Laphroaig QA Cask (40% ABV / 80 proof, $75 per 1 Liter – Travel Retail Exclusive) – we’re not sure why Laphroaig chose to abbreviate the genus for American oak (Quercus Alba) for this release; it may be to companion their other travel retail release, Laphroaig PX (finished in Pedro Ximenez casks). Travel Retail (aka Duty Free) has been an excellent place for brands to test out new products prior to a wide release, and these two cask-finished Laphroaigs are an excellent example of Laphroaig’s experimentation and refocus on wood. Laphroaig QA Cask is double matured, first in traditional ex-bourbon casks and then again in new American oak casks. As with the other wood-focused Laphroaig releases, there is no age statement on the bottle. Light amber in color, the nose notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak are as dominant in the glass, perhaps even more so, than Laphroaig’s classic smoky and peaty notes. As with the nose, the entry is much more reflective of the American oak than classic Laphroaig malt. Caramel leads the charge with a light smoky and salty undertone. In the midpalate things get a little spicy with black pepper, clove, and cinnamon. While the peat smoke does ratchet up in the midpalate, it’s not nearly as intense as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask and light years away from Laphroaig 10. The finish is medium length and slightly dull with the flavors in the midpalate muddled together and sort of petering out at the same point.
While Laphroaig Quarter Cask balances the strong peat smoke of Laphroaig 10 with influence of a smaller barrel, Laphroaig QA Cask fails to pull the elements all together. The cask notes from the American oak are unmistakable, but they’re just not in sync with what Laphroaig’s base typically has to offer. We were surprised that QA Cask lacked the kind of spice we found in Laphroag’s Triple Wood, which would have gone a long way to helping add some much needed depth and complexity to this whisky. The release also doesn’t fulfill the promise of adding new American oak to the equation, and consumers buying this expression hoping for something more akin to Ardbeg’s Alligator will be sorely disappointed. Laphroaig’s QA cask is a fairly muted and unremarkable whisky that never seems to find its identity, wandering lost between the classic style and American oak influences. Laphroaig QA is by far our least favorite of Laphroaig’s experimentation with wood.