Of all of Diageo’s better-known distilleries, Caol Ila, on account of its high production volume, would perhaps seem to be the most insulated against sudden price increases and/or general monkeying around on account of allocation issues. Yet, the annual 25 yo release has been reduced from cask strength to 43% as of the 2010 release (which qualifies both as general monkeying around and as a price increase, as they haven’t reduced the price along with the abv). While the entry-level 12 yo still seems to be holding the line, one wonders how long that can last. The advice I have been giving all my non-whisky geek friends is not going to be news to whisky geeks: if you like any of the Diageo malts a lot, you should sock ’em away now before everything goes through the roof or goes NAS (“No Age Statement” aka “Very Young”). The Talisker 18 jumped from $80 in most US markets to $140 last year, and I fear that the Lagavulin 16, Clynelish 14 and Talisker 10 can’t be far behind (especially now that there are not one but two new NAS Taliskers out; and the Talisker 25 has also been reduced from cask strength to 45.8%).
At any rate, as Binny’s still had some of the 1978 vintage Caol Ila 25 (the 2004 release, I believe) at the original price (or at least the “five years ago” price) I decided to bite the bullet and replace my current dwindling bottle, and also to speed up the rate of consumption of said dwindling bottle. I don’t know when I’ll open the new bottle but my guess is that by the time I do the Caol Ila 25 will be at 40% abv and selling for $500.
Caol Ila 25, 1978 (59.4%, refill American and European oak; from my own bottle)
Nose: Mild, sweet peat; something creamy. Some brine and also a hint of ozone. Gets a little more acidic with time, as some sort of fruit begins to express itself: preserved lemon? lime peel? citronella? The brine/sea salt really expands with time. After even more time, the fruit recedes and the nose gets a little narrow: minerally, briny peat. With even, even more time, the lemon comes back, more concentrated than ever. Okay, it’s been 40 minutes, let’s see what water does. Oh, it takes the lemon, makes it musky and even a little floral: a lovely fragrance.
Palate: Quite salty at first, and some pepper as well. Gentle, minerally peat–no phenolic wallop. This is a mature citizen alright. Not a mature citizen with very many interesting things to say though–let’s see if time and water draw them out. With time, some lemon and green olive. With more time, the lemon expands and becomes a little fermented. With water, the lemon and the minerally peat begin to talk to each other and the pepper gets a few words in as well. Sweeter too now.
Finish: Long: salty first and then turns sweet with the pepper showing up at the end. The finish doesn’t see very much change with water. Wait, that’s not true: the sweet, musky lemon from the palate sticks around much longer.
Comments: I would assume the “European Oak” casks referred to on the back label were sherry casks (bourbon casks have to be from American oak by law) but I don’t get anything that obviously says “sherry” to me on the nose or palate; or anything winey in general (I guess these might be wine casks made from European oak). This is not a million miles from the Berry Bros. 1980-2011, but there’s more happening on the palate here, and a lot more development with water; and the finish is more interesting too.
Rating: 90 points. (High 80s without water.)