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Comparing Three Laphroaig 10 yo Cask Strength

by Oliver Klimek on August 27, 2010

Laphroaig’s 10 yo cask strength bottling has been a very important cornerstone in the distillery portfolio for a long time. Only rather recently, the trusty old 55.7% bottling was replaced by a succession of numbered batches with individual bottling strengths, just like it has been done with the Aberlour a’Bunadh for many years.

On the reasons for this move one can only speculate. My guess is that it would have been a very unlikely coincidence, if every bottled batch of the CS had turned out to have an ABV of exactly 55.7% So this would have been basically a pseudo cask strength bottling with a little added water to normalize the alcohol content. The fact that the new batches have a noticeably higher ABV does underline this assumption as well.

I was lucky enough to secure samples of batches 001 and 002 of the new bottlings. And on an even more fortunate note, I happen to have an open bottle of the now obsolete 55.7% red stripe CS on my shelf.

Time to pour three wee drams and hunt down the differences.

Let me quote my orignal tasting note for the old CS for your convenience:

Colour: Bright amber
Nose:
Very intense, a mixture of smoke shack and hospital hallway with added seaweed.
Palate:
Strong peat, liquorish, salt, cloves, lemon and a faint hint of pineapple candy.
Finish:
Very long, smoke, salt and aromatic spices.
Overall:
The true essence of Islay. This uncompromising malt does not take prisoners. Extremely complex and much better than the regular 10 yo for an unbeatable price.

Rating: 91/100

Revisiting the 55.7% Version

I found all of my original impressions still present in this dram, and I will also stand to my rating of 91. Its general character I would describe as fresh and maritime. I particularily like the balance of maritime, medicinal, and sweet fruity components.

Batch 001 – 57.8%

Nose: Even stronger than the old version but a little less fresh, smoky bacon notes are rather dominant.
Palate: Less salty but more of the aromatic spices, strangely no bacon on the palate.
Finish: Very long, liquorish and spices.
Overall: This batch puts an emphasis on the medicinal and spicy notes and cuts down on the maritime touch. I would hesitate to give it a different rating, it might also be mood dependent.

Rating: 91/100

Batch 002 – 58.3%

Nose: More subdued compared to the other two. Less smoke, more vanilla and citrus fruit.
Palate: Drier and fruitier than both the others, the vanilla is quite present here as well.
Finish: Very long, dry smoky fruits.
Overall: I find this version to lack a little of the richness and complexity that the other bottlings exhibit. That’s just complaining on a very high level, for sure, but the difference is quite noticeable.

Rating: 88/100

Batch 002 is currently available at the Whisky Exchange

Conclusion

Overall, I like the new concept. I doubt that Laphroaig will ever bottle really disappointing batches, so I think the constant anticipation of the coming batch will keep things interesting for the time being. Some batches will certainly be not too overwhelming when compared to others, but without a doubt there will be some true gems as well.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Steffen Bräuner August 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm

You can mix casks of various ABV’s to obtain a preset ABV if you want

50 liters of 58% and 100 liters of 61% should give you 150 liters 60%

Glenfarclas 105 40yo was made this way from 3 or 4 casks

That said, they could have added water? Any idea if there’s any rules of not adding water to a whisky sold as cask strength ?. Would sound like a fair rule to add to all the other SWA rules, better than some of the existing rules, but that’s another story

/MAcdeffe

/Macdeffe

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Oliver Klimek August 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm

That was a bit of a guess into the blue. But I don’t remember having read about a CS regulation in the rules. It’s not really very imporant anyway.

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Steffen Bräuner August 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I don’t know, if a bottle says cask strength I expect no water to be added. Its not just about ABV but also a dilution of every thing else

/Macdeffe

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Oliver Klimek August 28, 2010 at 7:25 am

As a followup, I can find no refence to the term “cask strength” neither in the old nor in the new Scotch whisky regulations. So there seems to be no legal requirements what constitues a CS whisky and what does not.

There is one thing that bothers me about achieving a set ABV with a clever selection of different cask as pointed out by Steffen. To get the ABV right, at least some casks have to be selected for their ABV and not their qualitiy. Is this really better than to add a little water?

And I think this is even more important for whiskies like the aforementioned Glenfarclas 105 40yo. The Distillery will not have an unlimited supply of 40+ year old casks, so finding 3 or 4 casks that give you an ABV of exactly 60% seems to me like a very big piece of luck. And if so, would these really be the most suitable casks for bottling this expression? Double piece of luck.

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Steffen Bräuner August 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

About the Glenfarclas 105 40yo, I am retelling this from memory so I might not remember everything exactly as it was, but the distillery had 3 or 4 casks with exceptional high ABV. 60% for a 40yo is very unusual, but these casks were filled at a time with lack of warehouse space so no watering down to 63.5 as Glenfarclas usually do. These casks also held their ABV very well and at least one of them had to had an ABV above 60. I don’t think all the content of the casks were used.

I can think of two casks being vatted together and then filled up with content from a third until the wished ABV was reached, not using all the content from the third

Back to Laphroaig. I would guess casks are selected for their quality first then mixed to get to the ABV. If you have a huge stock, hitting a certain ABV shouldn’t be that hard

I have to agree, that if adding water is allowed and still labeling the bottle as cask strength, I think water is added, would be a lot easier solution, but would do I know

I think this is quite interesting so I will ask on whiskywhiskywhisky

/Macdeffe

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