The first whisky review of December is the last of my peated Islay week. The first two reviews were of official distillery releases that came out this year—yes, not only did I have two timely reviews, I had them back to back: Monday’s Laphroaig Cairdeas 2022 and Tuesday’s Lagavulin 11, Offerman Edition, Charred Oak. I liked both well enough. Today’s review is of an independent release of Caol Ila—in about the general ballpark of the others, age-wise (I assume the Laphroaig is somewhere near 10 years old as well). It’s not the most untimely of my reviews, as this was released only about three years ago, in November 2019. The bottler is the Whisky Exchange, I mean, Elixir Distillers, under the Single Malts of Scotland label. Yes, yes, I know Elixir Distillers was spun off as a separate company some years ago but it’s all the Whisky Exchange to me. Teenaged ex-bourbon hogshead Caol Ila is one of my favourite profiles of whisky and I’m hoping that this 10 yo turns out to be precocious in that regard.
Caol Ila 10, 2009 (58.3%; Single Malts of Scotland; bourbon hogshead #317841; from a bottle split)
Nose: Sweet, phenolic peat with malt and just a hint of rubber (gaskets on old-school medicine bottles). Sweeter on the second sniff and then the coastal notes start emerging: brine, kelp, oysters, the whole bit. The smoke turns in the direction of coal as it sits. Water pushes the smoke back a bit and pulls out citronella and vanilla; still quite salty but the rest of the coastal complex gets a bit muted too.
Palate: Comes in broadly as indicated by the nose but with a lot more salt and coal smoke from the start. Approachable at full strength; decent texture. With more time there’s some lemon peel and some tart-sweet apple in there as well but the smoke (charred wood mixed in now with the coal) and salt dominate. Let’s see if water lets more of the fruit out. Well, it does push the smoke back but it’s cracked pepper and vanilla that emerge at first, not the tart/sweet fruit. With a bit more time the lemon does expand some but so does the vanilla.
Finish: Long. The smoke gets bitter quickly—tar, burnt rope. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Smokier than the average Caol Ila and also a bit sweeter. You don’t expect complexity at 10 years of age and it’s not really present here; but there’s enough of the signature Caol Ila notes to make it a good companion for a winter evening.
Rating: 86 points.