In recent years, the Laphroaig Quarter Cask has become my favourite whisky, and so it seems only fair that it be included in my collection of whisky reviews. The bottle itself is unfussy, strong and confident. The ideal dram should share the characteristics of its owner, and I see no reason to quibble here. Once the business of reaching into the tube to retrieve the small Laphroaig booklet has been concluded, you will know what it is to be a giant before removing the cork with a satisfying pop.
This whisky is matured inside quarter casks. For those without a calculator, that’s a quarter of the size of a regular cask. If a cask were a cake and you cut it into four pieces, this cask would be like one of those pieces, only with less icing and more smoke and less cake. The Quarter Cask method is 200 years old. They say age is just a number, and friends, that number is 200. In ye olde times, the casks would be carried by mules. I don’t have a joke for that. It is said that changes in weather can shorten a whisky’s sleep. Well folks, the beast is awake, and it’s hungry.
The tasting begins and immediately i’m face down on the malting floor, shivering and naked like Travis Walton, only in a distillery and with less bullshit about aliens. A huge clump of north Atlantic seaweed washes into my mouth and I begin to whimper softly. The salt preserves me for several weeks like a fine ham. Eventually, I rise to my feet and a small halo of mist forms around my head. Let the games begin.
First impressions: biscuits and barbecues; maize snacks from Red Mill; zoo cages and slimy cherry stones; a WWII ration book; bruised cooking apples; the anorak worn by your neighbour – the one with seven Austin Maestros on bricks in his driveway. The aroma opens out and now it’s in full bloom: nuts sprinkled on ice cream; the pieces of popcorn you dropped at the cinema; a ninja with a smoke bomb; soap powder; stew; AstroTurf; engine oil; studio 2 at Paisley Park; cinammon waffles; a coal-carrying orphan; the Towering Inferno; ash covered Kippers; 100 years of industry; soil; dirt, dust, and finally, total protonic reversal.
Wandering among the kilns and stills and tuns, the acrid effect of the ‘peet reek’ fills my eyes. I continue to weep, but now I cry for the futility of trying to better this taste. The oaky liquid can only be described as biblical. So much so, that upon tasting, my entire family must return to their hometowns for a census. Like some Roman Emperor thumbing his way to mercy, I’m suddenly wrapped in the warmest velvet. Yet this is velvet stored in casks and made sweet by the wood. In a phenolic haze, I stumble out of the barrel room and into a golden autumn as honey oozes out of my mouth, down my shirt and into my boots. I’m getting a dash of coconut; a seafarer’s bulbus nose and medicinal marijuana. Suddenly, i’m singing ‘Bright Eyes’ as an animated rabbit wisps his way ever closer.
The finish is truly remarkable: the singed underbelly of pork futures; billowing blue smoke that forms into the letter ‘Q’, posing a question that is never asked. The texture is woody and rough, like the hands of a Bedouin breadmaker. Finally, i’m left with the same smug smile of the person who tried to tell Toto that ‘Serengeti’ was a clumsy word to sing. Before it’s all over, I am suddenly very cold. I’ve achieved the final level and experienced the chill filter. I flatline, but i’m still smiling. This is how it was always supposed to be. In this age of disposable culture, there is nothing quite like the overwhelming craft of a whisky that tells a story. It may be a convoluted process, the making of this, the finest of all drams, but in closing dear friends, I say this: call Stanislavski and bring a bottle, because there is method to this madness.