...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2016 Madeira Cask Finish and another Laphroaig rant

Word is out about this year's Càirdeas release, and it'll be the first edition I'll avoid happily. I don't know if they're trying to imitate Bill Lumsden by way of Jim McEwan, but did anyone really ask for a Port and Wine cask Laphroaig? One must abandon any hope-filled illusion that Laphroaig is above these things, because they're actually all about taking the consumer as far away from the Laphroaig spirit as possible. Brodir, Select, Triple Wood, Four Wood, QA Cask, PX Cask all make the Quarter Cask expression look naked by comparison. I'm not sure if this calls for a shruggie or the guy-saying-WTF meme. But it seems permanent.

I've enjoyed the annual Càirdeases (Càirdeai?) because they're each one-time attempts to see "What would happen if?", and then the distillery moves on. Sometimes it's bloody brilliant, like the 2015 (eleven years old, floor malting, small still, bourbon cask only). Sometimes it seems like way too much, see the 2019 cask strength Triple Wood. They don't always work, but each release is the result of a single structured idea.

The 2020 comes across as a mushing together of dissimilar things because...
A.) ...the 2013 Port Wood shouldn't have worked but did and now we have no other ideas so let's dump some wine casks in because Ardbeg does it too.
B.) ...this was supposed to be a Travel Retail Exclusive but was even too much of a mess for Duty Free so let's raise its strength and pretend it's special.
C.) ...because.
D.) ...all of the above.

I'm not ditching future reviews of official Laphroaigs (yet) because they do sneak out some good stuff each year. But between the gruesome PX Cask experience and the distillery's branding choices I'm going to be limiting my Laphroaigs.

And now onto stuff I do want to review! There are two Càirdeai from the 2012-2019 period that don't yet have their own posts, so let The Royal Us remedy that. I'm doing a taste off between the 2016 and 2018 releases.

The 2016 Càirdeas is part of the "let's take some young Laphroaig and finish it in one type of random cask" series. Madeira-seasoned hogsheads had the "random cask" privilege this time. I tried a glass of it during the excellent Water to Whisky distillery tour, four years ago. Per my notes I liked the Lore expression better, but now it's time to divine its secrets from within my hermetically sealed whisky chamber.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: ???, though probably less than 10 years
Maturation: bourbon casks first, then a Madeira-seasoned-hogshead finish
Batch: 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

Orange oil, eucalyptus and cherry lollipops lead the nose, followed by lavender-scented soap, a hint of toffee pudding and a mix of earthy and farmy peat. It's a weird mix, though it sorta works. There's a stronger, burnt peat in the palate, mixing with sweet lemons, pink peppercorns, mint leaves, plastic and iodine. The finish is also plasticky and medicinal with lots of moss and lemon candy.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is medicinal and plummy up front, with a blur of jasmine, lavender, cut grass and cotton candy in the midground. The palate stays plasticky and sweet, adding in tangy citrus and mild wood smoke. The sugary finish has moderate wood smoke and some moments of woody bitterness.

I had expected to like this better because Madeira's fruitiness often works well with whisky (to my palate, at least) and MAO liked the stuff quite a bit. The odd nose was a fun change of pace, but the fruits, plastic and iodine never worked together and left an odd aftertaste. Adding water brought in woodier notes. It's still a better constructed whisky than most of Ardbeg's limited releases, but did not fare well when matched up with the 2018 Càirdeas...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84