Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015, 200th Anniversary

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015
Here’s a timely review for a change. I got word while I was in Los Angeles that the 2015 Cairdeas was already in Minnesota. The first thing I did upon getting back last week was to go and secure some bottles for myself.

As you probably know, the Cairdeas is Laphroaig’s bottling for Feis Ile, the annual Islay festival. It’s a different whisky each year (see here and here for my reviews of the 2013 and 2014 releases, which were from port and amontillado sherry casks respectively). This year saw a return to bourbon cask basics with an 11 yo whisky, made in small pot stills from floor malted barley from the distillery itself, and matured in their No. 1 warehouse down by the sea—all this information is from the back of the tube; well, the age isn’t on there but I’ve seen a number of references to that online. As 2015 is the bicentenary of this great distillery, the intent apparently was to produce a version of Laphroaig that looked back to the older style of whisky once produced here. As to whether they have succeeded in doing this is not something I will be able to judge as I have not had too much of that older Laphroaig (though I do very much encourage anyone who wants to help me educate myself to get in touch).

I opened one of my bottles a couple of nights ago for my local group’s July tasting and it didn’t blow everyone away. There was some rubberiness on the nose that some found off-putting at first; me, I loved it, but I’m curious to see if it’s altered much being open for a little while.

Laphroaig Cairdeas, 2015 (51.5%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Intense, medicinal peat but not a lot of smoke. A little bit of rubber, a little bit of vanilla and quite a bit of lemon. On the second sniff there’s green olive brine and the medicinal notes and salt expand. The lemon gets zestier and there’s more of an almond/mineral oil note as well. Gets more and more coastal as it goes with seashells and seaweed and an increasingly inky quality. With water the nose gets sharper (mothballs) and also sweeter (in a minerally, stony kind of way).

Palate: Starts with the mineral oil and some oyster liquor and then the peat wallop arrives, bringing the lemon and olives and salt with it. On the second sip the ash/smoke arrives quicker on the palate and there’s an increased bitterness—somewhere between tar and bitter lime zest. A bit of charred, fatty fish too now. Perfectly drinkable at full strength. With more time it gets sweeter. With a lot more time (like almost an hour) it gets really quite tarry and the medicinal notes and the smoke are now far more intermingled. Okay, let me pour some more and then add some water. As on the nose with water—it gets both sharper (more acidic here) and sweeter (though not in a cloying kind of way).

Finish: Long. Keeps going, building in intensity. The smoke finally shows up towards the end and it’s somewhat ashy. The finish gets ashier as it goes and seems to just get longer and longer. At the very end it’s like I licked a particularly full ashtray clean. The finish gets shorter with water.

Comments: Classic Islay whisky of its type and age. I’m tempted to say classic Laphroaig but frankly, I’m not sure that, blind, I would be able to tell it from bourbon cask Lagavulin or Ardbeg or even Caol Ila. Great stuff at any rate and far better than the last edition of the CS I had (Batch 005), though the differences are not entirely of kind (more of intensity)—I’d hold the water though. There’s far less rubber than there was when the bottle was freshly opened. I look forward to exploring its development over the life of the bottle. Get one today.

Rating: 90 points.


21 thoughts on “Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015, 200th Anniversary

  1. Distilled August 2003 (approx. 20,000 liters filled into approximately 100 first-fill 200 liter Maker’s Mark Bourbon casks). Bottled May 2015. So, 11 3/4 years old. Alcohol percent 51.5% – last 2 digits refer to the year of bottling, 2015. Source: John Campbell statements/interviews.

    Can’t wait to taste it… you don’t give out many 90+ ratings!


    • Keep a couple of biases in mind though:

      1. Laphroaig is my favourite distillery.

      2. I tend to think that bourbon cask peated Islays of this profile (Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Caol Ila) are optimal at this age (10-14 years). See also my reviews of the various Lagavulin 12 CS editions.


      • Before you rend your garments and run desolate through the streets, please be advised that the vanilla is minimal, registering mostly on the finish. Last night I’d sat with my pour for a very long time and noticed the vanilla much later on the palate, and even then it was not overbearing. Since I am a man of science I’ve poured myself another big slug and right now it’s barely registering. There is other sweetness though but it hasn’t turned into a vanilla-fest by any means.


  2. Well into the last third of my (first) bottle of this and it’s back to being excellent. Faint notes of vanilla are still present but it’s more phenolic than before. I drank a much older Caol Ila right before this, and while its refined pleasures were very nice I’m unable to say it’s better than this far cheaper and younger malt.


  3. My strong preference is bourbon cask Islays. I thought my bottle of this might have been the best whisky I’ve ever had. Really excellent and definitely got better a week after opening. $75 a bottle in Oregon. My go-to malt is Caol Ila which goes for $62. Well worth the extra $13 and a savings over $87 Lagavulin.


  4. Very good whisky indeed, but I couldn’t get behind all the enthusiasm, yours and others’. I appreciated its old-school charms, that tilt it in the direction of a Longrow. However, what ultimately pulls it down for me is the ABV – not impressive at 51.5%. The ABV-year coding is cute, but limits them/us to middling strengths. I can’t wait for the 2061 release, at 56.1% we’re talking business! 86-87pts.

    I also tasted it side-by-side with a Laprhoaig CS batch 4 – the CS won by brute force (it was a mauling, really). The Port Wood Cairdeas stands up much higher in my memory too – that one is indeed close to 90pts for me!


    • I really like Laphroaig CS, but I found this 2015 Cairdeas to be definitely better than the Batch 004 I recently had open. Also, waaaayyy better than the 2014 version of Cairdeas. This is up there with the Lagavulin 12’s in quality and excitement.


  5. I thought this Anniversary bottle was an exceptional bottle and also nicely priced for the quality presented. Lovely stuff for the Islay lovers among us.


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