I said last week that it had been a long time since I had reviewed a Laphroaig. Well, it’s been even longer since I’ve reviewed a Caol Ila. Like that Laphroaig this is also in its 20s age-wise, but it’s not at cask strength or from a sherry cask.This was bottled in 2008 by a French outfit I know very little about: Jean Boyer. Whiskybase lists a number of releases from them, but very few seem to be recent (and very few also seem to be at cask strength). This one is from a re-coopered hogshead. I assume this is an instance of a hogshead being reassembled from broken down bourbon barrels—there is no hint of sherry in this. Not too long ago older Caol Ilas from the early 1980s were easily had from the indies, and for very reasonable prices at that. If I’d only anticipated what was coming, I would have purchased more than one bottle of this when I could have. So it goes. (Actually, it appears this is still available in a few places, but they’re in Germany.)
Caol Ila 25, 1983 (46%; Jean Boyer; from my own bottle)
Nose: Mellow peat, waxy with some paraffin, some mineral oil, some olive brine and fast expanding peppery lemon. In other words, classic Caol Ila. The smoke picks up a bit as it sits (more like wet coals); there’s also an almondy sweetness now, along with a hint of vanilla (or is that cream?). The citrus gets muskier and heads towards citronella. A couple of drops of water to see what happens: well, the smoke gets pushed back and the citronella and cream come to the fore.
Palate: As promised by the nose: just quintessential bourbon cask Caol Ila. Very nice texture at 46% and it’s quite punchy. Both the smoke and the lemon are more intense here, and it’s not quite as sweet. With more time it’s more coastal and more phenolic and inky. A little sweeter with water and at first the smoke recedes towards pepper and hot tarmac territory (somewhat Talisker’ish now), but then after a little while it gathers intensity again.
Finish: Long. The lemon and pepper take the lead from the smoke, but the smoke never goes away. Smokier here with water.
Comments: Perfectly balanced and proof positive, as only Caol Ila seems capable of demonstrating on a regular basis, that peated whisky can be very elegant as well. (Well, some of my friends would disagree.) It’s not the most complex whisky but it’s a flawless example of its style. And, yes, you could pour some for very experienced whisky geeks and tell them it’s Port Ellen and they’d be very happy.
Rating: 89 points.