Caol Ila 10, 1996 (G&M)

Cao IlaAnother Caol Ila. This one, however, is a little bit unusual. As I noted in my previous Caol Ila review, the vast majority of Caol Ila is matured in bourbon casks (barrels or hogsheads constructed from broken down barrels). From time to time, however, sherry cask-matured Caol Ilas are available, usually from independents. I am not sure what the source of these is. One would think that if Caol Ila is maturing such a small fraction of its malt in sherry casks then that whisky would be reserved for their own needs. It is possible, of course, that independent bottlers might have the spirit filled into their own sherry casks. But as far as I know, only Gordon & Macphail (who are the source of the bottle I am reviewing tonight) still have these kinds of filling contracts; and at any rate, I have no idea if this is how this whisky came about (and suddenly I can’t remember if I have seen very many sherry cask Caol Ilas from anyone but Gordon & Macphail). If anyone can shed any light on this issue (specifically or more generally) please write in to the comments.

And now, on to the whisky, which was distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2007, and is a vatting of three refill-sherry butts:

Caol Ila 10, 1996 (59%, Gordon & Macphail, Refill Sherry Butts 16070-2; from my own bottle)

Caol IlaNose: A bit of tar at first. then ink and sweet peat. With just a little bit of time and air, here come the coastal air and lemon, and just a hint of something savoury and meaty–the sherry is not talking very loudly on the nose. After a bit, dried fruit (apricots) and increased salt–the sherry is speaking now, but still quite restrained. Not much by way of phenols. With more time, the sweet peat expands. A few drops of water bring the sherried character to the fore, but this is no sherry bomb: what we get instead is sweet and savoury dried fruit and preserved meat. After a while, the lemony note expands as well.

Palate: Immediate acrid smoke and ash; sweet and bitter at the same time (“bittersweet?” ed.). A vegetal, leafy smoke–again, not very phenolic but seems like more heavily peated Caol Ila than is usual. No lemon on the palate at all. Bitter, burnt tips of barbecued pork ribs. Very drinkable at 59%. But…it’s better with water: the peat expands, the ink from the nose comes back in a jar with a preserved lemon in it, and crystals of sea salt are sprinkled all over.

Finish: Long. Bitter smoke and some of that inkiness again–all turns dry and briny. An ashy aftertaste lingers for a while. Water makes the salt more pronounced at the very end.

Comments: An excellent example of how good the marriage of peat and sherry can be. I wish there were more such Caol Ilas available. I have another sherry cask Caol Ila (a single cask this time) from Gordon & Macphail in reserve, and hope it will be as good. I also have a sample from a friend of an excellent Cadenhead’s bottling of sherried 10 yo Ardbeg–which I loved at an extravagant tasting of sherried whiskies in the Twin Cities this past February–and I look forward to drinking that head to head with some of this later as well.

Rating: 89 points, with only the finish holding it back from the 90s.

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