Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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.

Nose (undiluted)
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. 

Palate (undiluted)
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.

Finish (undiluted)
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.

Add Water?
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.

General Impressions

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 nutYes?  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.


Jason Debly

Photo Credits: Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Sounds delectable, J! Good to hear you had a nice vacation. The Lap 10 has become my more everyday (well, not EVERY day...) single malt, as I find it quite a value for money-and it sure hits the peat-craving spot! I'm yet to try the Cask and Quater casks and older bottlings, but I'm not sure my wallet is saying "Yea" to that notion right now. Cheers!
    -Jon "Yochanan" S.

  2. The 10 yr old is also my everyday favorite and seeing as I can buy it online from K&L wines for $33US, it is affordable. The QC I agree with Jason is a little friendlier but powerful smoky peat is my cup of tea. Jason's review of the 16 Lagavulin turned me on to that and oh I do so love that tamer, smoother Islay. I have yet to try any of the other Laphroaig offerings but someday soon I look forward to Jason's review of the Cast Strength. What say J?
    Jakemacd in Rochester, NY

  3. Hi! Yochanan. The Quarter Cask is a very nice peat bomb but not cheap. The 10yr works well enough and you might not think it offers that much more for the price.

    Hi! Jakemacd from Rochester. I would like to review the Cask Strength but the problem is that where I live they don't carry it. The only other way to source a bottle would be to accept a sample from a marketing rep for Laphroaig (not that they are offering at the moment), but that goes against my practice of not accepting any samples. So, I guess it will have to wait a while. I am going to New Hampshire in December, so I will try to pick up a bottle down there. As for the Lagavulin, that is down right incredible! Glad your tasting lived up to my review of it.

  4. Hey Jason,

    I'm looking forward to trying this one the next time I go by the NH line liquor store...
    Your review sounds terrific, and my experience with two other Laphroaigs (the Standard 10 yo and the Cask Strength 10) have been very positive.

    The Standard really grew on me (aka I learned to experience it fully and fell in love) whilst hiking the NH white mountains a few week ago. It was really disappointed when my bottle ran out.

    On the way back from a day hike last weekend, I picked up the Cask Strength on sale (about $5 plus tax less than local - paid $50 US) at the NH store. Wow - first sip like the Beatles Lucy in the Sky song - absolutely psychedelic - so much going on and very strong in all aspects. I tried various amounts of water but it ruins the smell for me and too much water ruins the flavor - but it's got some serious alcohol alone - so little bitty sips work best for me. I'm not sure if there is a right amount of water.

    I finally know what they mean when they say "medicine" - not that it smells like medicine to me, but I can see the band-aidish association a bit. It doesn't have that connotation for me directly, but when I use my imagination muscles I see it - I'm not exactly sure what my word for that fragrance/taste would be, but it works and it's gooooooood!

    Can't wait to try the Quarter - hoping it is in-between the Standard and Cask Strength - a little more taste than the Standard but not as hot/burning as the Cask. Will let you know when I give it a go...

  5. Ripley, I think you will be very pleased with the Quarter Cask. It is not burning like the Cask Strength (based on my memory from a tasting last year). I think the Cask Strength is intended to be diluted somewhat with water until that unpleasant burn is no longer an issue.

    Many distilleries market cask strength bottlings like they are the Second Coming or something. Many cask strength bottlings are simply unpalatable without adding water. I suspect that the Laphroaig bottling is no exception. Don't hesitate to add water.

    Hiking and scotch. What a great concept. The idea of a little exercise, great views, nature and a sip of a malt makes for great memories and enhancing the experience. Something I will have to try!

  6. At the end of a invigorating day, at the height of the world, watching the sun set and seeing nothing more beautiful or meaningful. Yes, this is the perfect place to sit and sip that single malt:

  7. Hi Jason, as someone newly converted to scotch whisky I love your blog...well written and informative.

    About 2 months ago my father received a gift of Lagavulin 16 and kindly invited me over for the opening of the bottle. At the time my experience of scotch had been limited to cheap blends (and a sole bottle of glenfiddich 12). I considered myself not really a whisky drinker.

