Moss Island Drams: Laphroaig Càirdeas 2019

One of the most pleasant ways to wind down an evening is with an “adult beverage,” as an old boss liked to say. My Scotch cabinet has been empty lately, but yesterday my brother-in-law appeared on the front porch with a new bottle of Laphroaig Càirdeas 2019.

My initiation to Laphroaig was courtesy of an actor friend. We’d been rehearsing Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love, he was The Old Man and I was Martin, the hapless boyfriend. The producing company was frustrating to work for, and one snowy night the two of us crossed the street from tiny rehearsal gallery to tiny bar for a reprieve. The Old Man spotted a dusty green bottle on a high shelf – the bartender said she didn’t even know what it was. That was Laphroaig 10, my initiation to Islay malts. My companion was amused by my reaction, which he’d anticipated – I was taken aback by the intense, medicinal nose, and recoiled from the explosion of peat on my tongue. Although I’ve since learned to prize Islay Scotches above all others, with a particular fondness for Lagavulin 16, it would take a few years for my palate to develop. Still, you never forget your first.

Laphroaig’s website says Càirdeas means ‘friendship’ in Gaelic. This is an annual limited release with different characteristics each year. The 2019 expression is first matured in ex-bourbon barrels, then in quarter casks and finally in oloroso sherry casks, and bottled at cask strength – 119 proof, which threatens to burn the palate without a splash of water. I tried it two ways yesterday, first with Laphroaig’s recommended “twice as much water as whisky,” and then neat. Since I prefer most distilled spirits neat and at room temperature, that’s the experience I’ll describe.

Càirdeas 2019 has no age statement. It’s medium gold, a bit deeper than other Laphroaigs. It has a satisfying body – after swirling it recedes slowly back down the glass. The nose is pleasingly reminiscent of my first Laphroaig experience, although the peat doesn’t seem as prominent as with the 10 year-old. It’s well balanced between sweet/smoky, less intense than it seemed years ago (although the two non-drinkers in my house both found the nose powerfully medicinal.) Nosing in between sips remained intense and pleasing throughout the evening, gradually revealing additional layers of earth and wood.

On the palate, Càirdeas 2019 explodes instantly – it’s intensely sweet at first but immediately expands with smoke and then peat. The malt is oily thick on the tongue and provides a good backbone for the variety of complementary flavors. The finish is extremely long and very dry, dominated by woody notes and reminiscent of good cigar smoke. (I’ve never smoked, but I do enjoy the aroma of tobacco.)

Càirdeas 2019 is one of the most interesting Scotches I’ve tried. It rewards contemplation, continued nosing, and occasional small sips. I was transported back to my first Laphroaig, while also experiencing something newer and deeper. A beautiful Scotch. Thanks, Dave.