On Wednesday I posted brief impressions of Bunnahabhain, one of the two Port Askaig distilleries on Islay. Here now is a report on an equally brief visit to the other: Caol Ila.
Both Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila are located right on the Sound of Islay, across the water from Jura and both are massive factories: Caol Ila, however, is not as rundown as Bunnahabhain. Of course, assessments of “character” differ—see the dissenting comments on my endorsement of the upcoming renovations at Bunnahabhain—and actually even I wouldn’t say that Caol Ila—or the little I saw of it on my visit, which was mostly to the gift shop—has character. However, it doesn’t look like Oliver Twist is inside, asking for a little more gruel. That’s a type of lack of character that I can get behind. Continue reading →
Okay, here’s a geographically appropriate review for a change from my ongoing visit to Scotland. I previously posted reviews of a Speysider on the day we left for Glasgow, an Old Pulteney while leaving Drumnadrochit for Skye, and a Highland Park while leaving Skye for Islay. We’re still on Islay and this is a Caol Ila.
I’m not sure if I will make it to Caol Ila on this trip though I would like to at least see the outside of the distillery. I’d thought this would happen as our ferry arrived in Port Askaig from Kennacraig on Monday evening but apparently views of the distillery are only available from the ferry from/to Colonsay. Nonetheless, here’s a Caol Ila. This was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for the Whisky Exchange and I purchased a bottle on one of my visits to their Covent Garden store. I drank it down before leaving London—the notes below were taken well before this preamble was written. Continue reading →
This was bottled for Feis Ile, the annual Islay whisky festival, back in 2009. It’s either a 12 or 13 yo and was bottled from a single sherry cask. My understanding is that the whiskies bottled by Caol Ila for Feis Ile are/were all from casks matured on Islay, at least back in the day—the vast majority of Caol Ila’s spirit, in case you’re wondering, is actually tankered off and matured on the mainland (terroir!). For those of us in the US, most of these Feis Ile bottles are out of reach. I’m always happy to see Laphroaig’s fairly priced Cairdeas—I’m more ambivalent about the Ardbegs that have been launched at Feis Ile in recent years. For all the others, however, you have to either go to Feis Ile or look to marked up bottles at auction. Of all of these releases, Lagavulin’s always garners the most interest—and the greatest auction premiums—but there are those who feel that some of Caol Ila’s releases have been on par with them. This 2009 release is particularly lauded. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading →
It’s Diageo Special Release season and here I am with this unpeated Caol Ila that was part of the lineup in 2012. Timely! I’ve previously reviewed the 2009 and 2010 releases—I liked both of those a lot. While the 10 yo released in 2009 was indeed unpeated, the 12 yo released in 2010 was anything but. I’m not sure what the story is supposed to be with this 2012 release. I am hopeful though that I will like it more than some have (see Michael K.’s review from 2013 here and Jordan D.’s review from earlier this month here—Jordan’s sample came from the same bottle as mine). This one is also unusual in that it is from European oak casks. This essentially means sherry casks—bourbon casks are made from American oak and I assume they’d have specified if these were wine casks. Anyway, peated Caol Ila from sherry casks can be really excellent—I’m curious to see how unpeated Caol Ila from sherry casks comes out. Continue reading →
I said last week that it had been a long time since I had reviewed a Laphroaig. Well, it’s been even longer since I’ve reviewed a Caol Ila. Like that Laphroaig this is also in its 20s age-wise, but it’s not at cask strength or from a sherry cask.This was bottled in 2008 by a French outfit I know very little about: Jean Boyer. Whiskybase lists a number of releases from them, but very few seem to be recent (and very few also seem to be at cask strength). This one is from a re-coopered hogshead. I assume this is an instance of a hogshead being reassembled from broken down bourbon barrels—there is no hint of sherry in this. Not too long ago older Caol Ilas from the early 1980s were easily had from the indies, and for very reasonable prices at that. If I’d only anticipated what was coming, I would have purchased more than one bottle of this when I could have. So it goes. (Actually, it appears this is still available in a few places, but they’re in Germany.) Continue reading →
I ended February with a review of a peated whisky and so let’s start March with another peated whisky. And since it’s been a long while since I’ve reviewed a bourbon cask Caol Ila, let’s start with one of those. This one was bottled by the Italian indie outfit, Wilson & Morgan and came from a second fill bourbon cask.
Caol Ila 16, 1998 (60.4%; Wilson & Morgan; second fill bourbon cask 10165; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Some lemon, some almond oil, some sweet, mineral peat, the slightest hint of vanilla—but it’s all rather tightly packed and needs air and water. With a bit of air there’s some cereal notes as well and some acidic smoke but it’s still rather tight. With a lot more time it begins to open up further and the citrus gets more interesting: some lime peel, some grapefruit; some mothballs too. Water brings out more cereal, more mothballs and more mineral sweetness and some cream. Continue reading →
Let’s make it a week of reviews of samples from my friend Rich. This Caol Ila is one of his favourite whiskies from recent years. I’ve tasted it once before, at one of the small Twin Cities gatherings Rich puts together from time to time, but that was alongside a large number of other excellent whiskies. I did come away with this sample and am looking forward to trying it by itself tonight.
