Caol Ila 11, 2005 (Gordon & MacPhail)

Over the last decade and more Gordon & MacPhail have bottled a number of multi-cask vattings of 10-11 yo Caol Ila, many of them from sherry casks. Most have been well-received. I’ve liked most of the few I’ve had (see, example, this 10 yo, 1996), though there also have been some duds (see this 11 yo, 2000). I think this one, bottled in 2016, before Gordon & MacPhail’s livery changed, may be the first I’ve had from a vatting of four casks. I always wonder when something like this is released if one or two casks in the vatting might not have needed salvaging. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you: a cask that might not be very interesting on its own can still work very well in a vatting, accentuating positive notes or even helping damp down some overbearing ones (anyone who has done a lot of home vatting knows this). The odd thing here is that these are said to have all been first-fill sherry butts but this is a rather light-coloured whisky. All American oak butts that held fino or manzanilla? Let’s see what it’s like.

Caol Ila 11, 2005 (57.3%; Gordon & MacPhail; first-fill sherry butts 301521+23+24+27; from a bottle split)

Nose: A big bright wave of phenols (Dettol) along with lemon, olive brine and sweeter notes of kelp and uni. Not much sign of first-fill sherry…With time there’s some vanilla and cream. Creamier and less phenolic with water.

Palate: Not very obviously sherried here either but it is sweeter than on the nose; otherwise it’s all the same stuff, with maybe more ashy smoke. Very approachable at full strength. More bitterness with each sip (char). More phenolic with each sip and that mezcal note from the finish starts showing up earlier. With more time still that charred note moves in the direction of coffee grounds. The bitter notes expand with water and it tastes even more youthful now.

Finish: Long. Gets sweeter and then the smoke comes back. A bit of a mezcal’ish note at the end turning more rubbery with time. As on the palate with water.

Comments: How did four first-fill sherry butts yield such a sherry-free malt? More phenols and smoke here than in many Caol Ilas, and a very nice nose, but also some youthful notes that hold it back on the palate.

Rating: 83 points.

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