    Wow ....What an awakening! So smooth, so smoky, so ...? I immediately started researching Lagavulin on the internet. To my surprise I found that people write reviews on whisky? What a bonus! After reading the kind offerings of people such as yourself, I soon realised that Islay malts are where my interests lie.

    After reading this review, my next purchase will be either Laphroaig QC($100) or Laphroaig 10($80). I'm thinking the L10 as I'm on a budget?

  8. If you are on a budget (and God aren't we all) and have a passion for Islay malts, I strongly recommend Bowmore 12 years old. Reasonably priced and delivers nice complexity of flavors. The Laphroaig Quarter Cask is good but not cheap. Bowmore is better bang for your buck in my humble opinion. You may also want to consider some blended scotch whiskies that emphasize Islay. Black Bottle is one.

    Thanks for posting!

  9. Hey Martin,
    I see the Australian to US exchange rate is about 1 to .9. Although we all want to support the little guy, shop around and see if you can find a liquor "mart" - big liquor store that will give a cheaper price AND negotiate a lower one, or see if you're little guy store will give you a deal (like 15% off if you buy a bottle a month), or try a reputable on-line merchant like "master of malt" - -
    I found both the Quarter and Cask, in the US, for $45 and $50 US at a state-line liquor store, respectively. That is really cheap (and the cask is worth $80 IMHO), but you should be able to pick them up for $50-55 and $60-65 Aussie. The Standard you should be able to get for less, maybe $45 Aussie (I do notice the standard isn't as marked down in person as it is online).
    You will be floored by the Laphroaig, particularly the Cask Strength. It has surpassed the Lagavulin 16 as my favorite malt in the last week...there is something just fantastic about it. Do try mixing it with various amounts of water as Jason said - and let it mix REALLY well (for a few minutes) before sniffing and sipping...I was too eager and ruined some of my earliest tastings because I didn't give the water enough time to mingle.
    I haven't tried the quarter, but am looking forward to buying a bottle on my way back from NH next weekend...will let you all know my thoughts...

  10. Hi Ripley,

    Glad to hear from another Islay fan. I am eager to try any Laphroaig, unfortunately spirits are costly in Oz.......must be the distance/small market? Even masters of malt want $97 for Laphroaig QC shipped down under. There are specials from time to time ... will keep an eye out.

  11. I finally got this QC a few weeks ago. It has really grown on me. I think because I was already a peat fan, this initially turned me off. In particular I found the sherry/winey component not to my liking, and it seemed to clash with the maple sugar flavor. For someone going from that profile to the taste of Islay - this is a great choice. I truly love this Laphroaig expression now and think it's a great deal for the money around here.
    It has a beautiful peat/smoke nose and when you sip it, the first hit is with that sweet sherry flavor, and then finishes up with a nice lingering peat taste.
    It only goes to show that sometimes you've got to give a little time with a particular whisky before you fall in love...and appreciate it for what it is...

  12. This was the very first bottle of scotch i ever bought. I love it. The only other thing that I can relate it to is Lapsang Souchong tea. A little background, a friend over the holidays let me try some of his scotch and thought that it was just for stuck up snobs. I did some research and found that there are 6 main regions for scotch manufacture. I am going fine dedicating a year to each region till I find out my favourites. So far Laphroaig QC and ardbeg 10th are my favs

  13. Sounds like a great adventure! Be sure to try Lagavulin 16yrs for another great Islay. Another, though not from Islay, but I am sure you will enjoy is Talisker 10yrs!

  14. hi! just wanted to share a newbie experience from nagaoka, japan--and to invite some input on matters of relative price/value.

    it's only this year that i found myself developing the desire/ability to drink scotch whisky. as it is, i am well-placed in japan, given my love of sake (and belgian beers, when i can find them). still, i recently heard the call of the loch, and i tried a few inexpensive blended malts (japanese expressions--technically not scotch whisky, i know--as well as johnny walker red and white horse. 2 weeks ago, i tried my first single malt scotch whiskies at a bar. what was the first one i tried? none other than laphroaig quarter cask. if memory serves, i also sampled bowmore 12, lagavulin 16, and macallan 12, but the only one that really left a strong impression was the laphroaig--and a very positive impression it was!

