Caol Ila 33, 1984 (Gordon & MacPhail)

I said I’d close out the month without a mini-theme but I am a liar. Here’s another sherried whisky, albeit twice the age of yesterday’s Mortlach and made from far more heavily peated malt (I’m not sure what Mortlach’s peating levels are). I first tried this at a tasting up in St. Paul last November. That tasting featured a number of very impressive whiskies. I’ve reviewed some of those: the excellent Archives Ben Nevis 27, 1990; the “Speyside Region” 43 from the Whisky Agency; and another excellent old Caol Ila, a 34 yo distilled in 1982 and bottled by Cadenhead. I really liked that Cadenhead’s cask and at the tasting we had some difficulty deciding on which we liked better. As I recall, this one was smokier and heavier. By the way, though when I filled the label I put it down as a 34 yo, this is in fact a 33 yo. I am intrigued to see what I will make of it almost nine months later. I rather expect I will like it quite a bit more than the last sherried Caol Ila from G&M I reviewed.

Caol Ila 33, 1984 (52.8%; Gordon & MacPhail; refill sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Sweet peat, preserved lemon and a very Brora/Springbank mix of sackcloth and barnyard. Gets coastal fast with lots of salt and sweet notes of sea shells and kelp. The iodine expands as it sits (inky, slightly herbal/rooty) and the salt begins to edge into cured ham territory. With more time still a creamy sweetness emerges as well. More of those softer notes with a drop of water and more of the sackcloth.

Palate: Almost exactly as promised by the nose. Lovely texture and lovely integration and balance of flavours. Begins to get ashier as I swallow. Not a lot of obvious sherry influence here, more a sort of sanding and softening of the smoke and oak. Speaking of oak, there’s not much sign of it either. Gets more phenolic as it sits and there’s more of the preserved lemon. Okay, time to add water. Mellower here too with a bit of dilution though still quite smoky.

Finish: Long. Yes, the smoke gets more prominent as it goes and more ashy. Less ashy and more phenolic and then tarry with water.

Comments: Oh yes, this is as good as I remember. My bottle of the Cadenhead 34 yo is long empty but I think it’s pointless trying to choose between them. This one’s got more smoke, that one has more delicacy, but they’re both bloody good and both good examples of why no one with an interest in drinking whisky should be chasing ludicrously priced Port Ellens.

Rating: 91 points.

Thanks to Pat for the sample!

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