Google Eight Caol Ila A Wee Birthday Session

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

July 22, 2017




Angus's Corner
From our casual Scottish correspondent
and guest taster Angus MacRaild
Eight Caol Ila: A Wee Birthday Session        
It was my birthday the other day, so that seems like a suitable excuse to taste a load of rather promising Caol Ila. There’s isn’t too much to say about Caol Ila that hasn’t already been declared many times over. Often lauded as one of Scotland’s most consistent malts across the official and independent spectrums.


I can’t disagree with that sentiment, it’s a distillery I love and come back to frequently and it remains one of the few Islay whiskies that you can still find fairly priced, aged examples of. But for how much longer...? I should also say that I am joined in this tasting session by my co-pilot and good friend Fergus, he’ll be bringing his own brand of whisky expertise to bear throughout the session. Let’s go backwards by vintage... 



Caol Ila 23 yo 1992 (53.1%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #53.225, ‘Comfortably Smoky’, refill hogshead, 254 bottles)

Caol Ila 23 yo 1992 (53.1%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #53.225, ‘Comfortably Smoky’, refill hogshead, 254 bottles) Colour: Light amber (Fergus says he is reminded of the amber from Jurassic Park). Nose:  A little prickly at first. Pepper, iodine and wet rocks with sea salt. (Fergus says ‘ooft’ and ‘fresh!’) Unripe green apples and various other tart fruitiness. Feels a little closed at first. Some light wood ashiness and a touch of melon. Feels like it needs water... with water: more towards coal hearths and beach bonfires now. Also quite a rich antiseptic seam emerges with water. Mouth: Woosh! A big, fat, syrupy Caol Ila. Feels mature even beyond its 23 years. Tar, old rope, hugely coastal (Fergus says it reminds him of Euthymol toothpaste - Google it). Herbal, soft smokiness and an easygoing, gentle peatiness throughout. With water: a perfect balance of herbs, ash, peat smoke, citrus and various oils. Finish: Long, coastal, invigorating. Textbook Caol Ila. Comments: Classical and pitch perfect, pin-sharp Caol Ila. (Very nice as Fergus rightly says). The kind of dram that you can quaff with great merriment on Port Askaig peer with good friends. This session begins well. SGP:438 - 90 points. (Fergus: 88 points - he’s a hard task master.)



Caol Ila 25 yo 1991/2016 (50.2%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 210 bottles)

Caol Ila 25 yo 1991/2016 (50.2%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 210 bottles) Colour: Pale straw (almost kind of piss-coloured Fergus contributes). Nose: Lighter. More lemony and much more mineral than the SMWS. (Ohh! That’s nice! says Fergus, an ‘inviting smokiness, it’s not really going up my nose harshly’). A more austere style with soft, medicinal peatiness and lots of gravel and wet pebbles. Quite a green peatiness with notes of brine and fresh lemon juice (‘Stony’ Fergus says). With water: Some touches of heather and sea greens, maybe some castor oil and camphor as well. Not too much development though. Mouth: Dry, ashy, a bit of a blade in its simplicity and not overly complex (Fergus is unimpressed). There are some nice notes of dried seaweed and more gravely mineral notes. But overall it feels quite a bit younger than its stated age. Quite peppery as well with further rather brutal citrus notes. With water: interestingly enough water seems to develop the texture quite nicely and build on the oilier aspects of the distillate. Some notes of squid ink pasta and grilled scallops. Still quite dry and singular though. Finish: Medium-long, ashy, mineral and drying in a rather austere fashion. Comments: A decent Caol Ila, not the equal of the lovely SMWS and does benefit from water. But a solid fireside dram all the same. Fergus finds it a little mono-dimensional but says ‘nice enough’. High praise indeed. SGP:237 - 84 points (Fergus says ‘What’s harsh? 82!’) 