    it may well be that my timing was quite poor--i had just come from a 2-hour all-you-can-drink affair, and leading off with a relative peat monster may have ruined me/my taste buds for what followed--but it was perhaps also fortuitous. long story short, the dram somehow managed to be just what i had imagined it would be (after reading copious tasting notes and reviews) and just what i was looking for.

    fast forward 2 weeks, to 2 days before my birthday. i had scouted out local shops to see what i could see, and i had found laphroaig 10, bowmore 12, and macallan 12 (i know, a speyside, not an islay--but one of the few bottles i found with decent reputation from what i had read so far), but little else among SMSW. moreover, all were available in both 700 (or 750) ml as well as 350 ml bottles, so a tasting of several expressions sounded like a distinct possibility.

    yesterday, i finally hit up a local liquor store that i thought might have more on offer. bottom line: it did, and at better prices. i was, in fact, faced with a dilemma: laphroaig 10 or quarter cask? in the end, i opted for quarter cask, as: a) it was less expensive; b) it was less available; and c) i could always try the 10 yo for less money via a 350 ml bottle.

    i'm a novice, and i can offer little or nothing in the way of tasting notes, except to say that, after a bit of experimentation, i found that a couple of drops (literally) of water did, indeed, seem to "open up" new vistas of nose and palate (or open the door to such possibilities) on the second "dropping": i finally sensed something like sweetness or a floral quality somewhere in the murky background (or was it the loch ness monster?). also, i followed some advice i had read somewhere about small sips and taking one's time, and that did seem to heighten the experience. (my wife as shocked when i went upstairs to a quiet nook of the house, came down 30+ minutes later, and announced that i had enjoyed all of ONE dram of the good stuff).

    now, a couple of quick questions about relative pricing. I was surprised to find that the quarter cask was actually less expensive than the 10 yo expression. while i can understand how that might be so (with the QC spending only 5 years in the american oak casks before transfer to quarter casks), i had gotten the impression that the 10 yo is generally more expensive than the QC. has that changed? also, i was able to get the QC for ¥2980, around $36-37 at the current exchange rate (and the 10 yo for ¥3480--or around $43): how does that stack up with where you are? i wonder if we could hear about relative prices (and availability) by geography... (the bowmore 12, incidentally, was going for ¥3280, less than the laphroaig 10 yo, but more than the QC...)

  15. hmmm... any idea why i couldn't post a comment earlier?

  16. Jason, Something that is probably worth mentioning to your readers at some point is what I observe to be your clear preference for lightly-peated malts (and those having a necessary fruit emphasis) to more heavily-peated, more brine-influenced ones in general (unless having real sherry cask influence !). For newer readers or for those with less malt tasting background than you, the effect of your individual reviews is a significantly didactic one, "this one is better than this one", without the responsible "here's why I think so". Experienced tasters can see it, but less experienced tasters may simply adopt your preference for malt characteristics (esp. so for peated and North Highland saline elements) without even understanding that they are doing so. Cheers !

    1. Very fair observation. I do favor the lighter peated flavor profiles with a fruit element for sure.

      I thought the paragraph "Should you buy it?" addressed this somewhat, but in any case, fair point.

      Thanks for taking the time to post.


    2. I added a sentence in the "Comparison to the Competition: Ardbeg 10" that properly discloses my preference for the lighter fair of peaty/smokey malts.

  17. Hi guys,
    Finished my QC last year. And a friend had me try his Caideas. All I can say is wow !! to both. The Caid certainly packs a wallop but the taste... Not cheap for the QC but worth saving up for.
    Allan (from OZ)

  18. Whilst suffering a serious tooth infection (with no dental insurance) I ran into friends who suggested I "swish" with this. I wandered into a local pub I don't frequent, to find it filled with friends who all offered to buy me "a Laphroaig" to swish over my painful gums. I'm more Bourbon than Scotch (though do enjoy a good single malt from time-to-time), but took them up. The owner poured me quite a glassful and I swished a sip or two to discover its medicinal qualities. Then, asked for a splash of water for the rest of the glass (still a big glass), and enjoyed the rest. Tooth pain is (admittedly, temporarily) alleviated but in addition to its medicinal properties, thanks to your review, I'm purchasing a bottle of this for when I feel bettah!