I’ll be passing through travel retail several times over the coming month. Whilst always appealing, I find it ever the strange place. Transparency and clear honest marketing are often the antithesis to the travel retail experience – a world of shiny (and yet strangely opaque) things designed to appeal to a far wider audience than your average whisky obsessive. Over the years countless unmemorable NAS bottlings have led to a situation where many whisky enthusiasts (including myself) are somewhat wary of the travel retail experience – shelves packed full of more choice and marketing puffery than they are of quality. There are gems out there, but you’ll have to look for them.
As of writing, the Travel Retail section of the Laphroaig website is as empty as a politicians promise. I’d like to think this means it will soon to be updated with a host of new expressions – but it’s more likely that someone has just accidentally removed all the content (despite being one of the biggest brands in the world of whisky, the Laphroaig website is famously hopeless). The latest bottles to be added to the distillery’s travel line up came in the form of Four Wood and the 1815 Legacy Edition which were both added early in 2017. The distillery’s travel retail line-up seems to evolve regularly – it was only back in 2013 that the range consisted of QA, PX and An Cuan Mor (Big Ocean) – and many airports still stock these expressions – sometimes over the newer editions.
An Cuan Mor is an NAS whisky matured in first-fill American oak casks before being finished for an unspecified time in European oak. Allegedly it has been aged in ’18 year old casks’ – a particularly strange phraseology which seems to imply that the liquid contents have a certain age to them, but could in actual fact just mean that the expression has been matured in casks which were previously used to mature the now sadly defunct Laphroaig 18 year old. As it stands, though, we’ve got little to go on – young whisky, old whisky, or a mixture of both – who really knows. The bottling is delivered at 48% ABV (as is often the case with many of the distillery’s travel expressions) and can be bought for around £75.
Nose: Take one measure of fresh and crisp coastalness - add a slug of earthy minerality – finish with a healthy shot of sweet and powerful typical Laphroaig flavour. Salt and brine are immediate here, but counterbalanced by demi-sweet fruitiness – toffee apples, apricots and Mexican vanilla bean (the smoky kind). A gentle minerality pervades the entire nose – wet steel decking and limestone with plenty of moist mosses and lichen. This merges extremely naturally with intense, medicinal peat – hospital floors, iodine, seaweed and camphor. The smoke is ashy and sooty – thick and powerful enough to be instantly recognisable, but likewise, moderated to a point where the wider palette of aromas have plenty of room to express themselves. Reduction adds further sweetness in the form of tinned fruits and sugar-dusted pancakes. It also starts to express some of the spiciness to come in the form of cracked black pepper.
Taste: There’s no messing around here – the arrival has both weight and impact. A wave of intense Laphroaig flavour (oily mineral smoke with plenty of medicinal influence) is delivered alongside high-grade minerals, salt and overt cask influence – vanilla and prickly pepperiness. The palate is not as sweet as the nose, whilst there are hints of apple, orange and sugars (burnt toffee and honey), a dry earthiness keeps everything in balance. The addition of water (not wholly necessary in my view) heightens the ashiness of the palate – soot, coal dust and chalk being added to sudocream, bromine and Dettol.
Finish: Quite long, slightly sweeter now with liquorice, salinity and a developing oaky bitterness.
I’ve long felt that Laphroaig’s travel retail selection has been rather the mixed bag, but An Cuan Mor hits the spot for me. Whilst characterful and very ‘Laphroaig-like’ (unlike some anaemic expressions), both sweetness and coastal minerality provide this whisky with depth and importantly balance. The end result has oomph, personality and plenty of drinkability. In the strange big ocean that is travel retail, An Cuan Mor is a rare island worth exploring.
But don't take our word for it..
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