched that year’s Càirdeas – cask strength Quarter Cask. With that bottle out, it was only a matter of time before another beefed-up version of the core range appeared.
Laphroaig Triple Wood is an extension of the idea of Quarter Cask. They take bourbon-cask-matured whisky, rerack it into 125-litre quarter casks and then finally move it into European-oak ex-oloroso sherry casks for a finish. Triple Wood is bottled at Laphroaig’s preferred strength of 48%, but this Càirdeas edition ups that to a punchy 59.5%.
How does it taste?
Nose: Sea spray, curled ferns, liquorice sticks, white toast, strawberry jam and chimney-smoke peat – stony, sweet and very smoky. Medicinal notes build – TCP and ozone – with toffee sweetness and sultana fruitiness.
Palate: Fruit leads: apple, sultana and red-wine-poached pear. Sweet wood- and peat-smoke follows, with black liquorice sticks, gravel, green leaves and freshly-shed pine needles. The medicinal notes provide a backup, with dark liquorice and dark chocolate as an accompaniment. Thick, jammy raisins build through the middle.
Finish: A burst of burning leaves leads to toffee chocolate and liquorice.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of normal Triple Wood. Back in my sherry-monster days, it didn’t have enough oloroso influence for me, and more recently I’ve found that the cask influence hides the fruitiness that I look for in Laphroaig.
The cask-strength Càirdeas edition is a solid modern Laphroaig, which from me is a little ‘damning with faint praise’. It doubles down on the sherry influence and core medicinal nature of Laphroaig, balancing them nicely. In doing so, it focuses on darker notes, taking it away from my preferred, fresh-fruit forward style. However, if you like a bit more weight to your Laphroaig, without it becoming the sherry-heavy Laphroaig PX, then this will be right up your street.