If you are the kind of person who purchases bottles from whisky auctions—I’m not any more—this is the kind of bottle that you might be interested in but then be inclined to pass on. There’s not much information, if any, out there on it and the people who can usually be relied on to have passed judgment on bottles like this haven’t done so. But then you remind yourself it’s a Caol Ila from 1980 and from a bourbon cask—and that it was bottled by Cadenhead doesn’t hurt—and you decide to take the not ruinously expensive but not cheap plunge. Then years later you finally open it and pour yourself some with more than a little bit of apprehension. Why are you, I mean I going on in the second person like this? Anyway, I am the person previously described—I came across this at an auction and eventually decided to buy it—and secured it without it getting bid up. I’ve now opened it—a couple of weeks ago now—and here finally are my notes. Continue reading
Caol Ila week began with a sherry butt-finished 10 yo bottled by Sovereign (another of the Laing labels) for K&L in California. I really liked that one. Here now is an 11 yo. This is a bourbon hogshead and was bottled by a relatively new outfit named The Whisky Jury who have not put out so very many casks. I don’t really know anything about them or what the reputation of their releases is but Caol Ila + bourbon hogshead is almost always a recipe for goodness. Let’s hope this doesn’t let me down.
Caol Ila 11, 2008 (53.1%; The Whisky Jury; bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: A bit closed as I pour but opens up quickly to reveal mineral peat, loads of seashells plus brine and kelp (a whole coastline’s worth), citronella and dettol. Some vegetal notes on the second sniff along with some machine oil and shoe polish. Continues in this vein. A few drops of water emphasize the citronella and bring out some white pepper. Continue reading
After weeks themed first for peated and then for sherried whiskies let’s now do a week on a single distillery. That distillery is Caol Ila, the Islay workhorse that is also probably the most dependable distillery on the island (only Lagavulin is permitted to register an objection). We’ll start with one that mixes both of the previous themes—peated and sherried—and move on to bourbon casks. This one was another from K&L’s set of exclusives from 2020. I quite liked the other Caol Ila I tried from that set. That one was an 11 yo from a bourbon cask, this one is a sherry finish and one year younger—and apparently teaspooned with Bunnahabhain. I am usually wary of sherry finishes but perhaps this one will surprise me. Let’s see.
Islay Strait/Caol Ila 10, 2010 (59.6%; Sovereign for K&L; sherry butt finish; from a bottle split)
Nose: A lovely mix of leafy smoke, phenols, lime, brine and other coastal notes (shells, kelp, uni). The salt and the lime intensify on the second sniff and there’s ink in the bottom now. As it sits olives emerge—a mix of kalamata and brighter green olives. The coastal notes expand with a few drops of water and there’s some ham brine in there too now along with a bit of cream. Continue reading
Peated Islay Whisky Week comes to an end with another 11 yo (following Wednesday’s Kilchoman). This time it’s a Caol Ila. Like that Kilchoman—and also Monday’s Laphroaig 10 CS—this is a bourbon cask whisky. Well, I suppose there may be non-bourbon casks in the Laphroaig 10 CS too, but if so they’ve never registered. This was another in the big parcel of 2020 single cask releases from K&L that I went in on a split of at the end of last year. I’m just past the halfway mark of reviewing them all (I think) and it’s probably accurate to say that the set as a whole has not got me very excited so far; though I have liked some of the individual casks a lot (for example, this Blair Athol and also this Craigellachie). Caol Ila—especially bourbon cask Caol Ila—is always a good bet so I am hopeful that this will be the one of the better ones. Well, whatever the score I end up giving it, I remind my sensitive friends at K&L to look only at my patented Everybody Wins! (or EW!) score, which is what I have devised to spare their feelings. This way all their releases score above 100 points and I”m not accused of having a vendetta aganist them. Everybody wins! Or ew! Continue reading
Caol Ila week concludes with an official release, the top of the line malt from the distillery’s regular lineup: the 25 yo. (See here for Wednesday’s 15 yo and here for Monday’s 11 yo.) I’d listed this one in the February and March “Coming Soon…” lineups as a 2019 release. That was because that was how the retailer I’d purchased it from had listed it. But the bottle code revealed that it is actually the 2018 release. Or more accurately, a 2018 release. Diageo put out two separate bottlings of Caol Ila 25 in 2018: one in February and then another in September. This is the kind of thrilling insight you can be privy to if you too squint at bottling codes on bottles of whisky. This bottle is from the original February release. It should be noted that unlike the initial Caol Ila 25 releases from 2004 and 2005, the later Caol Ila 25s have neither been vintage releases nor at cask strength. This is, of course, also true of Diageo’s Talisker 25—though that stayed at cask strength all the way till 2009. The Caol Ila 25, however, only saw those two special vintage releases in 2004 and 2005 (I’ve reviewed the 1978-2004 release—I was a little harder to please back then) and then silence till it returned sans vintage statement at 43% in 2010; it has been a staple of the lineup ever since (though Whiskybase does not list a 2011 or 2015 release). Perhaps it’s these factors—43% abv, regular availability—that keep whisky geek frenzy away from this release, allowing it to be sold at a reasonable price in Europe even in these insane days (alas, the price in the US is far less reasonable). Okay, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
As I said on Monday, this is Caol Ila week. I’m tempted to say it’s my first-ever Caol Ila week but on Monday I also admitted that I’d listed a whisky on the list of potential reviews for February and March that I had already reviewed in January. For all, I know I did an all Caol Ila week in December as well.
