Here is the second of three simul-reviews this month with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls of whiskies that were bottled as exclusives for Total Wine (and here now is his review). Our first was last week’s Glen Ord 18, also bottled by Montgomerie’s. This Caol Ila—which rounds out a week of Islay reviews—is a bit older. The bottle cost $125; I’m not sure if it’s still around—I didn’t notice it at the store I purchased it from when I was in there again briefly earlier this week. Even though this is at 46% and not cask strength, it does seem like a fair price for a 20 year old peated Islay whisky—there are certainly older Caol Ilas from other independents that are going for a lot more in the US; and next Friday we’ll have a simul-review of a younger Laphroaig whose list price was almost $100 more.
Here’s a very untimely review to start the week and it takes me back to the time when my interest in single malt whisky had just gone from enthusiasm to pathology. I’d joined the then-vibrant WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum and was learning more and more about independent bottlers not seen in the US. One of these was the Bladnoch Forum. This was a side concern of Raymond Armstrong, then the proprietor of the Bladnoch distillery, and it offered single casks at unbelievably reasonable prices to members of the forum (though in practice you didn’t really have to be a member). I think this is pretty much where Martin Armstrong’s Whiskybroker business may have had its origin. These offerings included single casks of Port Ellen for less than £100 (unless my memory is exaggerating) and also a number of excellent older Caol Ilas. This is one of them. I acquired this sample in what may have been my first-ever swap, not long after it was released. I took a few sips then and put it away for another day. That day is here. Continue reading →
Here’s a whisky review on a Thursday for a change. And it’s another Caol Ila—roughly the same age as the previous Caol Ila I reviewed, but distilled just about a decade later. This was bottled by Signatory for K&L in California. As I am generally a sucker for bourbon cask Caol Ila, I was intrigued by it when it was announced, but the high asking price ($150 or so) took care of that. Fortunately (for me, at least), Florin (Slovenian supermodel and future First Lady) purchased a bottle and shared samples with a few of us—see Jordan D’s review of a sample from this same bottle from a year ago. Jordan didn’t care for it overmuch, and nor did Florin (see his comment on Jordan’s review). But there are others who rave about it. Anyway, the easiest way to find out is to pour the sample and drink it. Here goes. Continue reading →
There’s been a lot of conversation on the blog recently about older whiskies that was spurred by a question about an older Pulteney 1977 released by Scott’s Selection in 2005. One of the reasons, I think, that so many of those Scott’s Selection releases from the mid-late 2000s stuck around for so long—and some are still around—is because there was and is so little information on them available. Very few people have reviewed them—and many of us whisky geeks whose wallets have bottoms are quite risk-averse. This is why it took me a long time to get around to finally pulling the trigger on some of those bottles, even if only as part of splits with friends. This Caol Ila, however, I purchased without a second thought when a store in the Twin Cities put it on sale at 15% off last year, bringing the price below $200 (I’d never seen it at the original price and so was able to rationalize the cost against prices for current Caol Ilas of similar age). They had another bottle but the cork was defective and it had leaked at least 50 ml—after tasting this bottle I told the manager I’d take the chance and take it off his hands if he discounted it quite a bit more but he was not willing to do so. I guess that’s a spoiler alert: yes, I quite like this one and have been drinking it down at a steady clip since opening it right after purchase. Here now, before I finish the bottle, are my notes. Continue reading →
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.