...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine Casks versus Laphroaig Càirdeas Port Wood

I said I wasn't going to review this 2020 Càirdeas, then I wound up enjoying 2019's Cask Strength Triple Wood more than I'd expected, then My "Surprisingly Legitimate" Annoying Opinions sent me a sample of the 2020 Càirdeas. So here I am.

Laphroaig's subtraction by addition has been covered a few times on Diving for Pearls, with my last rant being the most thorough bit.

I'll get straight to the......well, I'll let them tell it:

Our 2020 annual release of Laphroaig Càirdeas, Port & Wine Casks, continues our long history of innovation. A unique marriage of our classic Laphroaig whisky rested in second-fill Ruby Port ‘barriques’ along with whisky double matured in ex-Bourbon barrels followed by ex-red wine casks.

Is that so? 

A.) They have a very short history of innovation. They have a long history of sticking the fucking landing with their core expression. Or they had.
B.) The official description details the port maturation but leaves the wine part vague. "Red wine"? What is it, a Bordeaux or a pruno? That's like saying "scotch". Is it Brora or Duggan's Dew?
C.) If you're voluntarily mixing "red wine" and port in your glass then it's 1:00am, the party sucks and you know you're going to vomit anyway.
D.) Anyone who mixes peated whisky, bourbon, port and "red wine" should probably avoid alcohol altogether.

Nonetheless, I have a sample of the whisky. I was going to pair it with the 2015 Càirdeas, but decided that would be too cruel. Then I remembered I'd saved one last ounce of my 2013 Càirdeas bottle. Yep, the Port Wood finish, a whisky that really shouldn't have worked but did. It would serve as a better point of reference. It was meant to be.

Port Wood Finish versus Port & Wine Casks

2013 versus 2020

Pinkie Pie versus The Purple Nurple

It's On.

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2013
Port Wood Finish - 51.3%abv
Laphroaig Càirdeas 2020
Port & Wine Casks - 52.0%abv
The nose balances notes of roses and almonds with a wallop of mossy smoke. Antiseptic, old band-aids, iodine, chimney smoke and ruby chocolate fill the midground. Once the whisky is diluted to 48%abv, the nose takes on new characteristics. The roses and iodine are still there, but now they're joined by raspberries and ocean water, with hints of nectarines and gumdrops in the background.New blue rubber ball. That's all I get from the nose for the first few minutes. Then there's lavender, sage, pork ribs with a sugary glaze and burnt kale chips. Plum jam and Dove soap in the background. Diluting it to 48%abv mellows things out. Straightforward peat and almond extract perch on one level, with berry jam and plum wine underneath.
Lots of seaweed in the palate, followed by sea salt and an industrial note. It registers more tart than sweet, with limes above and a hint of flower kiss candy beneath. The whisky tilts towards dark chocolate once it's reduced to 48%abv, but the seaweed note (dashi) remains. It has a berry essence, without the sugar.I'm getting a lot more salt than peat on the palate. There are tart berries and tart oranges, toasted oak staves, fizzy mineral water and a whiff of bitter smoke. The berries get much sweeter and more floral when reduced to 48%abv. A little bit of smoke and tartness remains.
The finish holds a mix of savory dashi, lime juice and machine shop. A burst of cask strength Laphroaig hits late. The dashi stays put after the whisky's dropped to 48%abv, now joined by roses and blackberriesIt finishes salty and peppery with a dash of tangy white balsamic vinegar. A little bit of smoke and lime, but nothing else. At 48%abv, the finish is shorter, sweeter and more floral.

Nearly seven years needed to pass before I understood why the 2013 Port Wood Finish works. Though it takes on flowers and berries from the casks, it never gets very sweet. As referenced in the notes, it's the essences that are passed along, not the sugars. The seaweed notes work much better than I'd remembered, and I'm becoming a sucker for that flavor. Perhaps the whisky needed the right sparring partner for me to see this.

The 2020 Càirdeas does take on the sweetness of its casks' former inhabitants. Dilution boosts the sugars, though luckily not too much. Unlike Glenmorangie's finishes, this Laphroaig's cask effects never seem pasted on. But they do overwhelm the palate and bring A LOT of rubberiness to the nose. The finish is a bit of a *shrug*, but I'm not sure that's due to the wine casks. It's not a bad whisky overall, but that's not the sort of praise to which this famed distillery should aspire. Though Ardbeg seems perfectly satisfied when their special releases underperform their standard whiskies, I wish Laphroaig would aim higher.

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2013 Port Wood Finish - 88
Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine Casks - 81