I was in Ontario two weeks ago for a family vacation at my sister's abode. Originally, the plan was that I and the family would drive up (16 hr road trip!), but the thought of mediating quarrelling children ages, 2 and 4 yrs, every couple of miles (for many hundreds of miles) was about as appealing as trying to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict with a one week deadline. Yeah, no thanks! A fate worse than death. So, I went to my local travel agent, took a serious shine off my credit card and scored airplane tickets to Ontario. This meant I and the 'fam' were in Toronto in two hours instead of 16. Now, that's my kind of math!
Ontario was nice. Did the family thing, the barbecues, the dinners, chase kids, played golf and . . . . visited some liquor stores. Staring at shelves of scotch on display is much like visiting a dog pound and trying to choose a pup looking longlingly through the bars for a home. Hmmm . . . . one of the strays I took home was Laphroaig Quarter Cask Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
As soon as you pull the cork on this one you're gonna smell big smoke. I mean big! The girl friend, wife, partner, whatever, will be whining and wrinkling their nose. Ahh! We don't need them (well, at least not right now). Coal, peat and small brush fire smoke. You know what damp wood smells like when it burns, that's what I am picking up.
Oily mouthfeel. Make no mistake about it, this is a peat and smoke bonfire that is very representative of Islay whiskies. This malt starts out sweet, delicate, followed by towering peat and smoke. I mean big, skyscraper peat and smoke! But somehow, it is refined, not rough or sharp like Ardbeg 10 year old can be. Mid-palate the American oak casks that once held first-fill bourbon comes through too.
Smokey, but not over the top. Again, reminiscent of a heap of damp branches set afire out in the woods on a fall day with the drizzle of rain overhead. Limes and ginger linger for a very long time. This finish is huge. These flavors linger for a very long time.
A teaspoon of water to a double pour will make this scotch malty and sweeter. The water will tone down the salt/medicinal flavors too. I prefer this single malt with a little water. You should definitely experiment to see what suits you.
This is a fine Islay single malt whisky. While there is no age statement appearing on the bottle, do not let that lead you to conclude it is a lesser quality scotch than it's competitors like Ardbeg, Bowmore and others. This is worthy of your attention.
Comparison to the Competition: Ardbeg 10yrs
It's superior to Ardbeg 10 yrs (click here for my review). I find Ardbeg 10 a little young, fiery and peppery. The Laphroaig Quarter Cask is not. (Please note: I consider it superior because I prefer a more lightly peated malt. If you really like the huge gales of wind, sea salt, briar smoke and iodine explosion in your mouth, then discount my view accordingly.)
Laphroaig 10 year old
When I compare the Quarter Cask to the Laphroaig 10 year old bottling, I think the former is slightly better. A little more finese and softer flavors.
Bowmore 12 years
Surprisingly, the Quarter Cask edges out the Bowmore 12 year old (see my review here). I'm a little shocked. However, if you take into consideration the considerably lower price of the Bowmore, the Bowmore is the better value for money play.
Should You Buy It?
Look into your soul, have a heart to heart with yourself, plumb the fathoms of your inner being and consider the following: Are you a peat and smoke freak or Islay nut? Yes? Then by all means run out and buy this immediately. If you are not, I am not so sure you need this in your cabinet. If you are not an Islay fan or enjoy peat and smoke explosive scotch, then look elsewhere. If you are seeking a nice representative of Islay for just that moment when you are in the mood, the Quarter Cask will work. However, Bowmore 12 years is probably the better value play in light of its substantially lower price. Finally, if you are a scotch newbie, I doubt you will like it. Most casual scotch drinkers don't like this. For you this will taste very medicinal and unappealing, unless you are a peat freak and you just didn't know it.
Packs a Wallop!
At 48% alcohol/volume this is a single malt scotch to be consumed in very small quantities. Despite the high alcohol content, it is not bitter, rough or any sort of unpleasantness. This means it is a smooth dram that begs another far too easy and before you know it, you're clobbered like Fred Flintstone getting hammered by a club wielding Bamm-Bamm (or maybe Wilma!). So, be careful.
Photo Credits: Jason Debly
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