I was lucky enough to get away for an extended weekend in Bali and meet up with friends, one of whom was celebrating a birthday. A good excuse to purchase a bottle of 1998 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame duty free at the airport, I was also informed by those already relaxing in Bali that supplies of Scotch were running low so a duty free bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask was also in order, to complement the dwindling supply of Laphroaig 10 year old. The alcohol limit for Indonesia is 1 liter and there was 1.75 liters in my bag as customs was negotiated, much to the smiling customs officials delight as he informed me of this detail. Tax is US$20.00 he informed me as I lent forward pretending deafness only to be informed again that the tax is US$20.00, so it was into the wallet for a fresh new US$20.00 bill I had prepared earlier, which disappeared into the customs officers right hand trouser pocket, I presumed he therefore kept the tax receipts in his left hand trouser pocket, but as none appeared, one suspects he must be short of them, so I carried on my merry way.
That night it was revealed just how drastic the supply of scotch had become, acepfv had reduced the Laphroaig by a good two thirds, the quarter cask was called upon to fill the gap. And an interesting scotch it is, first the official blab.
“Laphroaig Quarter Cask takes its inspiration from the small casks often used for Scotch Whisky in the 19th century and frequently transported across the Glens by packhorse.
As the industry grew, they fell into disuse – bigger and more cost effective barrels became the norm, for maturation and transportation.
However as single malt lovers may know, the relationship between the barrels and the maturing spirit is critical. We noted that the small cask size gives up to 30% greater contact with the wood compared to some of the larger sizes used today, thus greatly intensifying the maturation process.
It was decided to recreate some of the Quarter Casks and the flavours they produce. We transferred some still maturing Laphroaig from our larger style barrels into the Quarter Casks. There then followed a further periods of maturation in our original Dunnage Warehouse No1.
For greater authenticity we simply barrier filtered the whisky – the method used in those far off days – and bottled at a higher alcoholic strength.
The result surprised and delighted us. The additional oak influence creates a soft sweetness and velvety feel when first tasted, then the intense peatiness so unique to Laphroaig, comes bursting through. The finish is very long and alternates between the sweetness and the peat.”
Not much more to say as that’s pretty well spot on, one could add that it is a bit of a Claytons* Laphroaig as in, the Laphroaig you have when not having a Laphroaig. One of the reasons people drink Laphroaig is because of its extreme smokey peat smell and flavour, it’s a very distinctive example of the Islay style of scotch. While this is a much more supple example of the Islay style with the oak bringing the peat under some limited control, a glorious scotch and a nice balance of Islay style and oak intrusion (not too much).
The Grande Dame was saved until our last full day in Bali, even though it was not Birthday Girl’s Birthday (Celebrated on the Thursday at Un’s) and was drunk after a delightful lunch at PJ’s restaurant, wood fired Pizzas and Fish & Chips (Oh so light and delicate) down by the beach at Jimbaran Bay, then it was back to the villa around the pool, this is truly when a setting helps inspire the experience of the wine and the wine helps inspire the experience of the setting. The Grande Dame is a beautiful example of Vintage Champagne. Vintage Champagne (wine from one vintage) is only bottled from the best vintages in Champagne, 1998 is one of those years, having drunk a few bottles of Pol Roger 1998 I can attest to that. While NV or Non Vintage Champagne is the house style Champagne which is a blend of several vintages to create a blend which has a distinct house style and is usually a consistent taste compared to the more varied and complex Vintage Champagnes, I guess this is why they can and do charge more for the vintage stuff.
This one came with a nutty and caramel nose, golden colour and super fine bubbles, there is something else here that I can’t quite put my finger on, a very distinctive flavour only seen in Champagne. It did not last long and we needed a second bottle, which unfortunately was never going to happen. Not to worry as the afternoon was spent lazing around the pool chatting and taking in the Bali holiday mood. Another interesting point about this Champagne was how close in style and flavour it was to a small house champagne I wrote about a while back, the N.V. Veuve Fourny & Fils Champagne Brut 1er Cru Blanc de Blanc.
*Claytons is the brand name of a non-alcoholic, non-carbonated beverage coloured and packaged to resemble bottled whisky. It was the subject of a major marketing campaign in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s, promoting it as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink” at a time when alcohol was being targeted as a major factor in the road toll.
Although the product is no longer being actively marketed, the name has entered into Australian and New Zealand vernacular where it represents a “poor substitute” or “an ineffective solution to a problem”. It can also be used to describe something that is effectively in existence but does not take the appropriate name, eg. a common-law couple might be described as having a “Clayton’s marriage”.