A few weeks ago I reviewed the Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive from 2017. Here now is the Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive from the same year. (Neither of these were “fill your own” casks”.) I visited Caol Ila as well in June 2017—as with the Lagavulin exclusive, I don’t believe I saw this on the shelves at the distillery either. The Lagavulin was made in a somewhat complicated manner, involving moscatel casks (which used to be/is the cask type used in the Caol Ila Distiler’s Edition). I’m not sure, however, how this one is made—Whiskybase does not say. It would be fitting if this involved PX casks (which is what the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is “finished” in). I don’t mean to give Diageo any ideas for future releases though; on the other hand, if something like this starts happening I hope you will be willing to serve as witnesses in my intellectual property infringement suit against them. Okay, enough folly! Let’s get to the whisky itself and see what it’s like.
Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive, 2017 (58.8%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Mildly phenolic smoke with some slightly perfumed sweet notes and below them a fair bit of salt. On the second sniff the sweet note is more pronounced but it’s mixed with aniseed and other herbal notes. As it sits it gets more coastal with kelp, brine etc. And the usual Caol Ila olive brine; some preserved lemon too. More olives with a few drops of water and some mineral oil too.
Palate: Comes in sweet with the smoke right behind. Thick, viscous texture and it’s quite expressive despite the high strength. More char and some lemon on the second sip and then an inky depth as I swallow. With time there’s some pencil lead and some oaky bitterness. Okay, let’s see what water does. It pulls out more acid and brightens up the smoke as well.
Finish: Long. The smoke is tarrier here. Some separation at the end that suggest wine casks. Water keeps the acid and ashy smoke going into the finish and fixes the wine separation. The tar comes back at the end.
Comments: Though Whiskybase does not say, I’d be shocked if there weren’t a fair bit of wine cask involvement here. But that—or whatever I’m picking up as that—really only makes itself obvious on the finish where things come apart a bit at the end. Water fixes that problem and in general ties this together better. A very solid and enjoyable whisky but far from Caol Ila at its elegant best.
Rating: 86 points.