Circle of Friends

A once-sequestered Scotch comes Stateside

[Editor's Note: The 2011 supply of Laphroaig's Cairdeas whiskey is sold out. Look for new releases each spring.]

We'd accepted that some of the greatest booze never makes it past the distillery doors, the bottles shelved instead for the makers and their friends to drink on site.

Such is the case with some of Islay's finest whiskeys, which are put away for the Scottish island's annual Feis Ile festival in May. At the historic Laphroaig distillery, a different head distiller is responsible for choosing the barrel to bottle for the occasion. These selections become known as "Cairdeas," which translates to "friends" in the local dialect.

This year's festival has come and gone, but in an unprecedented move, the distillery has released a very small allocation of the 2011 Cairdeas whiskey pick for Stateside purchase.

John Campbell, Laphroaig's master distiller, picked this year's selection for the first time–a golden liquor ($60) that boasts the signature peaty notes of Islay Scotches, but with a sweet roundness thanks to years (between 11 and 19) spent in Maker's Mark barrels. Slightly hot-headed, the Cairdeas benefits from a few drops of water, which unfurls nuances of salinity and fruit.

Less than 4,000 bottles, a number of which have already sold, made the journey across the pond. So the window to buy this liquid moment in time is closing.