Caol Ila week concludes with an official release, the top of the line malt from the distillery’s regular lineup: the 25 yo. (See here for Wednesday’s 15 yo and here for Monday’s 11 yo.) I’d listed this one in the February and March “Coming Soon…” lineups as a 2019 release. That was because that was how the retailer I’d purchased it from had listed it. But the bottle code revealed that it is actually the 2018 release. Or more accurately, a 2018 release. Diageo put out two separate bottlings of Caol Ila 25 in 2018: one in February and then another in September. This is the kind of thrilling insight you can be privy to if you too squint at bottling codes on bottles of whisky. This bottle is from the original February release. It should be noted that unlike the initial Caol Ila 25 releases from 2004 and 2005, the later Caol Ila 25s have neither been vintage releases nor at cask strength. This is, of course, also true of Diageo’s Talisker 25—though that stayed at cask strength all the way till 2009. The Caol Ila 25, however, only saw those two special vintage releases in 2004 and 2005 (I’ve reviewed the 1978-2004 release—I was a little harder to please back then) and then silence till it returned sans vintage statement at 43% in 2010; it has been a staple of the lineup ever since (though Whiskybase does not list a 2011 or 2015 release). Perhaps it’s these factors—43% abv, regular availability—that keep whisky geek frenzy away from this release, allowing it to be sold at a reasonable price in Europe even in these insane days (alas, the price in the US is far less reasonable). Okay, let’s see what it’s like.
Caol Ila 25, 2018 Release (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Lemon, kalamata olives, olive brine, sooty smoke. Gets sweeter as it sits (a bit of vanilla mixed in with the olives) but also more phenolic with a big hit of Dettol. Everything gets very nicely integrated with time and air and the whole gets more mineral. A few drops of water bring out some cream and some malt/milky cocoa; the lemon is preserved now.
Palate: Comes in with the lemon and drier smoke (ash along with the soot) than on the nose. Very nice texture and weight at 43%. More brine on the second sip and the smoke has a slightly leafy quality to it. More hints now of muskier fruit in the background (charred pineapple). With more time and air there are some papery notes with some slightly bitter edges (like sucking on an olive pit). Water re-emphasizes the lemon and the brine here.
Finish: Long. The smoke expands here and keeps going as does the musky fruit in the background. The austere, slightly bitter notes carry through here too with time. More lemon and brine here too with water and the charred pineapple comes out to the front as well.
Comments: Yes, this would be better at at least a slightly higher strength but this is textbook older Caol Ila: elegant and restrained and balanced. And dangerously drinkable. Highly recommended at the EU price.
Rating: 90 points.