Okay, here’s a geographically appropriate review for a change from my ongoing visit to Scotland. I previously posted reviews of a Speysider on the day we left for Glasgow, an Old Pulteney while leaving Drumnadrochit for Skye, and a Highland Park while leaving Skye for Islay. We’re still on Islay and this is a Caol Ila.
I’m not sure if I will make it to Caol Ila on this trip though I would like to at least see the outside of the distillery. I’d thought this would happen as our ferry arrived in Port Askaig from Kennacraig on Monday evening but apparently views of the distillery are only available from the ferry from/to Colonsay. Nonetheless, here’s a Caol Ila. This was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for the Whisky Exchange and I purchased a bottle on one of my visits to their Covent Garden store. I drank it down before leaving London—the notes below were taken well before this preamble was written.
[Please do not be alarmed by the high quality of the picture above. It is taken, with permission, from the Whisky Exchange blog. I took a regulation, crappy picture of my bottle but have no idea what I did with the file.]
Caol Ila 12, 2002 (56.2%; Gordon & MacPhail; refill bourbon hogshead 8389; from my own bottle)
Nose: The usual Caol Ila complex of peated lemons, kelp, olive brine and oyster liquor—but the smoke is much stronger than usual, taking it into Lagavulin territory. With time it gets a little sweeter in a mineral way (almond oil) and the lemon gets saltier, more preserved; some muskier fruit too now. With water there’s damp sackcloth and the preserved lemons get some crushed mustard seed added to them.
Palate: Hits here too with a big wave of ashy lemon and smoke—sharp and acidic but not at all acrid. Gets saltier as I swallow. Very nice mouthfeel and very approachable at full strength. Even more tart on the second sip and the smoke is sootier (but not very phenolic—which pulls it back out of Lagavulin territory). With water the smoke trumps the lemon and it’s a bit out of balance now.
Finish: Long. The salt expands, is joined by pepper and then the lemons come back. Behind it all is expanding soot which is the last impression. With water the ash keeps going and going, making it a little one-dimensional.
Comments: This is a very smoky Caol Ila. Indeed, when the bottle was first opened the smoke was front and center. As the bottle stayed open the fruity notes expanded and at the end of the bottle’s life, when I took these notes, the lemon was stronger. Wonderful stuff—not sure how it hung around for so long. Anyway, I’m glad I bought a bottle—it was fun to drink it down over just a couple of weeks. I preferred it without water.
Rating: 89 points.