Age: No age statement
Over the past years, Laphroaig has been happily experimenting with different types of maturation. Quarter casks, bourbon barrels, sherry casks and virgin oak are just some of the casks used in Laphroaig’s recent NAS expressions. But why choose when you can actually use all of them? This is exactly what Laphroaig has done for their new expression, aptly called Four Oak. Given this name, it may not come as a surprise that the Four Oak one-ups the Triple Wood by adding an extra layer of maturation. While the Triple Wood is essentially a sherry finished version of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Four Oak adds the virgin oak character that’s also found in Laphroaig QA Cask, meaning it really has a wealth of influences to draw upon. The QA Cask and Triple wood are both excellent Laphroaig expressions, albeit quite different in terms of character. Do the two styles mix? Let’s find out!
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: Somewhat sour and not altogether pleasant. The instantly recognisable Laphroaig seaweed and iodine make an appearance, but in rather subdued form. There’s a floral, winey character to this whisky, with scents of raisins and vanilla. These give way to toffee, cork and hemp rope, along with shortbread and roasted almonds. However, the effect is more than a little bit spoiled by a distinct aroma of raw spirit, faintly reminiscent of meat that’s not been cured correctly. Although there is quite a lot happening on the nose, it’s not all good news, and I really hope this whisky may yet surprise.
Palate: The same winey, mellow character returns, fused with notes of toasted oak and smoky cereal. The vanilla from the nose increases in intensity, as the influence from the virgin oak cask unfolds. There’s quite an explicit barley flavour, intertwined with notes of salty liquorice. On the whole, this is a fairly fresh version of Laphroaig. I could never call a Laphroaig soft, but the Four Oak is much less feisty than the 10 year old or the Quarter Cask. Despite this, the relative youth of this whisky is apparent throughout. There is quite a lot of complexity, but little sophistication and more than a little lack of balance.
Finish: Not overly long, and missing that typical warming boost that announces this is a Laphroaig. The finish is accompanied by a relatively soft smokiness, having left most of the medicinal character behind. Eventually the smoke evaporates into an aftertaste of charred oak and dried fruit.
Verdict: Let’s cut right to the chase, Four Oak is not Laphroaig’s best offering. No amount of additional cask finishes can hide the fact that this is a very young whisky. And just to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with young Islay whiskies, in fact I happen to like them a lot. But if you’re going to bottle a dram like that, you should come out and make a bold statement, and not disguise it as something sophisticated. Similarly, I have no particular beef with NAS whiskies, as they are a simple necessity in a market where demand exceeds supply. What I’m less OK with however, is taking a very young whisky, giving it a few cask finishes and making a quick buck off a successful marketing campaign. Then again, perhaps I’m being overly harsh. Laphroaig Four Oak isn’t a bad whisky by any means, but it just falls far short of the high bar that Laphroaig has set for itself with previous bottlings. Because the Four Oak is a dram that’s no match for the 10 year old or the Quarter Cask in ferocity and liveliness, and can nowhere near rival the Triple Wood or PX Cask in terms of sophistication. For less money than the Four Oak, I would happily buy any of those whiskies instead, so it’s safe to say I will not be returning to the Four Oak anytime soon.