Aside from constantly second guessing myself on the proper spelling, what’s not to love about a whisky crafted in the spirit of friendship? (“Cairdeas” literally means friendship in Gaelic).
Each year, the Distillery Manager at Laphroaig, John Campbell, sets out to create an exclusive, limited edition malt that encompasses this spirit of friendship, and with this newest release, the Madeira, he has created one of the Distillery’s most unique expressions yet. In the words of Mr. Campbell himself, “Laphroaig Cairdeas Madeira is what I like to consider friendship, distilled. This year’s bottling is exceptional because it’s so different from our previous releases. The aging of the liquid in Madeira casks makes 2016’s Cairdeas exceptionally flavorful and robust, while still maintaining Laphroaig’s characteristic peat and smoke. The result is a truly unique whisky.”
Despite their immense popularity, this was the first Cairdeas I have had the opportunity to try, but as I began looking into the previous year’s releases, I got a sense of the thought and ingenuity that goes into creating these unique expressions. Each one features something completely different from the previous. The 2015 Cairdeas – 200th Anniversary edition was a throwback to earliest days of the distillery and a modern recreation of how Laphroaig was made 200 years ago. Back then, they used 100% floor malted barley and distilled the spirit in the smallest of stills. It was stored for aging in what is known as Warehouse #1, right by the sea. While these days, floor malting are still used in the production of their whisky, only a relatively small amount can actually be used due to the overwhelming demand for the product. However, for the 2015 release, they did, in fact, use 100% floor malted grain, distilled in their smallest stills, and aged exclusively in the now iconic Warehouse #1. I wish I had a chance to try this one! Going back further to 2014, they did a double matured Amontillado Cask (a type of Sherry) Cairdeas, first aged in traditional ex-bourbon casks followed by an additional year in Amontillado Hogsheads.
But back to this year’s special release, the Madeira. What exactly are Madeira casks and what influences do they have on the whisky aged within?
Well, Madeira is essentially a Portuguese fortified wine from the Madeira Islands off the continent of Africa. The very sweet, distinctive tasting Malvasia grapes used are pressed and housed in traditional wooden or stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The finished wine is then loaded into oak casks, which these days undergo a specific heat and moisture treatment meant to replicate the conditions the casks experienced during shipping to the American continent in the 15th century. The barrels extract much of the flavoring and coloring of the wine during this process and therefore, whisky matured in these casks end up taking on much of the spiciness and fruitiness left behind by the Madeira wine. Combine that with the characteristically peaty and smoky profile of Laphroaig’s flagship malt, and as Mr. Campbell suggested, you have a truly special whisky indeed. Let’s go ahead and have a pour and see if it lives up to expectations
LAPHROAIG CAIRDEAS MADIERA REVIEW
Name: Laphroaig Cairdeas Madiera
Proof: 103.2 proof / 51.6% ABV
Age: NAS – No Age Statement
Year: 2016 Release
How I Drank It: Neat. Later added several drops of water for comparison.
Color: Beautiful coloring, it’s a vibrant, golden straw(berry) when held up to the sunlight, but becomes much richer in more ambient lighting. There is a distinct subtle, pinkish watermelon or strawberry hue to it from the Madeira casks.
Nose: It’s a full nose! Softer than the TEN year, but medicinal right off the bat… iodine, band-aids. Sweetness comes about in the form of an orange marmalade cookie dusted with powdered sugar. It’s peatier than it is smoky, but not necessarily heavy on either. Some alcohol comes through but stays in the background. Wrap the whole thing in a rubber band, sprinkle it with salt and I think we’re getting somewhere.
Taste: A surprising, mild bitterness on entry followed by the ABV punch to the mouth. It’s a friendly punch, but enough to make your palate pause as it searches for specific flavors. A sweetness emerges, as does some citrus, and a somewhat toned down earthy peat and wild mushroom. I always think of wet boat ropes when I taste Islay whiskies and this is no exception. What I find unique about the Madiera compared to other Laphroaigs I have tried is the spiciness. I enjoy spicy foods, and this has a good amount of kick to it. Black pepper, red pepper, cayenne pepper, not so much the heat, but the flavor.
The Burn: Despite the higher ABV, this comes across smooth as butter. It leaves a bit of cheek tingle, but that’s just to let you know it’s working properly.
Finish: I love the finish on this, it just keeps evolving. It’s initially a continuation of the sweeter side of the dram, but the flavors continue to develop. The earthy, peaty notes come back into play, and it’s here that the smoke gets a chance in the spotlight. The pepper spices linger, and a toasted marshmallow comes in to take the edge off the rubber band twang.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: As usual, I prefer this neat. Water tends to dampen the sweeter notes for me and amplifies the earthier, smokier portion. It was still somewhat spicy with the added water, which I like, but it reduced the complexity of the dram and left it tasting a little, well… watered down and murky. (relatively speaking)
Share With: Just being an Islay whisky limits the range of people who would appreciate this, especially among the bourbon drinking crowd. I find that when some people say “I don’t like scotch”, it’s because they don’t like the medicinal, peaty scotches. But for those willing to give it a try, this could be a good gateway to Islay. It’s peaty, but not as much as some of the others. There is some smoke, but not enough to choke you up. The spice and higher ABV could be enough to win over a few of the more adventurous bourbonites or rye drinkers.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: If you’re a fan of Laphroaig already, you’re going to want a bottle (or three), and at the suggested price of $74.99, I think you’ll be happy with your purchase. But if it’s new to you, definitely seek out a sample from a friend or maybe you’ll get lucky and find a bar where you can give it a try first.
If you do end up trying this, or any Laphroaig whisky, be sure to let them know what you think about it. Laphroaig runs a global #OpinionsWelcome campaign and encourages fans across the world to share their opinions. Head over to www.laphroaig.com/Opinions or chime in on social media using the hashtag #OpinionsWelcome, and share your thoughts.
From time to time, Laphroaig will highlight some of the more clever, descriptive opinions across social media or up in lights at the distillery itself. You can also join the Friends of Laphroaig loyalty group of more than 600,000 members from 150+ countries and receive an honorary lifetime lease on a numbered, one square foot plot of land in Islay that runs alongside the Killbride stream, an important Laphroaig water source.
For more information on this, as well as info on other benefits of membership, head to the Friends of Laphroaig website at www.Laphroaig.com/Friends.
Disclaimer: Laphroaig provided Bourbon & Banter with a sample of their product for this review. We appreciate their willingness to allow us to review their product with no strings attached. Thank you.