Here I am with my annual review of Laphroaig’s annual release for Feis Ile, the Islay festival: the Cairdeas (pronounced: car-chuss, roughly). I’ve reviewed the previous five releases—my most consistent commitment to timeliness. This year’s, like 2014’s Amontillado finish, also involves sherry and it also represents a failure on the distillery’s part to make my hopeful attempt at prediction come through: in the review of last year’s Quarter Cask release I’d noted it would be nice if Laphroaig gave us a young all-sherry cask release this year; but what they’ve given us is a a finish. Apparently, this is composed of six year old bourbon cask spirit finished in Fino sherry casks for an unspecified amount of time. Well, I quite liked the Amontillado release and I expected to like this one as well. (Keep in mind though that Laphroaig is my favourite distillery and I’m one of very few people who has liked almost all recent Cairdeas releases a lot—last year’s was the exception.)
Accordingly, when the chance presented itself to buy a bottle for $70 (it cost £81 on Islay), I bought two. I always buy two of these: one to drink down and one to save in a pointless archive—and if I really like it, I buy another to drink in a few years time; and if I really, really like it, I buy a few more (as with the 2015 release). I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that I can still buy the Laphroaig Cairdeas for not very much more money than I spent on the very first one I bought in 2011. I wish more of the Islay distilleries would follow their lead in both pricing and general availability of Feis Ile releases—all the others are only available on Islay in limited quantities during or right after the festival, and then for inflated prices at auction. Perhaps because the Cairdeas requires less jumping through hoops to acquire it gets overlooked a little in Feis Ile-mania.
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2018 (51.8%; Fino sherry cask finish; from my own bottle)
Nose: A big wave of smoke—more woody than phenolic—interwoven with cereals and a bit of toffee. Some sweet pipe tobacco too. Gets meatier as it sits (bacon and maple syrup). There’s a touch of vanilla sweetness with some air but that’s about as much oak influence as I can make out. Water pushes the smoke back and pulls out more vanilla but also more phenols under it.
Palate: Smokier on the palate, though less woody and more ashy, and there’s more acid here (lime). Very nice texture and very drinkable at full strength. Much saltier on the second sip and a bit sweeter. With time the phenols expand and it gets quite inky and also a bit peppery. Simpler with water and not as smoky.
Finish: Long. It’s the ash and pipe tobacco that make the strongest impression with salt popping out again at the end. Sweeter with water and the smoke gets thinner.
Comments: I like this one a lot. Some will say it’s too sweet but I think the sweet notes work well with the smoke, citrus and the cereals. You’re certainly not going to find a better sherried Laphroaig for $70. It’s not particularly complex but nor is a good piece of bacon. And who doesn’t want a good piece of bacon (well, other than vegetarians and observant Muslims and Jews)? I’m already halfway through this bottle and I don’t think it will last long. Better neat, I think.
Rating: 88 points.