There’s no better way to end the summer than a first sighting of new peated whisky releases, and thanks to Laphroaig, our first winner is here. This year’s limited edition Laphroaig Cairdeas 2018 Fino Sherry Cask is a delicious iteration of a great smoky whisky.
Peat is not for everyone. The bog-made material, which is burned to smoke and dry malted barley before it’s mashed and fermented and ultimately distilled, lends through the smoking process all the flavors of smoked meat, iodine, salt, and spice that you’d smell from an Islay chimney in the dead of winter. If captured properly, it’s as beautiful an encapsulation of terroir as you can create with whisky; the literal ground you walk on being used as a flavoring ingredient in the process.
For the record, they don’t always nail it.
A few recent iterations of Laphroaig have tried to restrain the telltale smoke and push other flavors forward. Laphroaig Select was released a few years ago with an eye to milder flavors, and both last year’s Cairdeas 2017 and a special release of Laphroaig 27 were mellowed by bolder cask finishes and age respectively.
They were good, even great, but the focus was on other things. With 2017, the wood played the greatest role in the final product, and especially in the case of 27, the peat played such a small role in those flavors that it might as well have been absent.
Cairdeas 2018 is different. On the nose, it’s full of big, billowing bonfire smoke and bright, round fruit notes. On the palate, it’s perfectly balanced, sweet like dried fruits, sea salty, and richly nutty on the front end, with smoke bringing up the rear in a long, wafting plume.
As with a few of these more recent releases, we’d like a higher proof, but that isn’t always possible, and this whisky’s great mouth feel and finish are well worth the sacrifice. And honestly, 103.6 proof is nothing to scoff at anyway.
After a summer and spring filled with great bourbon releases, we whisky drinkers are ready for something different to take us into the colder months. This is a great start.
For a mere $80, it’s a great addition to a beginner’s growing collection of unique bottles. After all, nice peated drams are hard to come by under $100. And for the rest of us, it’s a nice smoky treat to welcome the colder weather back into our lives.