Let’s close out this week of reviews of whiskies from Islay distilleries with another young whisky released in 2021. As you have memorized and therefore don’t need me to remind you, my first review this week was of the new Ardbeg 8 and my second review was of the new Laphroaig 10 Sherry Oak. I am not sure what, if any, sherry cask involvement there is in the Ardbeg 8 but the Laphroaig has the sherry applied via an oloroso cask finish—a finish that melds very well with the spirit. This 12 yo Caol Ila takes the sherry further: it’s the result of a full-term maturation in a first-fill oloroso hogshead. The combination of “first-fill” and “hogshead” gives me a bit of pause: hopefully it’s not a recipe for raw, oaky sherry bomb. I am hopeful, however, as some of my very favourite sherried peated whiskies have been Caol Ilas—though I can’t recall if I have previously reviewed a specified oloroso cask. Let’s see where this one falls.
Caol Ila 12, 2008 (53%; Adelphi; first-fill oloroso hogshead 309451; from a bottle split)
Nose: Ah, lovely rich notes of charred pork and pipe tobacco along with damp earth and some red fruit (cherry?); and then salt. The salt expands with each sniff and the smoke gets more ashy; the oak becomes more palpable as well (polished, not tannic). After a few minutes the oak seems to turn to graphite (pencil lead). Water pushes the smoke back and pulls out some toffee and some dark fruitcake notes. The pipe tobacco comes back strong after a bit.
Palate: Comes in sweet and savoury here as well—pretty much as predicted by the nose except the meat is not charred pork but highly reduced beef stock. Very approachable at full strength with a rich texture. It’s not as smoky here as on the palate with damp earth and leather the main signals of peat; and there’s none of that vegetal, bell peppery note that often shows up in sherried Caol Ila. With time some dried orange peel emerges. Okay, time to add water. Ah yes, more of the dried orange peel now and more smoke (dry and ashy).
Finish: Long. The smoke builds on the finish though, getting both ashy and then phenolic. Salt here too at the end. As on the palate with water but with more salt still.
Comments: More depth than in the Laphroaig Sherry Oak and it’s better and richer on the whole. Nonetheless, it sort of underlines the quality of that Laphroaig which is only a point or two behind this one for quite a bit less money (I believe this went for $130). The elegant profile of bourbon cask Caol Ila is obviously not here but this is high quality young sherried-peated whisky.
Rating: 89 points.