Caol Ila 10, 2009 (Single Malts of Scotland)

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. Continue reading

Caol Ila 16, 2002 (G&M)


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. Continue reading

Caol Ila 14, 2003 (G&M)


Let’s keep G&M Caol Ila week going. On Monday I reviewed a 14 yo bottled by the Elgin stalwarts. That one was distilled in 2005 and matured in a refill sherry hogshead. Today I have another 14 yo but this one was distilled in 2003 and matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. Teenaged bourbon cask Caol Ila is usually a cause for joy but the combination of both first-fill wood and the smaller barrel might be causes for concern—with the possibility of too much oak action. But hopefully the spirit will rise above it all. Let’s see.

Caol Ila 14, 2003 (56%; G&M; first-fill bourbon barrel; from my own bottle)

Nose: Carbolic peat off the top with sweeter notes of cereals and vanilla (not overbearing) mixed in. As it sits the vanilla retreats in favour of lemon and it begins to get quite coastal with shells and salt and kelp. Some white pepper in there too now and there’s a recently tarred road in the middle distance. Saltier still with time. With a bit of water it gets sweeter at first—not vanilla so much as sweet malt—and then there’s preserved lemon. The tar is gone. Continue reading

Caol Ila 14, 2005 (G&M)


Okay, let’s do another week of peat; and let’s go back to Islay and do a week all at one distillery. And for good measure let’s do a trio of releases from one independent bottler. Back in May I split several bottles with a small group of friends—Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls was among them but I don’t believe he’s reviewed any of them yet. Among the bottles were a trio of Caol Ilas released by Gordon & MacPhail in their redone Connoisseurs Choice series—to think that this was once an entry-level series in which G&M released anonymous whisky at 40% abv. Two of these Caol Ilas are from bourbon casks and one from a refill sherry cask. I’m going to start with the refill sherry. It was distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2019 at what is normally a promising strength in the mid-50s (this is the abv range in which Springbank usually operates with their cask strength releases). The fact that it’s a refill sherry hogshead suggests that a sherry butt was broken down and re-coopered as a hogshead; or maybe an ex-bourbon hogshead was seasoned with sherry. Hopefully, the former and not the latter as there’s a better chance of there not being a big dose of sherry sitting on top of the elegant Caol Ila peat. Let’s see. Continue reading

Caol Ila 8, 2013 (Thompson Bros. for K&L)


Peated Islay week started with Batch 013 of the Laphroaig 10 CS. It turned out to be my least favourite of the batches so far—though by no means a bad whisky. Today I have a review of a slightly younger Islay whisky. Speaking of which, ignore what it says on the sample bottle label in the picture alongside: that second line listing age and abv was swapped accidentally with that of a Thompson Bros. Teaninich. This is a Caol Ila 8, distilled in 2013 and bottled at 57% abv. Caol Ila is almost always good for the kind of nuance missing in that Laphroaig 10 CS, especially when matured in bourbon casks; and this one was matured in a refill hogshead. The bottlers are Simon and Phil Thompson of the Dornoch Distillery and hotel (see my brief account of a visit there in 2018). They are well-known figures in the single malt whisky world and are working as small-scale independent bottlers as their own spirit waits to come online. This is one of a few casks they’ve bottled recently for K&L in California. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Caol Ila 11, 2007 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)


After a week of Ardmore in the eastern Highlands let’s swing over west and south to Islay. This time it won’t be a single distillery that occupies our time but three different ones. And the peat will be heavier. First up: one of younger bourbon cask Caol Ilas that are usually rather good indeed. This cask was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd, which theoretically should also be a good sign. But the proof is in the glass. Let’s see.

