Okay, let’s do another week of peat; and let’s go back to Islay and do a week all at one distillery. And for good measure let’s do a trio of releases from one independent bottler. Back in May I split several bottles with a small group of friends—Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls was among them but I don’t believe he’s reviewed any of them yet. Among the bottles were a trio of Caol Ilas released by Gordon & MacPhail in their redone Connoisseurs Choice series—to think that this was once an entry-level series in which G&M released anonymous whisky at 40% abv. Two of these Caol Ilas are from bourbon casks and one from a refill sherry cask. I’m going to start with the refill sherry. It was distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2019 at what is normally a promising strength in the mid-50s (this is the abv range in which Springbank usually operates with their cask strength releases). The fact that it’s a refill sherry hogshead suggests that a sherry butt was broken down and re-coopered as a hogshead; or maybe an ex-bourbon hogshead was seasoned with sherry. Hopefully, the former and not the latter as there’s a better chance of there not being a big dose of sherry sitting on top of the elegant Caol Ila peat. Let’s see.
Caol Ila 14, 2005 (55.6%; G&M; refill sherry hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: Mildly phenolic smoke; coastal notes–both salty (brine) and sweet (kelp); wet stones. On the second sniff there’s preserved lemon. As it sits there’s some green pepper and the lemon expands. Continues in this vein with some vanilla emerging as well. With a few drops of water the lemon turns to citronella; the sweeter notes and ashy smoke sit under it.
Palate: Comes in sweeter here with everything from the nose more or less present. Very approachable at full strength (though it will take water well) and a nice texture. The sweeter notes expand with time along with the lemon and both are joined by sweet-savoury notes of roast pork. With water the sweetness expands (vanilla) as does the ashy smoke and there’s some pencil lead too.
Finish: Long. The smoke continues, getting a little ashy. The salt is still here too. Just a hint of sherry separation at the end. The sherry separation goes away as it sits and it gets sweeter and more savoury here too. As on the palate with water.
Comments: When I first opened the G&M trio of which this is a part I thought it was the weak link in the set. But with air in the bottle this has really come on strong. The sherry is unobtrusive (other than that early bit of separation on the finish) and lets the Caol Ila character shine. Glad I still have several pours left.
Rating: 88 points.