There’s been a lot of conversation on the blog recently about older whiskies that was spurred by a question about an older Pulteney 1977 released by Scott’s Selection in 2005. One of the reasons, I think, that so many of those Scott’s Selection releases from the mid-late 2000s stuck around for so long—and some are still around—is because there was and is so little information on them available. Very few people have reviewed them—and many of us whisky geeks whose wallets have bottoms are quite risk-averse. This is why it took me a long time to get around to finally pulling the trigger on some of those bottles, even if only as part of splits with friends. This Caol Ila, however, I purchased without a second thought when a store in the Twin Cities put it on sale at 15% off last year, bringing the price below $200 (I’d never seen it at the original price and so was able to rationalize the cost against prices for current Caol Ilas of similar age). They had another bottle but the cork was defective and it had leaked at least 50 ml—after tasting this bottle I told the manager I’d take the chance and take it off his hands if he discounted it quite a bit more but he was not willing to do so. I guess that’s a spoiler alert: yes, I quite like this one and have been drinking it down at a steady clip since opening it right after purchase. Here now, before I finish the bottle, are my notes.
By the way, it isn’t just older malts at reasonable prices that aren’t around any more—Scott’s Selection is also defunct. I feel a bit sad about that: along with Gordon & Macphail and Signatory, Scott’s Selection was a major part of my entry into the world of independently bottled single malt whisky.
Caol Ila 1984-2007 (54.7%; Scott’s Selection; from my own bottle)
Nose: A big wave of smoke, inkier than usual with Caol Ila. After a minute or so the more familiar coastal notes (kelp, brine) begin to emerge along with lemon, paraffin and almond oil. Gets saltier as it sits and there’s a whiff of gunpowder and rubber as well. With a few drops of water the gunpowder backs off and the salt expands; some mustard seed and white pepper in there too now and the lemon turns to citronella. After a couple more minutes the peat seems to get sweeter.
Palate: Big smoke here too but it’s ashy and the lemon follows right behind along with a truckload of salt. Nice, full mouthfeel. On the second sip the peat expands, quite medicinal/phenolic now and the ink from the nose joins the party. The gunpowder from the nose show up here too with time (more rock salt than gunpowder, actually). The smoke is less phenolic and more mineral/acidic with water.
Finish: Long. Ashy smoke and salt. As on the palate with water; still quite salty here. At the end it gets quite bitter but in a bracing manner (more quinine than oak).
Comments: This is a big, brutal peaty Caol Ila, unlike any I’ve had before. It got heavier/darker/more bitter as the bottle went down but at any point, blind, I’d have guessed it was from the south shore of Islay. Not sure where that gunpowder/rubber complex comes from—I’m pretty sure this was an ex-bourbon cask—anyway, it’s nothing off-putting. If you’ve got a hankering for smoke this will quell it—if you can find it. Very good stuff.
Rating: 88 points.
I finished this bottle tonight. It got better and better to the very end. More fruit (citrus, apple) in the last few pours, more mustard, and less phenolic peat. I’d have given the last pour 90 points.
This might be the same Caol Ila that my oft-cited mom-and-pop store in Illinois has for $300.
Dare I ask the class if anyone thinks it’s worth that price?