I look forward to the release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas every year, even though Laphroaig has not consistently been giving me very many reasons in recent years to look forward to it. I liked 2018’s Fino cask finish but last year’s Triple Wood CS and 2017’s Quarter Cask CS were acceptable but not at all special. The distillery seems to have got caught in an endless cycle of cask finishes; a far cry from 2011 and 2012 which saw them release excellent bourbon cask whiskies (neither of which, I realize, I’ve reviewed). And the only truly excellent Cairdeas since then—2015’s 200th anniversary release—was also from bourbon casks. But there’s no excitement in bourbon cask releases, I guess. Will next year be a rum cask? A marsala cask? Or will we see another Frankenwine release like this year’s (a vatting of port and wine casks)? Well, I suppose if the results taste good there’s no point complaining about the high-concept gimmickry. Let’s see if that is indeed the case.
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020, Port & Wine Casks (52%; from my own bottle)
Nose: An unpromising start with an indistinct mix of red fruit, pencil lead and ash. With more time there’s some acid (lemon) and it begins to come together better—though the sweetness still floats above the whole. With time the smoke moves in the direction of doused charcoal briquette, with a slightly chemical, astringent edge. Water emphasizes the citrus and pushes the bitter smoke back a bit.
Palate: It comes in even more indistinct and jumbled with the smoke somewhat bitter—like licking a wet ashtray. The texture is fine and it’s a good drinking strength. Will it need water to blossom though? Let’s give it some more time. Alas, with time the astringent smoke from the nose just becomes more pronounced here; maybe a hint of charred pork. Better with water with the citrus (lime peel rather than lemon) coming to the top here as well and the whole coming together better.
Finish: Long. Nothing new—the same jumble and bitter smoke from the nose and palate. Some cracked pepper with water and better integration. The bitter smoke comes back again at the end though.
Comments: To say that this is a disappointment is putting it mildly. It’s a drinkable whisky—and it’s certainly not a winesky—but there’s nothing here that justifies a special release. Laphroaig needs to stop with the gimmicky cask finishes for the Cairdeas series and just go back to basics. The faithful who buy these bottles every year will be only too happy to get solid 8-12 yo bourbon cask whisky every year. Just give us a vatting that presents a different profile than the old faithful CS 10 yo. Such as it is, it’s better with water. Who knows, maybe it’ll improve with time and air in the bottle. I’ll report back either way.
Rating: 82 points. (Pulled up by water.)