Laphroaig Quarter Cask Old v New

2007 takes on 2020

As I sit here sampling these two malts from ever so slightly different eras, I think back to the first time I tried a Laphroaig. It was some 15 years ago and very early on in my malt journey. My Dad was a whisky drinker who mostly drank fairly standard blends such as Famous Grouse, and this bottle of Laphroaig 10 had come from my late grandmother’s liquor cabinet. He didn’t like it.

As soon as I tasted those medicinal, TCP notes it wowed me. I never knew whisky could taste like this and I had no idea why it did. It was so different and challenging, but incredible at the same time. I was intrigued.

I didn’t know the history of that bottle was at the time, but have since learned that it was a pre-royal warrant bottling, which dates it prior to when the distillery was awarded that status in 1993. I still own that bottle to this day, but with only the heels remaining and the cork broken and now lodged in the neck, I have chosen to keep it as a memento of an early highlight in my whisky journey. Part of me wants to get the cork out and finish off the bottle and reconnect with that moment, but the experience is no doubt diminished after all these years with so little left in the bottle and plenty of contact with oxygen and alcohol evaporation.

Needless to say, I have never experienced such brilliance in a recent bottling of Laphroaig 10, which is a view that seems to be held by a lot of whisky drinkers. One reason for that may well be due to my palate becoming more experienced, but there is definitely a drop in quality in my opinion.

And so we come to the reason for this piece, to look at two whiskies from Laphroaig, bottled at different times. Not too far apart, but just like the 10, many a fan will say that the Quarter Cask bottlings were much better in the earlier releases. So is that correct?

Quarter Cask was introduced by Laphroaig in 2004 and is matured in smaller, 125 litre quarter cask barrels, which increases the contact with the wood and speeds up the maturation process. It is a non-age statement release and we are told it is non-chill filtered. There is no mention of any E150a colour, so lets assume there is some in there. Judging by the colour there can’t be a lot.

I picked up the 2007 bottling on an online auction site for £30+fees, which means it wasn’t much more expensive than the current release.

Laphroaig QC (2007)

Nose : Sweet. Very phenolic and medicinal with typical Laphroaig TCP. Dunnage warehouse earthiness and cola cubes. A big and powerful nose.

Palate : Sweet and again the medicinal peat shines bright, as it did on the nose. Cough lozenages, some sage. Salt, pepper and the peat lingers on the palate in the finish.

Laphroaig QC (2020)

Nose : Sweet confectionary, medicinal, elastoplast, cardboard and bread. Rather doughy indeed.

Palate : Sweet and again rather confectionary. Typical Laphroaig notes of the medicine cabinet. More of those bread dough notes that were present on the nose. Salt and pepper spice come through and linger with the peat. Lots of salt.

Conclusions

I have tasted both these whiskies over the past few weeks, on their own and in comparison. Both are certainly very much Laphroaig, but the 2007 is much more of the old style Laphroaig that we don’t seem to get any more in the lower end core range Laphroaig offerings. It is very powerful on both the nose and palate, with the medicinal, TCP, first aid box signature of Laphroaig smacking you in the face. The 2020 is sweeter, less flavoursome and the doughy notes come through a little too much, particularly on the nose. The 2007 also has a more balanced and pleasant finish, where as the later offering is very saline at the end.

Let’s hope Laphroaig can figure out a way of returning to the flavour of these older versions, as it is rather excellent indeed. At the moment you really need to look at the cask strength 10 year old or the non-age statement Lore to get a decent official bottling. However, both will cost you upwards of £60. If you see one of the early quarter casks at auction and its reasonably priced, I can’t recommend it enough. Then do this very same comparison and see for yourself.

Verdict

Laphroaig Quarter Cask (2007 bottling) – 9/10

Laphroaig Quarter Cask (2020 bottling) – 6/10

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