May 9, 2013

Review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask - Can The Mighty Dwarf Prevail?

Surface Area

Here's a secret:  If you're in a rush to cook pasta, boil your water in a wide and short saucepan.  Spreading the water out over a wider pan makes it boil much more quickly.  You'll be cooking those raviolis in half the time.  It's all about surface area.  Think about it...  In a standard size pot, a lot of the water is very far from the edges.  The heat has to pass through several inches of water to heat the cold water in the middle of the pot.  In the wide and short pan, none of the water is farther than an inch or two from the hot surface of the pot.  Ok, we're sure you understand all about surface area.  You went to third grade.  Sorry about that.  But we bet you didn't really think about whiskey this way.  

The Mighty Dwarf Cask

When it comes to aging whisky, distillers have been trying the same principles.  The theory is that the aging process takes place when the whisky interacts with the oak of the barrel.  So that would logically mean: higher ratio of wood to whisky = faster aging.  Thus the concept of the quarter cask is born.  Smaller barrels (casks) means more wood touching the whisky.  More surface area.  Boil that water quicker so that we can eat our ravioli (or in this case single malt scotch) sooner!

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Look closely at the label below and you'll see the standard size Laphroaig barrel next to the quarter cask.  Can this mighty dwarf really speed up the aging process and give us a lovely, smooth, and mature whisky without having to wait 14 years?


This is another No Age Statement bottle, so it's tough to really judge the quarter cask approach in a vacuum.  There are a lot of rumblings about it being some combination of 7-year quarter cask barrels mixed with some older traditional barrels.  Our friends at Master of Malt (who know a thing or two) say it's a traditional 5-year aging that's finished for 7 months in the quarter casks.  No way to know for sure.  Clearly it's young, or putting an age statement on the bottle would increase the value.  The only detail is "Double Cask Matured at 48%".  Ok, not helpful, but let's see what happens.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Definitely darker than the standard 10-year.  Still not quite a pleasant color, but we're trying to remain impartial based on looks alone.

Nose:  Ok now we're listening.  This is the epitome of salt-water ocean air.  You can just smell the breeze coming in across the whitecaps.  You can even smell the rocks.  Very nice aroma comparable to some of our favorite Islays.

Body:  Here we are again with Laphroaig's throat.  Unclear wether it's the lack of age, the barreling process, or the original flavor, but it's not where we want it to be.  There is more wood flavor than the standard 10 year bottle, which is sort of nice, but the mellowness hasn't taken hold.  It's a harsh and fiery dram that's tough to swallow.

Finish:  It's extremely throaty on the finish.  Uncomfortably so.  You need to add water.  When you do it mellows out slightly, but it's tough to find a balance between smooth and watery.

The Review:

So did Laphoaig's little scientific hypothesis prove to be true?  In a word: No.  The quarter cask aging did increase the wood flavor, but it didn't age the whisky any faster.  Because the real key to aging is... age.  It's not just absorbing the character of the wood.  When whisky ages, the fire of the alcohol fades and the fruit, smoke, and spice flavors of the malt come through.  At around $60, you'd be crazy not to spend an extra ten bucks and go for Lagavulin, Ardbeg, or Bowmore.   Sadly the mighty dwarf from Laphroaig gets a SmokyBeast "C".



  1. ColinMastersonHeadlyMTIIIJune 29, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Personally I love Laphroaig, but I tend to drink the older vintages. The new NAS bottles are obviously an attempt to increase supply while still being able to sell the older barrels at a super premium. (I also think it's nuts that the 25 year is now seen regularly for over £200). The 27 year from 1980 that was done in the sherry cask probably the most widely acclaimed Laphroaig ever produced. Unfortunately now it's over a thousand pounds to get your hands on it. Still, as you might say, it's a beautiful smoky beast for sure.

    Great blog, please review more of the classic American whiskeys that are in such high demand these days!

    1. Thanks Colin. We did get the chance to taste some of that 1980's sherried laphroaig and it was marvelous. Thanks for reading! We will be sure to throw some more classic bourbons and ryes your way. cheers!

  2. Wrong. It's aggressive. It's peaty. Smokey. Iodiney. Petulant. The perfect pairing with a Lagavulin. Sometimes I want aggression and this is perfect.

    1. Glad you're enjoying it! We don't really believe in 'wrong' when it comes to whiskey, drink what you like!