Monday’s review was of an 11 yo that was finished for three months in an amontillado sherry cask. I quite liked it. Today’s is a 15 yo and is also sherried but this one was a full-term maturation in a refill sherry cask. What kind of sherry, I don’t know. I opened this bottle a month and a half ago. I split half of it with friends and have been drinking my half down steadily since. Indeed, I’m finishing the last pour tonight while writing this introduction. The notes themselves were taken some weeks ago when the bottle was just past the halfway mark. It’s been very consistent from start to finish. Continue reading
Have I ever done a Caol Ila week before? Well, I’m going to do one now. The plan had been to start with a 15 yo G&M cask, then the 16 yo Feis Ile 2020 and finally the 25 yo from 2018/2019. Then I discovered last week that while I’d listed it among potential reviews for both February and March, I had in fact already reviewed the Feis Ile 2020 in January! I’m totally on top of things. To keep the age progression intact I’ve moved the G&M 15 yo to Wednesday and am instead beginning the week with an 11 yo bottled by a new ‘ish outfit named James Eadie. As per Whiskybase, they’ve been bottling their releases since 2016 but there seems to have been an uptick in the last few years. If you know more about them, please write in below. They seem to have released at least a few finished whiskies. This Caol Ila is one of them. It spent 3 months in a first-fill amontillado sherry cask—a detail that is refreshingly noted on the label of the bottle. Sherried Caol Ila can be very good indeed but a Caol Ila with a short sherry finish? Let’s see. Continue reading
After Wednesday’s Glen Scotia 14, here is another whisky that was released to mark an annual whisky festival that was forced to go virtual: Caol Ila’s release for Feis Ile 2020. This also now make two weeks in a row of reviews of only official distillery releases. It’s okay to be alarmed: Nostradamus had this as one of the signs of the apocalypse.
At Feis Ile 2019 Caol Ila released a pair of whiskies: a surprise bottle-your-own 28 yo from refill American oak barrels that was only announced on the morning of their Open Day and for their regular release, a 22 yo from what was billed as “sherry-treated American oak casks”. 2020’s release is more in the direction of the 22 yo. The whisky that went into this was matured in refill bourbon hogsheads and then received a finish in “Amoroso treated hogsheads”. It’s also a throwback to 2017’s Feis Ile release which was a 12 yo that had been finished in Amoroso casks. Presumably, all these Amoroso casks are leftovers from fellow Diageo stablemate, Talisker whose Distillers Edition release is finished in Amoroso casks. Well, sherried Caol Ila can be a very good thing. Let’s see if this proves to be one. Continue reading
Having started the month with a review of a peated whisky from the eastern Highlands of Scotland (this Ardmore), it seems only right to head on over to what remains the bastion of peated whisky in Scotland: Islay. This is the first of a few review of peated Islay whiskies this month. We begin right off the ferry at Caol Ila. This is one of several young Caol Ilas distilled in the mid-2000s that Gordon & MacPhail have released in the past few years. Many are vattings of multiple casks, as is this one—a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. This is actually a whisky I have reviewed before (just over a year ago). That first review was of a 2 oz sample from a bottle split. I liked that one quite a bit but it was fairly hot. The bottle is at 60.2% and the samples were probably poured from a fresh crack. As I noted in the first review, at the time of acquiring that sample I’d forgotten that I already owned a bottle. I decided to open it late last month as I was running low on high-octane peated whisky in my small lineup of open bottles and the first couple of pours confirmed the original review. A week and a half and a few pours later I am interested to see how it may have developed with a bit of air in the bottle. Continue reading
The week’s first review was of a 19 yo Caol Ila from a bourbon cask. That one was bottled by the Whisky Exchange in 2012. Here now is another Caol Ila bottled the year before by Douglas Laing in their Old Malt Cask series. This one is a fair bit older and is from a refill sherry hogshead. As much as I like bourbon cask Caol Ila, sherried Caol Ila—relatively rare as it is—can be very good indeed and the best ones are among the whisky world’s unalloyed pleasures. See, for example, this one and this one, both also from 1984 distillate. I am hopeful that this will be in the class of those. Let’s see if it is.
