We’re plugging some gaps in the Malt coverage and this maintenance brings us to the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. I expect it’s a release that almost everyone on the team has had and possibly appreciated over the years, without feeling the need to write about it. And that I feel speaks volumes not just about the whisky, but the distillery itself.
The Quarter Cask is a staple for many and a step up from the widely available and often cheaply priced 10 year old expression. And given my experiences alongside the Batch cask strength editions, the Quarter Cask is one of the core range options that many talk fondly of, whilst at the same time, expressing some concerns about Laphroaig in general.
I’m often told that I don’t like peat, sherry or even Bimber, Jura, Balvenie, Glenfiddich etc. It’s heartening to think that people actually read my articles and then come to some form of preconception. Such fanciful images are dangerous things. In all cases, I do like a good whisky, or at least what I believe is a good whisky. Bimber for instance has received very good scores even though I’ve resisted the urge to jump up and down like a crazed fan at a Duran Duran concert and throw my knickers at the stage. Jura as well, given some of the frankly excellent matured casks we’re now seeing come to market. This includes the recent release from Chapter 7 and Lady of the Glen – that’s despite Gregor failing to comprehend our scoring system. A 5 is average and from there it becomes good, very good, excellent, superb and reaching the legendary 10: Tormore. Talk about fantastic whiskies from Glenfiddich? Then, I’ll say, please read the 2017 Speyside incarnation. As for Balvenie, the Tuns are great if increasingly expensive.
So, never presume a distillery won’t have its day here or moment in the upper echelons of our fair scoring system. That’s part of the appeal of Malt I believe. Just because we get something for free, doesn’t guarantee a positive score or a deliberate attempt to avoid the issue of pricing.
Meanwhile back on Islay, Laphroaig keeps on going. Under the ownership of Beam, Suntory or combined nowadays, you cannot say that it has been a steady ride. Going back a relatively short period of time highlights the shortcomings of several core range editions. This is magnified if you’re fortunate enough jump back even further. Such an ability is the privilege of a chosen few or those who were able to squirrel away bottles for future enjoyment. For you the mere reader, and the majority others, we have to plough the independent scene for our Laphroaig fix.
Such a venture confirms the spirit is still in good condition and able to delight at times – where other bottlings fall short. It’s that age-old problem of what happens between the warehouse and the retail space. Laphroaig is far from alone in this respect as just up the road, Bowmore is a repeat offender. But for these giants of Islay and Scotch, criticism isn’t welcome. I suppose it is very much like pouring scorn on an old masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. Art like whisky has a timeless quality. It doesn’t have a sell-by date or best-before label. That timeless quality ensures our appreciation throughout time, regardless of the year. Except, whisky is meant to be consumed and in doing so, you begin to compare and contrast. Notice things have slipped, or even improved.
Competition is fierce and especially within the domain of Islay peat. Mere names don’t matter as much as they once did. They may tug at the heartstrings, but nowadays we vote with our wallet more than ever before. I wouldn’t have even given this Laphroaig a second glance if it wasn’t for a recent Amazon discount that allowed me to purchase it for £24. In reality, this Laphroaig release is available everywhere including Master of Malt for £38.25, The Whisky Exchange will request £40.95 and Amazon currently demand £38.25. This is also available via SharedPour for $89.99. As always, other retailers might offer better value subject to any special offers.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask – Jason’s review
On the nose: a familiar opening with wet rope, pencil shavings, stewed black tea and just that decaying autumnal vibe from a brisk woodland walk. Coastal elements with driftwood, grilled shiitake mushrooms, burnt liquorice and brown sugar. Haggis-like in parts with spices and cardamon, mace and toffee. The iodine note seems to be missing from the equation, we’ll try water… oak spice, a muted blood orange.
In the mouth: earthy peat, some sea salt laced driftwood and damp moss. Tumeric, bacon fat and more cardamon and liquorice. Fairly standard stuff. Adding a splash of waters turns the experience into an unpleasant boggy water, lacking definition.
Even at 48%, this feels underpowered on the palate. The promise of the nose is lost at sea when the liquid is sampled. There’s a disconnect. Almost a taming of the Islay beast as it becomes more domesticated for the bar scene and the latest hipster speakeasy. I don’t dislike this at all, especially for under £25, but that isn’t its normal price so I cannot award a value point here.
The Islay-ness as been somewhat eroded and accessibility has moved in for a permanent residency. My memory, suggests that it is a slight step up from the variable 10 you’ll find under every rock. That might be a future comparison, but for now, circa £40, this just doesn’t move me in the way you’d expect from a Laphroaig.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask – Rose’s review
Colour: Harvest Moon.
On the nose: Crunchy sourdough toast smeared with apple butter. Sage growing on a mulchy coast side, an old mildewing woodpile, white plaster walls moist with sea salted rain, the iodine of pungent seaweed washed ashore. Some notes of brown sugar mingle with Indian spices, brown whole grain mustard and pecans in browned butter. Then some scents I had scan to identify, reminiscent of my mom’s patchouli, amber, and sandalwood hippy stuff. Maybe even that red square bottle of Ralph Lauren, Lauren that she rarely wore but sat on her dresser my whole childhood, ahh mom scents.
In the mouth: Initially just a muddle of the above, earthy, sweet, peaty, salty but all less distinct. It leaves me wanting more of what I found on the nose. After some more searching I get some dirt covered peated caramels, ashy extinguished coals, and old damp newspaper. Followed by Sharpie permanent marker, I’ve found this in another Laphroaig expression, a Cairdeas I think. Indian spice flavors come back to me, nigella seeds, turmeric and black pepper. Sadly a loss of the fruity and perfumy elements I was enjoying. On the finish maybe some dried rose petals with some vetiver.
It has been some time since I’ve sipped this Laphroaig expression or any of their OB’s really. I had previously owned the Quarter Cask, but presently couldn’t remember any details, well besides the Laphroaiginess. So, when Rover asked me if I wanted to join in on notes, I thought it could be interesting to dive in again without any real preconceptions. It’s readily available here locally, and the price isn’t terrible at $59.99.
While this whisky is one that I wouldn’t mind having around as a filler dram, I think where it lost me was the cohesiveness between the nose and palate. The nose was enlivening in some ways. I might have gotten a little too excited too soon, which as we know the higher the hopes, the harder they come crashing down, right? But then again, I’m a glass half empty sort of person, and as this glass sits before me half empty there’s a sense of disconcertment settling in. My bad getting all giddy about scents and nostalgia, I’ll learn that lesson someday! Anyhow, the palate just fell flat for me and I think that’s a damn shame. So it leaves me questioning, if this was bottled at cask strength, or even not been given the uncool filtering treatment, maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t be lacking here?
We’re featuring convenient commission links in this review if you want to utilise and make a purchase. These don’t affect our opinion and only help our running costs and keep Malt great. Photographs provided by Rose who is worth a follow on Instagram.