From what I understand, when it comes to maturing whisky the smaller the barrel, the “faster” a whisky matures. The magic is in the maths. Basically, a smaller cask allows more woody surface area to come into contact with the liquid, which means more wood flavour being soaked up by the whisky. Good stuff.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask is an attempt to capitalise on this magic – by purposefully transferring their whisky into smaller American oak casks (“quarter” casks), they hope to get a little extra vanilla and caramel bourbonyness. This comes at the cost of an age statement (NAS) but they do bottle it at a generous 48%. Nice.
I actually reviewed the Quarter Cask side-by-side with the Laphroaig 10, taking alternating sips and simultaneous notes. Here goes:
Like the 10 YO, we’ve got plenty of grass, moss and raw peat going on. But strangely less intense on the nose, despite being bottled at higher strength. Distinctly more sweet (caramel), but this sugariness sits awkwardly amongst all the peat. More bready. A questionable vegetable (brocolli, beans) smell. Ugh.
Bizarrely, Laphroaig Quarter Cask also tastes less intense than the 10. But here’s where the differences between the two become harder to notice. These are extremely similar whiskies – which is to say, they’re both one-trick peat bludgeons. Side-by-side, I had to make very sure I kept each glass separated to ensure I knew which one was which. If you held a gun to my head, I’d say the less intense peaty flavour of the Quarter Cask reveals a little more vanilla and a little less of the charcoal taste found in the 10.
As careful as I was with my water (and despite the ABV) the Quarter Cask drowned pretty quickly. You’re left with something that smells flat, bready and somewhat peaty. Not great. On the taste, it’s actually not too bad – taking that intensity down helps a lot, but it’s a bit underwhelmingly simple and plain – grassy and uninspiring.
Again, I felt I had something to prove here. But I have to go with my gut – I actually liked this a little less than the 10 YO, which I already wasn’t blown away by. Same problems – not much but peat, and not integrated very well – but this one felt even less exciting, and certainly poorer value for money. If you’re looking for a rock-solid, sweeter peated malt with interest and complexity, the upgrade to Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg Uigeadail is well worth it. Cheers!