Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Islay Single Malt Whisky
Welcome to August.
127 Malt Missions before I had a Laphroaig(!) in this jaundiced journey. Crazy. It is a vast whisky world. Such diversity! When someone says "I don't like whisky", it is like saying that they don't like water. Fine, so they don't like water at the gym, or at Shary & Dug's flat, or Dasani, or at the cottage. But that cannot possibly mean they don't like water. There are just too many variants. Laphroaig is unique, challenging water.
Laphroaig ("La-Froyg") has a very high percentage of its output allocated for use as a single malt(45%), much more than the average Scottish whisky distllery so you can understand why they may be reluctant to screw with what works. No, they haven't become known for stunning innovations, clever marketing moves or a cool logo. Laphroaig has repulsed people for generations, and this is not necessarily a bad thing; it has made their spirit unforgettable the world over. The foul stench was enough for customs agents in the U.S. to waive cases through as 'medicine' during Prohibition. This was WAY before single malts were the norm. This was the heyday of blended whiskies (Dewar's, Cutty Sark, especially in America) and this unforgettable Islay single malt accompanied the best music and the lousiest poetry from Augusta, Maine to Aurora, Illinois to Alachula, Florida in the 1920s and early 1930s.
When first encountered, Laphroaig can disrupt one's life for hours, if not days. While for a few it is a revelation, for most it is a fair whisky warning: "if you think it's shitty, then you aren't ready." I've heard it (somewhat vulgarly) compared to Schoenberg and/or sexual acts illegal in some U.S. states and many countries (at one time or another). The point is you gotta ease into it, to learn to love it. Have I mentioned my appreciation for the Glenfiddich adverts?
One of the first nights I lived in Edinburgh I was sitting in what I would learn was an awful bar, stupidly drinking imported shit beer, and Steve McLean bought me a whisky. He told me it was a Laphroaig. All I knew was it tasted like cancer and reminded me of being at the hospital when I was 6 getting my broken leg casted. Nothing positive.
Thank you Laphroaig, you helped launch this pot still passion.
I have rambled on too long here so I will share more history of the distillery in a future Laphroaig post. Currently owned by Jim Beam Global and managed by the Islay-born John Campbell (only 35 years old!), Laphroaig distillery has, in a way, gone back in time with the release of the Quarter Cask. After 5ish years of maturation, they transfer ex-bourbon maturing whiskies into smaller quarter size casks (105 litres), the sort that apparently used to be used for shipping whisky by horse in the 19th century, for about 7 months. This allows 30% more wood contact and all the good stuff that comes with it. Unlike other standard Laphroaig bottlings, they haven't chill-filtered the Quarter Cask and have bottled it at 48% abv.
Officially the only entry-level release from Laphroaig in Ontario once the discontinued (at LCBO) 10yo sells out, Laphroaig is "powerful and for strong men" (R.J.S. McDowall, The Whiskies of Scotland, 1967). Someone from Beam Global, owners of Laphroaig, tells me "The global inventory of that expression is very limited and since there has been such a great response to the Quarter Cask we've simply balanced out the volume with more Quarter Cask. The Quarter Cask will be the only expression that LCBO carries." So get ready to fork out an additional 8 bucks for your Laphroaig fix. But you can rest assured that with your mega dollar you can almost buy TWO for that price at duty free stateside ($68.80 CAD... today).
Bring it, Laphroaig. I'm not scared of you.
Seductive smells. Ripe, new-make barley sweetness. A barbecue. A flower. A sooty chimney. A horse. A can of condensed milk. A slice of apple and a piece of Gouda. An amazingly tactile nose, if that makes sense; the aromas seem to make physical contact, they touch me.
Oak. Fruit. Grandparents' musty apartments. Soft impact that is very sensual and easy at the higher-than-normal abv%. Toffee and stubbed cigarettes. Nutty cheesiness. Slow arrival of a huge peaty impact and a cloud of smoke. Smoky finish with biscuity chewiness hanging around.
An absolute treat to drink. Full-on and not for every mood, but hearty as a good stew. A sweeter, softer, friendlier Laphroaig that still manages to fill every corner of the house of your senses with the medicinal peatiness in ways that only Laphroaig can. And should. And does.
Malt Mission #126
Malt Mission #127
Malt Mission #129
Malt Mission #130
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