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Laphroaig Debuts Special Edition in U.S. Market for First Time

Jack Bettridge
Posted: June 24, 2011

Laphroaig's current expression of Càirdeas, a limited-edition, single-malt Scotch introduced each year at the Fèis Ìle Festival, will be available to the U.S. market for the first time this year.

Some 3,750 bottles of Càirdeas-Ileach were produced for American markets in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, Washington, Minnesota and Texas as well as through the whisky maker's Friends of Laphroaig website. Lively sales of the online store's allotment caused Laphroaig to add another 200 bottles last week.

The Càirdeas franchise has been used for special editions debuted at the Fèis Ìle Festival, which celebrates the island of Islay's musical and distilling tradition, in each of the past few years.

This year's expression-an eight-year-old-is distinguished by its maturation in 42 cherry-picked former Maker's Mark Bourbon barrels that were placed on an earthen-floor and surrounded by stonewalls in Dunnage Warehouse No. 1, which sits at sea level, mere feet from the surf. (Maker's Mark and Laphroaig are sister distilleries, both owned by Jim Beam.) Considering its relatively young age, it shows remarkable complexity.

All the barley in this whisky comes from floor maltings done at Laphroaig. The distillery is one of a handful in Scotland to use the traditional method of spreading the grain on a floor to sprout and receive peat smoke. However, only 15 percent of the barley used for other Laphroaig whiskies is floor-malted. The rest of the grain comes from a local Islay malt service that uses kilns.

Simon Brooking, the oft-bekilted master ambassador for Laphroaig and Ardmore, says the Islay festival has been a great opportunity to launch special editions. The Ileach edition joins the 12-Year-Old Edition and the 30-Year-Old Master Edition Càirdeas editions of the past two years that were created by master distiller John Campbell. Other than the latter super-aged whisky, the company has resisted the temptation to use the festival to release collector whisky, choosing instead to debut Scotches of approachable price, but with intrigue. The current release sells for $60.

Càirdeas is Scots Gaelic for "friendship."(Brooking suggests the phrase "car chase" to remember the name, but the pronunciation is closer to "carchuss.")  Ileach (pronounced "I-lock") means native of Islay, which is quite appropriate as John Campbell, the master distiller and creator of Càirdeas, is the first Islay-born person to fill that position at Laphroaig.

Brooking wonders if a John Campbell Càirdeas style will develop as the last three special editions have had unique character owing to his eclectic approach to molding the new style for each year. "John searches out the cask and says, 'We'll bottle this,' " he says.

Laphroaig Càirdeas-Ileach Edition (50.5 percent alcohol, 101 proof, $60)

Appearance: Very pale Champagne color. Incredibly tight, strong legs.

Aroma: The nose starts out tight, then releases a flowery Bourbon character with hard candy and vanilla. Typical Laphroaig peat lingers in the wings, not as dominant as you would expect from a whisky of such young age.

Palate: Lights up in the mouth with campfire notes, licorice, exotic candy, sweet mint, butter, oranges and a layering of sugar and spice.

Finish: The finish goes on and on, first recalling the bright orange and then turning toasty.

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