Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch Review

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By Richard Thomas

Rating: B+

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Laphroaig Quarter Cask
(Credit: Beam Suntory)

Laphroaig’s 10 Year Old might be the entry-level expression of that Islay distillery, but it’s the Quarter Cask Single Malt that I hear the most buzz about when it comes to the affordable end of their range. The expression has been around for more than a decade now, and has quite the following.

The irony of that is so much of the Quarter Cask’s flavor is due to its finishing in something that was popularly maligned by American croaker-bloggers just a few years ago, namely small barrels. Some of the same people who excoriated the use of small barrels by American micro-distillers praised the practice to high heaven when it’s used in Islay.

This whisky was matured, reportedly for five or six years on average, in ex-bourbon barrels. Laphroaig then transfers the liquid to quarter casks, which as the name implies are much smaller, for several months of finishing in a warehouse that sits right next to the sea. It is then bottled at a muscular 48% abv.

The Scotch
The whisky looks like liquid gold in the glass, a fine appearance for any Scotch, while the nosing is gloriously oily and ashy, indicative of a total peat bomb. The initial tasting follows up on that promise, delivering flavors that are smoky almost to the extreme, but not so much so as to become overpowering. The wall of smoke leaves room for dashes of cinnamon and other spices, a bit of oakiness, and a spoonful of silky sweetness.

What I found as I continued to sip on the Quarter Cask is these latter characteristics of the whisky came to the forward as my experience went on, washing the smoke almost entirely out of the glass by the end, and making for a very pleasant progression. The finish, however, brings the smokiness back while leaving a long, lingering glow.

It’s easy to see why Laphroaig Quarter Cask has attracted so many fans. For a youngish single malt, it is remarkably complex, and packed with bold flavors to boot. However, it starts out and ends as a big peat bomb, so whisky-drinkers who dislike smoke (and there are plenty of them out there) won’t like it. For diehard peat lovers, however, this expression is an A- rather than a B+.

The Price
Laphroaig Quarter Cask is widely available, and prices are fairly stable. In the U.S., you should usually expect to pay $45 to $50, although officially this should be marked at $55. In the UK, £38 is the rough norm, but in Europe the price is a good deal lower at €32 to €35, presumably due to lower taxes.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Richard,

    I believe that the quarter casks used are approximately 125 liters (i.e. a quarter of a sherry butt), so they are not as small as those used by some microdistillers. They certainly do the job, though. I lamented the loss of the similarly finished Ardmore traditional cask; sadly it reappeared as a repackaged Travel Retail exclusive (at a higher price point I am sure).

    • Carlton — True, but the standard American bourbon barrel is 53 gallons/200 liters, and a common small barrel type for American micro-distillers is around 30 gallons/113 liters.

    • @Editor — I doubt that any US micro-distillers using barrels as large as 30 gallons are coming under attack from American “croaker bloggers.” Hudson uses 3 gallon barrels. Woodinville uses 8 gallon barrels. These are the kinds of micro-distillers that complaints have been made about. And these micro-distillers do ALL of the aging of their whiskey in tiny barrels. That of course is a completely different thing than “finishing” whiskey in smaller barrels after it has been aged for as long as five years in full-sized barrels. So, honestly, your analogy was completely ill-conceived.

    • Sadly, I’ve seen plenty of commentary on this subject, dating back several years, that was neither as specific or as informed as your own. Such vitriol rarely is. Insofar as the finishing point, you aren’t wrong, but it bears considering that five years in the warehouse isn’t a long time at all in Scottish terms. That quarter-cask finish is what makes this expression. So, there really is nothing in the article that isn’t very well-founded.

  2. What is going on here are some people don’t like being confronted with some of the hypocritical opinions absorbed from their favorite blowhards.

  3. I was going to comment on how much I love Laphroaig Quarter Cask, and then saw this bunk from Moretears. It might have been true that tiny barrels were more common back in the early days, when Chuck Cowdery was hating on the whole scene (and probably where this guy gets all his information), but even then they weren’t the norm. Even there, he is wrong. Hudson uses 3 gallon to 14 gallon barrels, not just 3’s alone. Nowadays, hardly anyone used tiny barrels. I’ve been to 9 micros in the last year or so, and all of them used ASBs or 25 gallon barrels.

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