The 2017 edition of Laphroaig’s Feis Ile release, the Cairdeas, landed in the US this month. You will recall that Laphroaig are the only Islay distillery that release their Feis Ile bottle in the US. They’re also the only one who seem to envision their festival bottling as intended for everyone and not just for those willing to spend a lot of money, either by going to Islay or on an auction site. This cost £77 on Islay (where a lot of it was still available in the distillery shop a few weeks after Feis Ile) and in Minnesota it seems to be going between $70 and $85, and is available at a number of stores including a big chain. Compare this with the cost and contortions necessary to get your hands on the Feis Ile releases from any of the other Islay distilleries.
This year’s edition departs from most of the recent Feis Ile releases in three ways: it doesn’t feature wine/sherry cask maturation of any kind; it dispenses with the Cairdeas year/abv number shtick; and it is basically a version of one of their core releases. While last year’s Cairdeas featured Madeira casks, 2014’s featured amontillado sherry casks and 2013’s featured port casks, this year’s is a cask strength version of the Quarter Cask. Which is not to say it’s the regular Quarter Cask at cask strength (though it may be, for all I know); but it’s also made by briefly double maturing young ex-bourbon whisky in smaller quarter casks. The whisky in here is young: five years old + 6 months in the quarter casks; I’m not sure if the whisky that goes into the regular Quarter Cask release is much older. I do know they have older quarter cask whisky in their warehouse; one of those—a 12 yo, if I remember correctly—was among the three casks at the Warehouse Tasting I did in June: it was my least favourite of the three casks (too spicy for my taste). Anyway, let’s see what this is like.
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017, Quarter Cask (57.2%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Peat mixed with lemon and brine; some cereals in there too; not particularly phenolic. Gets sweeter as it sits, with some vanilla popping out; but the lemon expands too and there’s a bit of bitterness behind it that’s bracing. The peat dims with time and the nose as a whole goes a bit flat. Let’s see if water brings it back to life. Yes, water revs it back up, bringing out more peat but also more of the vanilla and some cream.
Palate: Ashier smoke here to start and some coarsely ground pepper; not as much of the lemon. Very drinkable at full strength: in fact, blind I would not have thought this was at 57.2%. Spicier on the second sip and a bit sweeter. It’s a little simple though, with not much going on behind the smoke and spice. More phenolic with water and the sweetness and the smoke are better integrated (pipe tobacco) but there’s no increased complexity as such.
Finish: Long. Increasingly bitter smoke and pepper. The lemon pops out again at the end. Sweeter with water and there’s some clove in here too now.
Comments: This is smokier than some of the Whiskybase reviews (which are generally not very positive) had led me to expect. I’m not sure if it’s better than its Whiskybase score led me to expect though. It’s rather obviously young—especially, neat (I liked it better with water). Frankly, I prefer the regular Quarter Cask to this (though if you find that too woody and sweet you might prefer this). And, on the whole, I’d say that unless you’re a Laphroaig-phile like me, there’s really no reason to get this over the regular 10 yo CS. Or if you can still find the 2015 release of the Cairdeas you should pick up a bottle of that.
I wonder what they’ll do next year. I wouldn’t mind an all-sherry youngster; I liked a refill sherry 7 yo from Signatory’s UCF line.
Rating: 84 points. (Pulled up by water.)