One of the best deals in peated scotch today is Laphroaig’s annual limited edition Cairdeas series (pronounced “car-chuss” and meaning friendship in gaelic). This year’s “Port and Wine Casks” edition delivers proudly on a growing dynasty of tasty releases.
Cairdeas has a few things worth admiration, even amid a saturated market of limited edition whiskies: It’s always affordable (around $100); it’s always tasty (a variety of cask finishes keeps things exciting); it’s always relatively easy to find.
Past releases have showcased single wood finishes—smaller quarter casks from bourbon country, and fino sherry casks from Spain’s hallowed fortified wine producers.
This year’s “Port and Wine Casks” release keeps the streak alive with an unexpected blend of cask influences that come together in beautiful fashion. For 2020, Laphroaig blended whisky aged in second fill Ruby port barriques with a second batch of whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels, then finished in red wine casks for about three years. According to Laphroaig, the ratio ends up being about 85 to 15, port to red wine barrels.”
Multi-element whisky finishes can get a little muddy, particularly when you’ve got more than two in the mix, but this Cairdeas does an impressive job of highlighting all three in the final product.
The bourbon barrels bring subtle lightness and sweetness to the whisky; the port casks bring heft and a chewy, mouth-coating syrupy character. But the wine is doing the real work here, bringing depth and tannin to the party, which cools Laphroaig’s typically acrid and medicinal coastal peaty character to a smoky shoreline rumble, while adding fresh, jammy intonations.
The nose of this whisky is misleading, though pleasant: It’s where you’ll find the most smoke in the entire dram. On the palate, though, the whisky becomes surprisingly herbal. Tea notes quickly become buttery whole grain toast spread abundantly with strawberry jam, before a refreshing, soft, briny finish with honey cream.
It’s hard to call a Cairdeas release an unexpected winner—their disappointments are few and far between. But Laphroaig once again has taken a number of parts and delivered a greater sum for the whole.
Cairdeas Port and Wine Casks is available for a suggested price of $100 for July, and while it’s a popular dram, we’re happy to say you shouldn’t have a problem tracking down a bottle. You can probably snag some releases from previous years here as well.
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