Let’s make it a week of reviews of samples from my friend Rich. This Caol Ila is one of his favourite whiskies from recent years. I’ve tasted it once before, at one of the small Twin Cities gatherings Rich puts together from time to time, but that was alongside a large number of other excellent whiskies. I did come away with this sample and am looking forward to trying it by itself tonight.
I haven’t kept up with prices and availability of older Caol Ila these days. It used to be that of the major peated Islays Caol Ila was the only one with older stock from the indies that could be said to be affordable for regular drinkers (older Bunnahabhains were relatively affordable as well but those are generally not peated). It wouldn’t surprise me if the market’s ongoing insanity has caught up with Caol Ila too. A pity if true.
Caol Ila 27, 1984 (52.2%; Douglas Laing Platinum, Old & Rare; sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Berries and cream to start with vanilla and then some charred coal that turns to ashy smoke. Then there’s some white pepper and citrus (kaffir lime) and hints of other more voluptuous fruit (charred pineapple, a hint of mango juice). A meaty quality as well: ham, or at least the cure. With more time it’s more coastal with briny sea air and a bit of rotting kelp; increasingly leathery too with some soy sauce mixed in. Water emphasizes the citrus even more (regular lime now) and brings out more salt. After a minute the acid settles down and the whole becomes much softer.
Palate: The salt arrives early on the palate along with a lot more ashy smoke. The lime is right behind it. On the second sip the lime is more intense and now there’s quite a bit of green olive brine as well. Gets more peppery and olivey as it goes and the smoke gets a little leafier. Not a whole lot of change with water though there are some teasing hints of sweeter notes.
Finish: Long. Salty and more phenolic; the smoke is tarrier too. The same but more of it with water.
Comments: This is not massively sherried but it’s massively Caol Ila with the coastal/olive/lemon thing. The fruity quality on the nose is not something I typically associate with Caol Ila; I haven’t really gotten it in the few others of this age I’ve tried—then again this might be the first refill sherry Caol Ila of this age I’ve had. More of a regulation profile on the palate, though Rich says that with enough tinkering with water and with enough time a lot of fruit emerges there too. That’s easier to do with a whole bottle than with an ounce!
Rating: 91 points.
Thanks to Rich for the sample!