I recently reviewed the standard 10 year old from Laphroaig, and whilst it was enjoyable I found it somewhat lacking and a little thin due to the 40% ABV and extensive chill filtration. I ended the review by saying that I would like to try a Laphroaig with a more craft presentation, and so here we have the Quarter Cask which is a NAS bottling at 48%, non-chill filtered and a couple of reliable online sources have said that this is natural colour, although for whatever reason it isn’t stated on the bottle. Using my own judgement it appears a pretty natural colour to me.
Quarter casks are, as the name suggests, one quarter the size of a standard bourbon barrel, which are approximately 200l in volume. Maturing in such a small cask maximises the surface area of spirit to wood and in theory should lead to more maturation in a shorter space of time. This raises the question of “if it works, why isn’t all whisky matured in quarter casks?”.
There are several reasons. Quarter casks require more warehouse storage space than larger casks, and they’re reportedly more difficult to manufacture and refurbish between uses. This all adds up to more cost for the distilleries and eats into the potential money they could make from maturing their whisky more quickly. Quarter casks also lead to a different kind of maturation, which takes me nicely onto my review of Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
It’s important to note here that quarter casks are used in this bottling “as part of a double maturation process”, which could mean that the whisky is finished in quarter casks, or it could actually mean that the first part of the maturation is done in them, and the spirit is then transferred to a standard barrel or hogshead to impart some more traditional flavours. I would go for the latter, as there are some bitter notes involved that I think would be more apparent if the whisky had been in quarter casks more recently and the standard cask had not been given chance to mature them out. There is also no information on what the quarter casks were used for before maturing Laphroaig, if anything. The taste of this dram leads me to believe that they were virgin oak casks.
First of all, there is a definite improvement here over the 10yo in my opinion. I think this has more to do with the generous 48% ABV and non-chill filtration than the quarter cask maturation. 46% would have done for a craft presentation, but I applaud Laphroaig for offering even more. It simply adds up to more flavour delivery and thicker, more oily mouthfeel, therefore a more engaging experience overall.
The nose is very wood-forward as well as the ever-present Laphroaig heavy peat. The overall aroma reminds me of fresh cut branches on a bonfire, a sort of smouldering damp fire smell. There’s also a freshness to it, like being in a room where fresh wood is being cut, and some citrus fruit notes. It’s actually a really engaging and full nose, and I actually found myself taking the bottle off the shelf for a smell on a few occasions as I was passing.
Taste-wise I would say that the small casks have done their job in rounding off the youthfulness of the spirit in their short time with it, however they have imparted some noticeable woody bitter notes. These do fit in with the overall flavour of the whisky though, and gel quite nicely with the heavy peat which is made even heavier by not having had as much time to mature out. There’s a dark treacle flavour and some burnt buttery toast. It’s actually really very good.
I will add that despite the generous ABV I didn’t feel adding water improved this dram in any substantial way. It’s been blended expertly to work at higher strength and the spicy alcohol nip really adds to things.
Overall, it doesn’t come across as overtly young which makes me wish for an age statement even more. Laphroaig have gone to the effort of explaining quarter cask maturation on the label and the cardboard tube, and the presentation suggests that this whisky is made for enthusiasts who I imagine would generally prefer even a young age statement over NAS. It hasn’t done the reputation of Lagavulin 8 year old any harm, for example! Laphroaig 6 year old Quarter Cask has a nice ring to it I think…
That’s really a slight personal moan about an otherwise very enjoyable dram, and as long as what is in the bottle is good then who really cares. I’ll definitely be replacing this when the bottle is empty, which probably won’t be long.