Caol Ila 16, Feis Ile 2020

After Wednesday’s Glen Scotia 14, here is another whisky that was released to mark an annual whisky festival that was forced to go virtual: Caol Ila’s release for Feis Ile 2020. This also now make two weeks in a row of reviews of only official distillery releases. It’s okay to be alarmed: Nostradamus had this as one of the signs of the apocalypse.

At Feis Ile 2019 Caol Ila released a pair of whiskies: a surprise bottle-your-own 28 yo from refill American oak barrels that was only announced on the morning of their Open Day and for their regular release, a 22 yo from what was billed as “sherry-treated American oak casks”. 2020’s release is more in the direction of the 22 yo. The whisky that went into this was matured in refill bourbon hogsheads and then received a finish in “Amoroso treated hogsheads”. It’s also a throwback to 2017’s Feis Ile release which was a 12 yo that had been finished in Amoroso casks. Presumably, all these Amoroso casks are leftovers from fellow Diageo stablemate, Talisker whose Distillers Edition release is finished in Amoroso casks. Well, sherried Caol Ila can be a very good thing. Let’s see if this proves to be one.

Caol Ila 16, Feis Ile 2020 (53.9%; from a bottle split)

Nose: Very Caol Ila with big coastal notes (salt, shells) mixed in with lemon, green olives and mineral smoke. On the second sniff there’s a fair bit of ham brine and the smoke gets both more phenolic and a bit leafy/organic. More lemon now too and more salt. The savoury notes come to the fore as it sits, the lemon turns preserved and there’s a bit of ink in there too now. Water knocks the acid and the phenols back a bit and emphasizes the savoury notes; the preserved lemon comes back strong after a minute or so.

Palate: Comes in with peppery smoke and lemon and a big carbolic hit. Has a nice bite at full strength but the texture is a bit thin. Some of the ham brine and associated sweetness show up with time but there’s not a huge change as it sits. With more time there’s a slightly astringent oaky bitterness that shows up. Let’s see if water knocks it out. Yes, the bitter note disappears with a few drops of water; the smoke turns ashy and melds nicely with the lemon. With a lot more time there’s a resinous sweetness.

Finish: Long. The smoke gets more intense and more peppery as it goes (the phenolic notes recede). Less pepper and generally more in line with the palate with water.

Comments: This is a very good Caol Ila, which is to say it’s an excellent whisky. I did find the nose to be the best part (I preferred it neat); the palate came along nicely with water but there just wasn’t enough fruit or development there to push this towards the next tier. I don’t know much it originally retailed for but the prices listed on Whiskybase now seem a bit much (£155 is the lowest shown). Hmmm maybe I should open my bottle of the 2017 Feis Ile.

Rating; 88 points.


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