I haven’t kept up with prices and availability of older Caol Ila these days. It used to be that of the major peated Islays Caol Ila was the only one with older stock from the indies that could be said to be affordable for regular drinkers (older Bunnahabhains were relatively affordable as well but those are generally not peated). It wouldn’t surprise me if the market’s ongoing insanity has caught up with Caol Ila too. A pity if true. Continue reading →
I am not generally a fan of whiskies finished in red wine casks. A lot of this is Glenmorangie and Murray McDavid/Bruichladdich’s fault, but when I see that a whisky has been finished in a red wine cask I assume the worst. That said, peated malts seem to survive such encounters the best and this here is a Caol Ila. Like Friday’s Ardbeg, this was bottled by Malts of Scotland for van Zuylen in their “Dunes An Oir” series (Gaelic for “dunes of gold”, I believe) and it was finished in a Banyuls cask. Banyuls is a sweet, fortified wine, and so, in theory, at least, it may end up closer to a sherry or madeira finish than to a regular red wine finish. I think this was matured for 15 years in a bourbon cask and probably only saw a very brief “finish” in the wine cask—I’m guess the original cask was bourbon both from the outturn and on the basis that it’s unlikely anyone would do a wine finish on top of sherry maturation. Anyway, this is a rusty red in the glass—let’s see what it’s like on the nose and palate. Continue reading →
Port Askaig is the name under which the Whisky Exchange has bottled a number of Caol Ilas. Why it is that they release some Caol Ilas with the distillery name under their Single Malts of Scotland label but also have this parallel Port Askaig line, I don’t know. Generally, when bottlers do these “mystery malt” labels it’s safe to assume that it’s partly because they want to leave themselves wiggle room if the source of the malt changes. So your random Islay malt with a non-distillery name could be peated Bunnahabhain most of the time and Laphroaig some other time. And, of course, by not publishing the actual distillery’s name they’re also able to coyly suggest or not discourage you from believing that what you have is a malt from a distillery you might prize more than the one it is actually from. To be fair, it’s also true that some distilleries may ask particular bottlers to not identify them (for fear of diluting their own brand) and that some bottlers may wish to create and promote their own brands.
For what it’s worth, the received wisdom is that all the Port Askaigs have been Caol Ilas, and based on the few I’ve had, I’d not disagree. Continue reading →
My slow tour of “standard” expressions continues with the classic Caol Ila 12.
I first came to this one a bit after the entry-level whiskies from all the other well-known Islay distilleries and it took me a while to truly appreciate it. Not as medicinal as Laphroaig, not as smoky as Ardbeg, not as rich as Lagavulin, the Caol Ila 12 fell into a bit of a no man’s land. It seemed like Islay smoke-lite (and it didn’t offer floral compensations like Bowmore did). It wasn’t until I outgrew an obsession with peat for peat’s sake that I began to appreciate its elegant take on Islay peat/smoke. There’s some irony in this as it had taken me a while to come to like peaty whiskies to begin with (I’ve documented my initial reaction to the Lagavulin 16 before)—if I’d tried the Caol Ila 12 first I’d likely have eased into Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin.
The last sherry matured Caol Ila of similar age from Gordon & Macphail I reviewed was a bit of a sulphur bomb. This one, I am happy to report, is much better—I opened it for our local group’s July tasting and it was very well received. I am intrigued to see what effect three weeks or so in the open bottle may have had on it. Let’s get right to it.
Oh yes, this is the second of two simul-reviews along with Michael Kravitz at Diving for Pearls. As always, we will only see each other’s notes once the reviews have been published. (And here is Michael’s review.)
For whatever reason Diageo does not put out very many sherry matured Caol Ilas. This is generally a shame as sherry matured Caol Ilas can be very good indeed. See, for example, this 10 yo from 1996 put out by Gordon & Macphail. G&M, not surprisingly, are the source for a good many sherried Caol Ilas. As they are one of the few indie bottlers with their own filling contracts (at least they used to be) this may possibly be because they fill their own sherry casks (as opposed to buying matured butts from Diageo)–this is all speculation, so please confirm or deny below if you know more. The young sherried Caol Ila I am reviewing today is also from Gordon & Macphail and I hope it will be not too far away from the one linked above in quality.
Caol Ila 11, 2000 (61.4%; Gordon & Macphail; first fill sherry butts 309558 + 59; from a purchased sample)Continue reading →
Here to kick off a run of reviews of smoky whiskies is a younger and higher octane indie Caol Ila than the official 18 yo I recently reviewed. This is from the venerable English bottler Berry Brothers and Rudd, and is a vatting of two (presumably) bourbon casks. This was released in the US, and may have been an exclusive for the Total Wine chain. Let’s get right to it.
Caol Ila 10, 2000 (58.5%; casks 309796+309881; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Bright phenolic aromas: gauze bandages in an old-time dispensary, antiseptic lotion (Dettol). Lemon and green olives as well and some vanilla below that. Gets saltier as it goes. Textbook Caol Ila and quite a bruiser at full strength. The olive and lemon intensify with time keeping the increasing sweetness of the vanilla in check. With water the vanilla and lemon and smoke are integrated nicely and there’s some menthol coolness now. Continue reading →
The Caol Ila 18 disappeared from the US around the same time as the Laphroaig 15. Unlike the latter, which was entirely discontinued, the Caol Ila 18 was still available in Europe until fairly recently (and is still listed on The Whisky Exchange’s website). I’ve no idea if that was/is old stock that hadn’t sold out or if it was only withdrawn from certain markets. At any rate, it was available in the US as late as 2007 (and maybe 2008); I always wanted to try it but never got around to buying a bottle because in those days I didn’t really follow whisky news and so had no idea that it was about to disappear. I do wonder what Diageo is planning for Caol Ila: the distillery produces a hell of a lot of whisky and so it’s unlikely that they discontinued/limited the release of this because they just didn’t have enough whisky in the warehouse to keep it going. And so now they likely have a whole lot of stock presumably previously earmarked for the 18 yo that is approaching 18 years of age. Simultaneously they’ve reduced the 25 yo from cask strength to 43%. Does this mean they’re maturing a lot of spirit closer to the 30 yo mark for a special release down the road? Or is it just that almost all of their stock is earmarked for blends? Time will tell. Continue reading →