Caol Ila 27, 1984 (52.4%; Old Malt Cask; refill sherry hogshead; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Leafy smoke cutting through sherried notes of orange peel, raisins, pipe tobacco and pencil lead. On the second sniff there’s some charred pork and also a hint of savoury sulphur; the smoke is a bit sharper now. The coastal notes emerge as it sits (brine) but it’s not terribly phenolic. Softer with water with a bit of toffee emerging. Continue reading
Here’s a 19 yo Caol Ila bottled several years ago by the Whisky Exchange for their annual Whisky Show. That’s it, that’s the introduction.
Caol Ila 19 (55.9%; The Whisky Exchange for the Whisky Show, 2012; single bourbon cask; from my own bottle)
Nose: Ah yes, this is one of those “Port Ellen, who?” Caol Ilas. Lemon, oyster liquor, kelp, green olive brine, mineral smoke: it’s all here. A couple of minutes later there’s some ash and smouldering leaves mixed in with the mineral smoke, giving it a slightly bitter, vegetal quality. A few drops of water and it’s a mix of citronella, ash and vanilla-cream.
Palate: As predicted by the nose but with more phenols in the smoke and some sweeter notes as I swallow (vanilla). Gets more acidic as it sits and the leafy note from the nose begins to make its way to the palate as well. More acid with water—more preserved than fresh lemon now—and the phenols back off a bit (the ash doesn’t though). Continue reading
After a month of reviews of un-sherried whiskies—well, the Glen Scotia 14 probably had some sherry casks in the mix—let’s end with one from refill sherry casks. This is a 10 yo Caol Ila released in Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice series at some point after the casks in that series started being bottled at 46% with new packaging. I think this was released in the mid-2010s, which would, I think, have been not too long after the revamping of the line. I almost always enjoy Caol Ila from sherry casks—and have a very good memory of this earlier G&M 10 yo from refill sherry casks (though that was in their old Cask Strength line). And I quite liked as well this G&M 10 yo from 2006 (also cask strength but in the new livery for their Cask Strength line). That latter one was from first-fill casks though. Well, as long as it’s better than the last sherried Caol Ila I reviewed—this sherry finished 7 yo that was an exclusive for K&L—I’ll be happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading
Let’s keep the bourbon cask train rolling but with a bit of peat added to the mix. I acquired a sample of this Caol Ila 8 as part of a split of a few bottles of young Caol Ila last year. I’ve already reviewed a 7yo bottled for K&L. That one was a sherry finish and I thought it was just about decent. This one was bottled in 2019 for Douglas Laing’s Old Particular label. As it happens, there was another Caol Ila 8, 2010 bottled by Old Particular for K&L the previous year (I’ve not had that one). This one appears to have been part of a series called “The Elements”, representing “Earth”. Not sure what the other distilleries/releases in this series were–Air? Water? Fire? Or am I thinking of The Last Airbender? Will this actually have any earthy qualities? I tend to associate Caol Ila more with the ocean. Let’s see how it turns out. My opinion of the K&L 7 yo and this elemental business notwithstanding, Caol Ila is usually a very reliable malt. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I reviewed the Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive from 2017. Here now is the Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive from the same year. (Neither of these were “fill your own” casks”.) I visited Caol Ila as well in June 2017—as with the Lagavulin exclusive, I don’t believe I saw this on the shelves at the distillery either. The Lagavulin was made in a somewhat complicated manner, involving moscatel casks (which used to be/is the cask type used in the Caol Ila Distiler’s Edition). I’m not sure, however, how this one is made—Whiskybase does not say. It would be fitting if this involved PX casks (which is what the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is “finished” in). I don’t mean to give Diageo any ideas for future releases though; on the other hand, if something like this starts happening I hope you will be willing to serve as witnesses in my intellectual property infringement suit against them. Okay, enough folly! Let’s get to the whisky itself and see what it’s like.
