Laphroaig Grudge Match: 15 vs Quartercask
Laphroaig is one of my favorite distilleries. I’m a huge Islay fan in general, but the raw, overpowering smokey, peatiness of Laphroaigs is what drew me into scotch in the first place. Before I found Laphroaig I enjoyed scotch, but it wasn’t until after my first dram that I loved scotch.
Laphroaig is often called “the most medicinal of scotches,” and whisky writer Michael Jackson once famously said of it “love it or hate it,” which the distillery promptly incorporated into an ad campaign. According to Jackson’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch, the distillery was built in the 1820s and is notable because it has its own peat beds and dam on the Kilbride river. Laphroaig is also one of few distilleries to employ floor maltings and small stills in making its whisky. The distillery ages its spirit on premises, in warehouses which face the sea.
Laphroaig 15–43% ABV
Somewhat famous for its reputation as the favorite single malt whisky of Prince Charles, Laphroaig 15 is the reason that all bottles from the distillery feature the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales. Unfortunately the 15 year is soon to be discontinued due to shortage of stock. It will be replaced (globally, if I’m not mistaken) with a new 18 year Laphroaig, but that bottle will sell for close to $100 compared to the $75 price tag on the 15 year. Normally that is not a bad trade-off for the extra maturation, but after tasting a pre-production dram of the 18 year I’m not sure they differ enough to justify the jump in price. I’ll have to taste them side by side before rendering a final judgment.
Nose: Phenols. More medicinal than the smokey coal of other Islays. It lacks the alcoholic punch of a lot of scotches and you can stick your nose deep into the glass without fear. If you do, you’ll catch a hint of malty sweetness right on the end.
Taste: All peat with a sweetness and smoothness not found in other Laphroaigs. The harsh edges have been softened and that’s a good thing. It’s a more delicate whisky than its younger cousins. On occasion I’ve been known to find a mild nuttiness at the tail-end of the Laphroaig 15 — especially after a night out drinking — but it’s not much in evidence at the moment.
Finish: Medium long, a slight hotness on the finish but otherwise a very smooth dram.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask — 48%ABV; Non-Chill Filtered
The quarter cask gets its name from the manner in which it is aged. After 5 years aging in ex-bourbon casks, the spirit is transferred to much smaller “quarter sized casks,” similar to those used over a hundred years ago to ship whisky via horse. In these quarter casks, the whisky spends another 7 months aging in an environment that allows for 30% more contact with the air and wood. This creates a greater “angel’s share,” but also more opportunity for the spirit to absorb flavors from the wood and sea air.
Color: Pale gold
Nose: All smoky peat, but more mild than the 15 year. The higher alcohol content hits you if you get too close.
Taste: Mild no more, the peat envelopes you in its smokiness, more coal fire than medicinal, and building stronger and stronger with each second. There is no malty sweetness here as in the 15 year; this is a much earthier dram. A pure peat monster — old school Laphroaig of the “love it or hate it” variety.
Finish: Fades slowly with hints of smoke lingering long after the final sip.
Overall, these are both solid drams, especially if you are looking for peatiness. For my taste, the Quarter Cask is not quite as complex as the 15 year, and a little pricey for what you get (typically running around $60 per bottle). Considering that the 15 year is only ~$15 or so more per bottle, and there are only a few more months left before Laphroaig stops distributing it, I would put my money into a couple bottles of the 15 year (one to drink, one to save) before time runs out. Wait until the 18 year officially replaces the 15 year before sinking your money into a bottle of Quarter Cask.