Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength used to be praised to the heavens among enthusiasts as an unadulterated glimpse into the distillery's character. But starting with Batch 005 this trend came to something of a screeching halt, with many (myself included) finding it over-oaked to the point of washing out a lot of trademark peat. So when Batch 006 was released in 2014 it was an open question whether the malt could return to form or would continue in the direction of Quarter Cask and other oak-driven releases from Laphroaig.
This whisky was aged entirely in first-fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 58.0% without chill filtration but probably with coloring (does Laphroaig leave any of their releases untouched?).
Laphroaig CS 006 at 58%
Nose: thick mossy peat smoke, wood ashes, coal dust, warm caramel, undergirding oak, cured meat, sweet berries. After adding a few drops of water the peat becomes softer, a little floral perfume, nutmeg, and cinnamon come out, and the oak becomes fresher.
Taste: cask strength thickness that gives it an almost raisin-y character, moderately sweet up front, but quickly balanced by oak tannins, peat weaving a thin thread through everything, growing bitter and earthy with coal/tar at the back. After dilution the peat mostly fades into the background with only the coal/tar at the back remaining and the oak becomes somewhat more subdued and less bitter.
Finish: bitter oak, black earth, overcooked caramel
While more balanced than Batch 005, this is still leaning too heavily on the oak for character and sweetness. Admittedly these notes are coming from the bottom of the bottle, so it might have been a bit more lively when it was first opened, but I don't remember it being markedly different then.
As I always try to do with cask strength expressions, I also made dilutions and let them integrate for several weeks before sampling them.
Laphroaig CS 006 at 50%
Nose: evenly balanced between mossy/twiggy peat and oak, fresh timber, iodine, pencil lead, dry malt
Taste: very sweet up front - malt and wood sugars carry through nearly to the back with a gentle peat-y undercurrent, a twang of muddled berries in the middle, rising oak tannins and more peat at the very back
Finish: sharp oak tannins, earthy peat residue, malt in the background
There are things I like about the whisky at this strength, namely the peat being relatively in balance with the oak on the nose. But the flavors seem kind of washed out by sweetness that crowds out much of anything else going on. This feels closer to Batch 005, but without quite as much oak.
Laphroaig CS 006 at 45%
Nose: rather dry overall, lots of soft, mossy Laphroaig peat, cured meat, berries, solid oak, barrel char, creamy malt
Taste: sweet malt with a touch of oak up front, joined by mossy peat in the background and light berry/ginger overtones in the middle, plus a growing tide of oak near the back - though never becoming overly tannic
Finish: oak, malt, peat, barrel char
Comparing this side-by-side with the standard 10 Year at 43%, the watered down Cask Strength still has noticeably more punch, especially in terms of peat and oak. While the more common version is still a fire breather to the uninitiated, it seems downright soft and sweet compared to the Cask Strength, even at similar ABVs. With that said, the familial resemblance is pretty clear, suggesting that the casks being chosen for each expression are relatively similar, though it's to be expected that the standard 10 Year will have a greater amount of cask averaging than the small batch Cask Strength.
I don't think this is bad whisky, but it's also not what I was hoping for. While I've heard some positive reviews of subsequent batches and that they've gotten less oak-heavy, I've been burned twice and am somewhat disinclined to pony up for more.