A number of distilleries come up with some pretty interesting releases for the travel retail/duty free market. Sometimes it’s just a bigger bottle, a higher ABV or non-chill filtering, but there’s also a healthy selection of travel retail exclusive expressions that you won’t find anywhere else.
So when a relative was going on a recent overseas trip, I asked them to pick me up a couple of travel-retail exclusives. Whiskies that I knew I wouldn’t be able to try elsewhere. At the top of that list was this one – the pedro ximenez finished Laphroaig PX Cask.
I’ve always enjoyed a good Laphroaig and was excited to see what kind of influence a pedro ximenez cask finish would have on their trademark medicinal peat notes. That excitement was somewhat short-lived though when I excitedly popped the top off the tube and had a peek inside…
That’s right, at some point someone had swapped the bottle of Laphroaig PX for a bottle of Quarter Cask!
That’s kind of like unwrapping your Christmas present to find the box for a GI Joe action figure, complete with sub-machine gun and a big hunting knife, then opening the box to find a Ken doll with board-shorts and some sunglasses. Well, that’s probably a bit too harsh, but you get the idea – where’s my sherried Laphroaig!? Fiddlesticks!
It was by no means a total loss though, for I now had a whole litre of glorious Quarter Cask to work my way through.
Laphroaig updated their packaging around May 2013, but this bottle is still in the older style, with a textured matte-paper label and the slightly older font.
Quarter cask is a No Age Statement (NAS) whisky (ie. there’s no age written on the label). But rumour has it that this expression spends the first five years of its life maturing in standard bourbon barrels before being moved into quarter casks for a period of around seven to eight months.
Thanks to this bottle, I’m now now a Friend of Laphroaig and also an international land owner, with my very own square foot of Islay! You just follow the instructions in this little booklet and Laphroaig send you your very own certificate of land ownership. Time to head over there and start excavating that square foot – Grand Designs style!
So what’s a quarter cask? The name’s fairly self explanatory I guess – it’s ‘a quarter of a cask’. But then I thought, hang on, what sized ‘cask’ are we actually talking about here? A standard sized bourbon barrel? A Hogshead? A butt?
I hit the interwebs in search of an answer and came across responses ranging from 40 through to 125 litres. I was still no closer to the truth, so I decided to get in touch with the folks at Laphroaig directly. I’ve since been reliably informed by a Brand Ambassador that the quarter casks they use are indeed 125 litres in size. They start life as a 42 stave once-used American Oak butt, before 15 staves are removed, reducing their overall size down to 125 litres.
Oily and coastal on the first pass. Brine, smoky seaweed, maybe some diesel and a vegetal cigar note. We’re well away from smoked meats, bonfires and BBQs with this Laphroaig – A real ‘dockside’ scent to this one in my opinion. Digging deeper I got some vanilla, some fresh zesty/tangy notes of lemon and something anise in character – black jelly beans or liquorice perhaps?
A medium oily mouth feel gives way to a decent burst of spice – baking spice and cigars. The anise note from the nose shows through slightly on the palate, along with a certain sweet ashy flavour and loads of peaty tang.
Smoke was apparent when the bottle was first opened, but months down the track it has dissipated significantly. The palate also seems to have gone from being fairly pointy and aggressive to a lot more rounded and slightly closed.
I thought this had a fairly good length to the finish and remained cheek-suckering for a few moments. I also got a certain drying vegetal tobacco spice right at the end, like the aftertaste of puffing a cigar.
I never did get to try the Laphroaig PX Cask..
..and just to rub a bit more salt into the wound, from what I’m seeing online it looks like everyone who’s tried it seems to rather enjoy it. It also looks like it’s slowly been removed from duty free stores around the world, so my chance may have come and gone.
All wasn’t lost though, as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask really is an enjoyable whisky. The fact it’s part of their core range and is bottled at 48% ABV non-chill filtered is a big plus in my books. If you’re already a fan of the classic 10 year old, this bigger winter warmer is definitely worth a try.