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.