Caol Ila 11, 2007 (55%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 319464; from a bottle split)

Nose: Bright carbolic peat mixed with lemon and ash and salt. The salt expands on the second sniff, picking up more coastal accents (shells, kelp). The salt expands with each sniff and there’s a mezcal note in there too that speaks of youth. With more time there’s some vanilla mixed in as well and the lemon turns to citronella. With water the mezcal recedes but the vanilla expands. It gets more phenolic too but I’m not sure that mix of vanilla and heavy phenols works so well. Continue reading

Caol Ila 12, 2008 (Adelphi)


Let’s close out this week of reviews of whiskies from Islay distilleries with another young whisky released in 2021. As you have memorized and therefore don’t need me to remind you, my first review this week was of the new Ardbeg 8 and my second review was of the new Laphroaig 10 Sherry Oak. I am not sure what, if any, sherry cask involvement there is in the Ardbeg 8 but the Laphroaig has the sherry applied via an oloroso cask finish—a finish that melds very well with the spirit. This 12 yo Caol Ila takes the sherry further: it’s the result of a full-term maturation in a first-fill oloroso hogshead. The combination of “first-fill” and “hogshead” gives me a bit of pause: hopefully it’s not a recipe for raw, oaky sherry bomb. I am hopeful, however, as some of my very favourite sherried peated whiskies have been Caol Ilas—though I can’t recall if I have previously reviewed a specified oloroso cask. Let’s see where this one falls. Continue reading

Caol Ila 10, 2008 (SMWS 53.305)


After a week of heavily sherried Macallans (here, here and here), let’s do a week of heavily peated Islays. All of these are, I think, from bourbon casks. First up, a young Caol Ila distilled in 2008 and also bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I quite liked the last SMWS Caol Ila 2008 I reviewed and if this is close I will be happy. The SMWS tasting panel gave this the name “Totally tropical smoke”. Sounds promising; let’s hope it’s an accurate description.

Caol Ila 10, 2008 (59.8%; SMWS 53.305; refill bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Ah, quite lovely with bright, carbolic peat mixed with some char, some brine and then quite a bit of the advertised musky fruit (charred lemon and pineapple). Gets saltier with each sniff, seemingly. As it sits the fruit recedes a bit and meatier notes come to the fore (charred pork). With more time still there’s a bit of cream but it melds nicely with the citrus and the smoke (smoked lime curd?). Water first emphasizes the coastal notes, bringing out more brine and some shells to go with it, and then the fruit pops out again. Continue reading

Caol Ila 11, 2008 (SMWS 53.345)


I was supposed to review this Caol Ila bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society last month but accidentally reviewed this 13 yo instead. That was not a grave mistake as I liked it a lot. But then I almost always like Caol Ila from refill bourbon hogsheads. This one is 2 years younger but is also from a refill bourbon hogshead. Let’s hope it doesn’t prove my preferences wrong.

Caol Ila 11, 2008 (58.1%; SMWS 53.345; refill bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Bright carbolic peat with lemon and lightly ashy smoke. On the second sniff there’s a coastal array: kelp, oysters, brine. Some agave aromas lurk beneath. Gets quite salty as it sits. A few drops of water and this gets turned up to 11 on all counts. Sweeter now with malt and ham brine joining the party. Continue reading

Caol Ila 13, 2006 (SMWS 53.328)


I put SMWS 53.345, a Caol Ila 11, 2008 on the list for this month but now I’ve gone and opened and begun to review SMWS 53.328, a Caol Ila 13, 2006 instead. How will you ever forgive me?

Anyway, this is the second of this week’s Islay reviews (following Monday’s Bowmore). It’s from a refill bourbon hogshead which is usually a very good thing as far as Caol Ila is concerned. Let’s get right to it.

Caol Ila 13, 2006 (58.9%; SMWS 53.328; refill bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Comes out with pretty strong phenolic notes mixed in with lemon and salt and a bit of mezcal—which is to say it noses younger than its 13 years. With a bit more time sweeter coastal notes emerge—shells, uni. With a lot more time and air the phenols back off a little and there’s more citrus—lime peel, citronella. A few drops of water push the phenols back further and bring out some cream and some unexpected spice notes—is that cardamom? Continue reading

Caol Ila 22, 1980 (Cadenhead)


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 11, 2008 (The Whisky Jury)


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

Islay Strait/Caol Ila 10, 2010 (Sovereign for K&L)


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

Caol Ila 11, 2009 (Old Particular for K&L)


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 25, 2018 Release


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

Caol Ila 15, 2004 (G&M)


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

Caol Ila 11, 2008 (James Eadie)


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

Caol Ila 16, Feis Ile 2020


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