If you are the kind of person who purchases bottles from whisky auctions—I’m not any more—this is the kind of bottle that you might be interested in but then be inclined to pass on. There’s not much information, if any, out there on it and the people who can usually be relied on to have passed judgment on bottles like this haven’t done so. But then you remind yourself it’s a Caol Ila from 1980 and from a bourbon cask—and that it was bottled by Cadenhead doesn’t hurt—and you decide to take the not ruinously expensive but not cheap plunge. Then years later you finally open it and pour yourself some with more than a little bit of apprehension. Why are you, I mean I going on in the second person like this? Anyway, I am the person previously described—I came across this at an auction and eventually decided to buy it—and secured it without it getting bid up. I’ve now opened it—a couple of weeks ago now—and here finally are my notes.
Caol Ila 22, 1980 (56.2%; Cadenhead; bourbon hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: Mellow mineral peat with olive brine and some herbal/piney accents; Not particularly phenolic. More coastal with each sniff (brine, kelp). Sweeter as it sits—not via vanilla but via mineral oil and seashells. Blooms with a few drops of water: the citrus from the palate shows up as citronella and the leafy note from the finish appears as well.
Palate: Comes in as indicated by the nose—more peat and hot tarmac than smoke—but with a big dose of pepper attached. A nice bite at full strength but also very approachable. More lemon as it sits and then more olives—the whole harmonizes very well with the peat. Water intensifies everything; more lemon zest (with preserved notes), more peppery peat, more mineral oil and hot tarmac.
Finish: Long. The pepper tingles for a good while. Develops as on the palate with some added leafiness. As on the palate with water.
Comments: An austere Caol Ila that does not pack a phenolic wallop but expresses very well the quality of the distillate. Quite reminiscent of the Caol Ila 25, 1978 in many way. Absolutely no flaws and absolutely no belated buyer’s remorse on my part. Just missing a bit of complexity.
Rating: 89 points.