Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Whisky Review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask

I've talked about Laphroaig Quarter Cask before, largely in terms of its place in the growing world of NAS whiskies and later after I had toured the distillery.

Quarter Cask was the first NAS whisky in Laphroaig's (growing) line-up. The spirit is aged for a number of years (6-8 seems like a decent guess), then transferred to 13 gallon 'quarter casks' as a finish. The rate of extraction from the wood is highly dependent on the surface area:volume ratio, so 'woody' flavors are extracted more quickly from these smaller casks. The whisky is then proofed down to 48%, which is a fair bit higher than the standard 10 Year, and non-chill filtered, which is also not the case with the standard 10 Year. This is an approach that requires more attention from the master blender, as the rates of maturation in the quarter casks will be more variable than with standard ex-bourbon barrels.

There are partisans on both sides, some who prefer the slightly more mellow 10 Year while others are head-over-heels for the intensity of the Quarter Cask. I've been curious to see how they would match up.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample.

© Laphroaig
Laphroaig Quarter Cask (2010)

Nose: very woody, classic Laphroaig peat, wood/malt sugars, fresh timber, vegetal/herbal, malty, creamy vanilla, bourbon barrel berries. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes a bit more subdued, the malt moves forward, and the wood and smoke integrate.

Taste: billowing dry woodsmoke, rather sour up front, some malty sweetness at the back, black pepper, subtle hints of fruitiness, some anise. After dilution, it becomes sweeter and less our throughout, a lot the malt becomes more prominent, wood and smoke come in later, and there are hints of orange peel.

Finish: lots of pepper, peat, and oak, malty underneath, cough syrup

While I can see the appeal of this whisky, it's not quite my cup of tea. Though not immature, it doesn't have a lot of nuance - the flavors are relatively simple and in your face. The lack of an age statement lets Laphroaig put younger whisky into the bottle, which preserves the intensity of the peat smoke from the original spirit. The quarter casks are also very evident because this one is a short hop away from containing a lumber yard. The higher bottling proof compared to the 10 Year also helps to give this expression more heft, though I didn't feel like there was too much alcoholic heat.

This is one to grab if you've already tried Laphroaig and thought "I like this, but I want even more smoke." If you're not acquainted with Laphroaig, I wouldn't start here. It's definitely a beast.

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