Laphroaig Quarter Cask is our Malt of the Month for August.
In the 18th century, whisky was transported out of the glens on the back of pack horses. A standard cask will weigh over 300 kgs. Too much for a horse to carry on each side, so the distillers would use smaller casks, about a quarter of the size to transport the whisky to market. Hence the name, Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
As more distilleries gained legitimacy, and the whisky industry grew, roads were built, and trucks replaced horses, transporting whisky in quarter cask was no longer necessary to get the whisky to the market more efficiently. Isn’t ironic that in the 21st century, Laphroaig turned to the humble quarter cask to make getting whisky to market more efficient.
In the early part, of the 21st century, prior to the GFC, single malt whisky sales were booming. The demand was out stripping supply, and as Laphroiag’s base level whisky takes 10 years to mature, management faced a serious problem. Rather than run out of whisky, they launched a fast-matured whisky that would be ready for the market more quickly. From this background the quarter cask was born. The story about recreating the ancient style of whisky making is a good one, but getting whisky to market quickly in a time of boom makes a lot more sense.
The whisky is matured in fresh quarter casks. These are made from recycled bourbon barrels. Extremely skilled coopers break them down from 200 litres to little casks of about 50 litres. The inside of the barrel is fired to crocadile skin, ready for the laphroaig spirit. As the barrels are small, they have a much higher surface area to volume ratio, and so the maturation is much faster, so you get the maturity of a 10 yo whisky in a whisky that is only 7 or 8 years old.
The unforeseen consequences of faster maturation was that some of the fruitiness and freshness which is normally lost after 10 years, is still retained in the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. This is particularly true of the peat, which is very rich and full flavoured.
Since the GFC, there is no need to bring whiskies into the market quickly, but Laphroiag have struck such a winner with the quarter cask that they must keep producing it to keep up with demand! Go figure.