This was bottled for Feis Ile, the annual Islay whisky festival, back in 2009. It’s either a 12 or 13 yo and was bottled from a single sherry cask. My understanding is that the whiskies bottled by Caol Ila for Feis Ile are/were all from casks matured on Islay, at least back in the day—the vast majority of Caol Ila’s spirit, in case you’re wondering, is actually tankered off and matured on the mainland (terroir!). For those of us in the US, most of these Feis Ile bottles are out of reach. I’m always happy to see Laphroaig’s fairly priced Cairdeas—I’m more ambivalent about the Ardbegs that have been launched at Feis Ile in recent years. For all the others, however, you have to either go to Feis Ile or look to marked up bottles at auction. Of all of these releases, Lagavulin’s always garners the most interest—and the greatest auction premiums—but there are those who feel that some of Caol Ila’s releases have been on par with them. This 2009 release is particularly lauded. Let’s see what it’s like.
Caol Ila 1996-2009 (58%; European oak cask; bottled for Feis Ile 2009; from a bottle split)
Nose: Cocoa and toffee and then a big burst of leafy smoke, bringing lemon zest and mustard seed in its wake. On the second sniff it’s very coastal indeed with salt and kelp and briny sea air. With time there’s more of the cocoa/toffee thing and more intense coastal notes: seashells, ink/iodine. A few drops of water integrate everything very nicely and pull out some ham as well.
Palate: Smoky arrival (charred sackcloth) and then salt, salt, lemon, salt, lemon and more lemon. Not much development with time but I’m not complaining. Very drinkable at full strength but let’s see what water does. Ah yes, water dials back the salt and brings everything together here as well, adding some almond oil and mustard.
Finish: Long. Salty, sooty and lemony—in that order; a burst of white pepper at the end.
Comments: Oh, this is very good. The sherry is not the top note here, especially on the palate—it seems to more keep the smoke in check than try to take the lead. This lets the briny character of the whisky emerge. Water takes it to another level, especially on the nose, reminding me of those fabulous early ’70s Ardbegs I reviewed last month (here, here and here). It’s not quite at that level but it’s excellent indeed.
Rating: 90 points.