Let’s keep G&M Caol Ila week going. On Monday I reviewed a 14 yo bottled by the Elgin stalwarts. That one was distilled in 2005 and matured in a refill sherry hogshead. Today I have another 14 yo but this one was distilled in 2003 and matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. Teenaged bourbon cask Caol Ila is usually a cause for joy but the combination of both first-fill wood and the smaller barrel might be causes for concern—with the possibility of too much oak action. But hopefully the spirit will rise above it all. Let’s see.
Caol Ila 14, 2003 (56%; G&M; first-fill bourbon barrel; from my own bottle)
Nose: Carbolic peat off the top with sweeter notes of cereals and vanilla (not overbearing) mixed in. As it sits the vanilla retreats in favour of lemon and it begins to get quite coastal with shells and salt and kelp. Some white pepper in there too now and there’s a recently tarred road in the middle distance. Saltier still with time. With a bit of water it gets sweeter at first—not vanilla so much as sweet malt—and then there’s preserved lemon. The tar is gone.
Palate: Comes in pretty much as indicated by the nose except perhaps with more smoke. Very approachable at full strength and thick texture. With time there’s more char in the smoke and more pepper alongside it. Let’s see what water does for it. It amps up the pepper and pushes the char back. More acid too now mixed in with the smoke
Finish: Long. The smoke builds, then allows the sweeter notes to re-emerge, and finally has the last word again. With time the lemon pops out at the end. As on the palate with water, though less peppery.
Comments: People who don’t like too much sweetness in their peated whisky may find this a bit too sweet for their liking but I think that effect of the first-fill bourbon cask is compensated for by the char that seems to have accompanied it, and both meld nicely with the peppery peat and the coastal notes. And, happily, there’s barely another sign of the oak—not sure how that happens. Not the most complex or elegant 14 yo Caol Ila but you probably have to look to refill hogsheads for that. When I first opened these bottles I had this ahead of Monday’s refill sherry cask but now I think the other has caught up.
Rating: 88 points.