I ended February with a review of a peated whisky and so let’s start March with another peated whisky. And since it’s been a long while since I’ve reviewed a bourbon cask Caol Ila, let’s start with one of those. This one was bottled by the Italian indie outfit, Wilson & Morgan and came from a second fill bourbon cask.
Caol Ila 16, 1998 (60.4%; Wilson & Morgan; second fill bourbon cask 10165; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Some lemon, some almond oil, some sweet, mineral peat, the slightest hint of vanilla—but it’s all rather tightly packed and needs air and water. With a bit of air there’s some cereal notes as well and some acidic smoke but it’s still rather tight. With a lot more time it begins to open up further and the citrus gets more interesting: some lime peel, some grapefruit; some mothballs too. Water brings out more cereal, more mothballs and more mineral sweetness and some cream.
Palate: Ashy smoke to start and then a flash of the sweet mineral notes before the lemon comes crashing through. Surprisingly drinkable despite the strength and the smoke expands with time, picking up some pepper, but it needs water to (hopefully) develop more complexity. Hmmm well, I can’t say it gets more complex with water but it gets both mellower and more integrated. More smoke now but also more creamy sweetness and some paraffin.
Finish: Medium. The ashy smoke hangs on with some wet stones joining in. Much longer with water with the smoke turning tarrier; the creamy note lingers too.
Comments: This is quite drinkable neat, especially if you give it a lot of time. In that incarnation it’s a very solid Islay whisky of its type but probably hard to tell apart blind from a Lagavulin or Ardbeg of similar cask type and age. With water it displays more of the mellow, elegant OB Caol Ila character (and is quite reminiscent again of a lot of Port Ellen). A little more fruit and it would have been really quite excellent.
Rating: 88 points.