Another sherried malt after yesterday’s Balblair 21, and another K&L exclusive. However, this is not from the current run of K&L exclusives, of which I’ve already reviewed a few this month (Clynelish 23, 1995, Glen Moray 23, 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 23, 1995). This was part of last year’s set of exclusive casks, I believe. Sherry-matured Caol Ila can be very excellent indeed. In this case, however, the maturation regime is not very straightforward. This whisky is apparently from something called a “sherry finished butt”. What is a “sherry finished butt”? In this case it is apparently a refill sherry cask that was filled/seasoned with sherry for a while, emptied and then filled with this whisky. If that seems rather bogus it’s because it is but it’s also almost certainly a practice far more rife in the industry than we would hope to be the case (see also Signatory’s “wine treated butts”. It also seems like a recipe for a whisky where the sherry will separate and float free on the palate or finish. Let’s see if that actually happens though. Continue reading
Let’s do another young sherried Caol Ila to start the month and let’s hope I like it better than the other one I reviewed a few months ago. In fact, I really hope I do as I have a full bottle of this on my shelf—I had forgotten that when I acquired this sample. Like that one this is a vatting of four first-fill sherry casks. Will this show more sherry influence than that one did? Let’s see.
Caol Ila 10, 2006 (60.2%; Gordon & MacPhail; first fill sherry casks 306183+4, 306186+7; from a bottle split)
Nose: Slightly rubbery right off the bat and then there’s a fair bit of salt and phenolic peat below it. This is first-fill sherry? The rubber expands on the second sniff. After a bit the rubber begins to subside and sweeter coastal notes begin to develop (kelp, oysters); quite medicinal now (dettol). Water pushes the rubber back almost all the way and pulls out a lot of lemon to go with the salt and the coastal notes (which now include kippers). Another splash and now the rubber is gone and the lemon, salt, disinfectant and oysters have free rein. Continue reading
I said I’d close out the month without a mini-theme but I am a liar. Here’s another sherried whisky, albeit twice the age of yesterday’s Mortlach and made from far more heavily peated malt (I’m not sure what Mortlach’s peating levels are). I first tried this at a tasting up in St. Paul last November. That tasting featured a number of very impressive whiskies. I’ve reviewed some of those: the excellent Archives Ben Nevis 27, 1990; the “Speyside Region” 43 from the Whisky Agency; and another excellent old Caol Ila, a 34 yo distilled in 1982 and bottled by Cadenhead. I really liked that Cadenhead’s cask and at the tasting we had some difficulty deciding on which we liked better. As I recall, this one was smokier and heavier. By the way, though when I filled the label I put it down as a 34 yo, this is in fact a 33 yo. I am intrigued to see what I will make of it almost nine months later. I rather expect I will like it quite a bit more than the last sherried Caol Ila from G&M I reviewed. Continue reading
Over the last decade and more Gordon & MacPhail have bottled a number of multi-cask vattings of 10-11 yo Caol Ila, many of them from sherry casks. Most have been well-received. I’ve liked most of the few I’ve had (see, example, this 10 yo, 1996), though there also have been some duds (see this 11 yo, 2000). I think this one, bottled in 2016, before Gordon & MacPhail’s livery changed, may be the first I’ve had from a vatting of four casks. I always wonder when something like this is released if one or two casks in the vatting might not have needed salvaging. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you: a cask that might not be very interesting on its own can still work very well in a vatting, accentuating positive notes or even helping damp down some overbearing ones (anyone who has done a lot of home vatting knows this). The odd thing here is that these are said to have all been first-fill sherry butts but this is a rather light-coloured whisky. All American oak butts that held fino or manzanilla? Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading