For whatever reason Diageo does not put out very many sherry matured Caol Ilas. This is generally a shame as sherry matured Caol Ilas can be very good indeed. See, for example, this 10 yo from 1996 put out by Gordon & Macphail. G&M, not surprisingly, are the source for a good many sherried Caol Ilas. As they are one of the few indie bottlers with their own filling contracts (at least they used to be) this may possibly be because they fill their own sherry casks (as opposed to buying matured butts from Diageo)–this is all speculation, so please confirm or deny below if you know more. The young sherried Caol Ila I am reviewing today is also from Gordon & Macphail and I hope it will be not too far away from the one linked above in quality.
Caol Ila 11, 2000 (61.4%; Gordon & Macphail; first fill sherry butts 309558 + 59; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Sharp, vegetal peat with a mossy, leafy quality. Some rubber below that and then quite a lot of struck matches (sulphur). The smoke gets sharper with more of an acidic edge with each sniff. With more time some savoury notes come to the surface (nitrate-laden ham) along with some orange peel and a little plummy/apricoty sweetness. With a lot of time a fair bit of the sulphur does burn off on the nose and then there’s a very nice meaty sweetness and quite a lot of salt. Water pulls some cereally notes out from under the smoke and the matches and adds some rubber to the meaty sweetness.
Palate: Very much as on the nose though perhaps less acidic and sans the rubber. It’s hot but drinkable at full strength. Sweeter on the second sip at first, with the plum/apricot thing, and then salty, but just a bit too much of the struck matches. Yeah, time/air is not doing much for the palate; let’s add some water. Water makes this less sharp and less salty and pulls out more citrus and apricot and some stony sweetness. With more time though it gets quite sharp again.
Finish: Long. Hard to tell much development through the alcohol and sharp smoke. Gets saltier as it goes and once the smoke subsides there’s some lingering sweetness. Less acrid with water on the finish and the sweetness expands too but the salt comes back.
Comments: There’s a bit too much sulphur in this one. It’s not too much of a drawback on the nose, but it does make it rather raw and one-dimensional on the palate and even with my high sulphur tolerance it’s a bit much for me neat. With water it’s much improved but it’s still pretty raw and it doesn’t leave a good feeling in my mouth. Alas, it’s rather far away indeed from that lovely 10 yo, 1996.
Rating: 79 points. (Low-mid 80s if I were just nosing it.)