Let’s round off this week of single casks of Caol Ila bottled by Gordon & Macphail with the oldest of the trio. This 16 yo was—like Wednesday’s 14 yo—matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. Will the extra two years of maturation allow more of Caol Ila’s elegance to emerge or will the oak have a greater say? Let’s see.
Caol Ila 16, 2002 (54.9%; G&M; first-fill bourbon barrel; from my own bottle)
Nose: A big blast of carbolic peat mixed in with salt crystals, olive brine, lemon and cracked pepper. As it sits the coastal complex develops more fully with shells, oyster liquor and a campfire on the beach. With more time the lemon and salt meld and expand. With a few drops of water the lemon turns to citronella with a vengeance here as well but there’s some sweet malty notes too now and some charred pineapple.
Palate: A sweeter entry here with vanilla and the smoke is more tarry. Very approachable at full strength with rich texture. The lemon emerges with some time but it’s more austere here than the nose would indicate. With more time the lemon begins to turn to citronella and there’s some almond oil. Okay, let’s see what water does for it. Ah yes, it ties everything together really well: the smoke, the ash, the lemon, the almond oil, the vanilla—it’s all still here but now it’s more than the sum of the parts.
Finish: Long. The tar turns to cigarette ash and there’s more acid here. With time there’s some pencil lead mixed in with the ash and there’s a touch of menthol as well. Water pushes the tar and ash and pencil lead back and balances everything nicely here as well.
Comments: I loved the nose from the get-go. On the palate and finish it needed time and then water to show its best self. I do wish this and Wednesday’s 14 yo had been from refill hogsheads rather than first-fill barrels; which is to say, what I’m missing to differing degrees in both casks is the subtler, more elegant side of Caol Ila. Still, this has more of it than the 14 yo and so I have it a bit higher.
Rating: 89 points.