Intensely peaty but jam packed with subtle flavor and complexity.
The Cairdeas series (Cairdeas is a Gaelic word meaning “friendship”) is an annual limited release by Laphroaig that acts kind of like an experimental maturation series. Typically featuring some unique cask finish and always bottled at cask strength and without chill filtration, the annual Cairdeas release gives fans of Laphroaig a chance to experience the one-of-a-kind single malt from a new and unique perspective. The last 5 years of releases have featured Amontillado sherry finish, 100% in-house floor malted barley, Madiera wine finish, quarter cask maturation, and now a finish in Fino sherry casks.
I’ve included the picture above because I think some of you may be interested in knowing how I go about tasting for a review. The glass on the left is not Laphroaig Cairdeas. Whenever I do an “official review” of a whisky, I believe that it’s important to prep my palate beforehand. I don’t want the first whisky that hits my lips to be what I’m reviewing. The key is to pick something light, unassertive, and low in alcohol content. I don’t want to have any overwhelming flavors lingering on my tongue that could disrupt the full experience of the whisky under review – that would defeat the purpose. I’ll typically use an affordable blended scotch or young, bourbon cask matured, unpeated single malt. Glenfiddich 12, Glenmorangie 10, or Monkey Shoulder work great. This glass contains Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend. A few sips of this to get my mind and senses activated, then a quick swig of water and I’m ready to go
The middle and right glasses both contain 1 oz from the Laphroaig Cairdeas sample bottle. One glass has had 1/2 tsp of distilled water added, and one glass is undiluted. The glass with water in it will sit to the side while I record the first set of tasting notes from the undiluted glass shortly after it’s been poured. Then I’ll wait 15-30 minutes and taste through the undiluted glass a second time to see if it’s developed more with time to rest in the glass. Finally, I’ll turn to my second Laphroaig glass which has had 15-30 minutes to rest with the water added, and I’ll jot down any changes that water makes. All of these scribbles then get edited into this semi-polished review article that you’re reading!
As you can see from the picture, the sample was graciously sent to me by Laphroaig for a formal review. Of course, all comments, musings, and tasting notes in this review are 100% my own and influenced by no other person or entity. This is the first time our website has reviewed a company-provided sample, and on any future reviews where this occurs, it will be disclosed for transparency.
- Initially matured in 1st fill bourbon barrels before being finished in Fino sherry casks
- Matured onsite in dunnage style warehouses 8 and 10
- No age statement
- Non-chill filtered and natural color
- Bottled at cask strength 51.8% ABV
Nose : Ah, classic Laphroaig goodness greets the senses like a mighty tempest. There’s nothing quite like it – smoldering, briney, unrelenting peat. Like if you stood over a campfire made of fresh seaweed and inhaled the fumes. Deeper in, the Fino sherry – a drier sherry than the more common Pedro Ximenez or Oloroso – cask influence melds into the heavier peat notes with subtler hints of Christmas cake and plum pudding. A peppery ashiness rounds out the aroma. Dense and wonderful.
Palate: The arrival is a tidal wave of dry, salty, peat with a touch of raisin. I mean intensely peaty; more phenolic even than my beloved 10 year cask strength. The mouthfeel is full and oily. Despite the peat, this dram is not one-dimensional, and notes of graham crackers, citric acid, honey, cinnamon, and allspice round things out. Outside of the wisp of dark fruit, the Fino cask really shows its influence through spice rather than fruit.
Finish: After I swallow, my palate is literally tingling. Not from the alcohol but from the intensity of the peat phenols. The finish lingers forever with notes of graham cracker, honey, dry berries, and citrus fruits. Eventually it all gives way to a smokey creosote note mixed with sweet apple.
A note about water: Water has a BIG impact. I added 1/2 tsp to 1 oz of whisky. It adds a bright, heavy, slightly resinous tangy orange note to the aroma and palate. The peat is subdued a bit on the aroma, but somehow the palate manages to maintain it’s peaty intensity and subtler malt and cask notes while cramming in a further layer of tangerine and apricot. Water certainly elevates the dram, and my overall score is a reflection of the whisky with the water added.
Buying Recommendation: Must try! If you are a fan of heavily peated whisky in general or Laphroaig in particular, you will enjoy this release. It’s intensely Laphroaigian (yeah I know that’s not a word) but just different enough from any other release to be worthy of a spot on the shelf. If you aren’t so sure about the whole peat thing, this is not a beginner malt, nor one for the faint of heart (or palate). Start with the standard 10 year or even Laphroaig Select and acclimate yourself first.
While you may see the Fino sherry cask finish and be tempted to think this is full of the dark sherry fruits you commonly find from Pedro Ximenez or Oloroso cask maturation, this Cairdeas release drinks more like Laphroaig Lore than Triple Wood or PX Cask. Remember, Fino is a lighter, more dry style of sherry. The Fino influence is subtle and hardly fruity, but it adds a nice layer of spice-laden complexity. If Laphroaig 10 cask strength and Lore had a whisky baby together, I imagine that it would taste something like this.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about age statements here. It’s not often that I find myself praising non-age stated single malts these days, and to be frank, it’s because most of them are overpriced and under matured swill. Most NAS’s today exist in replacement of a previously age stated release. What may have once held a “12 years” on the bottle now holds a color, hard to pronounce Gaelic word, or some other random buzzword instead of a number. This is done solely so that younger stocks can be vatted into the bottling, which more times than not, decreases the quality of the release and coincides with other cost cutting and quality reducing measures like sourcing cheaper casks, etc.
However, it would be wrong to neglect all NAS whiskies. Cairdeas is a great example. This is quite a young whisky, but it is the right age to achieve the intended flavor profile. The quality of the casks is also evident. As you can see from my notes, the amount of complexity in the dram says it was not under-matured, and if it was much older, it would start to lose it’s huge phenolic peat presence. All of this deserves an article of it’s own, but these are things all whiskey enthusiasts should start to be mindful of. Of course, I’d still like to see an age on Cairdeas, and would still be happy to buy it if I saw a 6 or 7 on the bottle, but consumer mindsets at large must shift away from “under 10 always = bad”. It’s just not that simple.
If you actually read this far, kudos to you! I hope you reward yourself with a nice dram. Preferably something peaty! Cheers!
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: Truly Exceptional
All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.