Caol Ila 32 yo 1984/2016 (49.5%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, bourbon hogshead, 210 bottles)

Caol Ila 32 yo 1984/2016 (49.5%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, bourbon hogshead, 210 bottles) Colour: Pale white wine. (‘Almost looks like bleach!’ according to Fergus). Nose: Extremely elegant and delicate combination of rock salt, a whole coastline of pebbles and minerals, green tea and a whiff of medicine. Fergus is loving this one, he gets: creosote, garden sheds, spa shops (???) and white fruits. I can’t say I disagree with him - except perhaps the bit about the spa shop. A beautifully inviting and elegant nose that is really the epitome of Caol Ila at this age. With water: a little eau sharpens the nose and gives the whole a more chiseled feel. More citrus fruit, more earth, some gentian root and maybe some graphite and ink. Mouth: Surprisingly fat and oily with a kind of greasy, industrial smokiness, quite a departure from the elegance of the nose. Some dried herbs, dried fish, kippers, chewy peatiness and some lapsang souchong tea. With water: we’re reached a perfect balance between the elegance of the nose and the weightiness of the palate. It’s still quite fat, oily and visceral but there’s a lighter coastal freshness and a ripe green fruitiness about it now which is quite beautiful (‘Filth!’ as Fergus says, he’s clearly impressed by this one). Finish: Long with a really delicate ashiness and brimming with little flourished of white and green fruits, a little pepperiness and a briny coastal zing. Comments: Quite excellent. As it to be expected with these vintages and ages of Caol Ila. SGP:447 - 91 points. (Fergus says ‘solid 91!’)



Caol Ila 31 yo 1984/2016 (52.1%, Cadenhead Caol Ila 31 yo 1984/2016 (52.1%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, 2 bourbon hogsheads, 432 bottles) Vattings of more than one cask always have potential to be superior to single counterparts, lets see if that’s the case here... Colour: Chardonnay (Lightly oaked white wine Fergus says). Nose: This one is quite a bit fruitier at first nosing (Fergus is ‘feeling the kiwi fruit vibe’) Little touches of gooseberry tartness but also little winks of pineapple and passion fruit (Fergus says ‘Gorse’, which I cannot disagree with). There is some smoky bacon sizzling away underneath that fruity exterior as well. Perhaps some cereal notes such as muesli and hay as well. (‘White pepper springs to mind’ says Fergus). With water: More gorse, coconut and a slightly more drying mineral aspect as well. Green peppercorns in brine. Mouth: Rich, sweet and creamy with a lovely sheen of aged peat, like an old tarpaulin of resinous peat drawn across the palate. (‘Like the flavour of really good, dry sparking water...or is that just a load of shite?’ Fergus is getting philosophical now). Some nice natural vanilla and cream soda with a rooty, gential style earthiness and notes of tar liqueur and old chartreuse. Very syrupy this one. (Fergus thinks the nose is more interesting than the palate.) However, I am really enjoying this one. With water: simmering peat, olive oil, freshly cut grass, seaweed, maybe some caraway. Totally great. Finish: Long and elegantly sweet with peppery notes of watercress, sandalwood and various coastal aspects. Comments: Another belter of a Caol Ila. SGP:548 - 91 points. (Fergus: 87, or, as he says ‘Brutal!’ - I’m clearly too generous)  


Caol Ila 29 yo 1982/2012 (60.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, hogshead, cask #6482, 223 bottles) Caol Ila 29 yo 1982/2012 (60.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, hogshead, cask #6482, 223 bottles) Colour: Light gold. (‘It’s like the colour of Goldschlager’ says Fergus). Nose: (‘Ooft! That’s qutie a feisty nose on this one! according to Fergus). It’s funny how the profile of the Signatory bottlings is quite different to the early 80s bottlings from Cadenheads. Much to be said for different parcels of stock. This is a little closed at first but it’s a potent mix of boiler sheds, diesel, crushed black pepper, lime zest and carbon paper. Develops further with graphite, ink and smoked cereals. Feels peatier than the previous ones as well with a bigger, bolder earthiness. With water: Fruiter, softer, more cereals, more oils and something like turpentine and various hospital medical aromas. Mouth: A mix of medical tinctures, peat oils, tar, liquorice and some green fruit. (‘It’s quite smooth, the barrel has done its job!’ declares Fergus.) Some honeyed notes like mead as well, an elegant sweetness and you really don’t feel the strength too much. Nevertheless...with water: we’re aligning more with the Cadenhead bottlings now with these green fruit notes and various tea qualities. Touches of juniper, green peat, bonfires and BBQ sauce. Finish: Lengthy, oily and peaty with a lovely lingering sweetness. Comments: One of many excellent old Caol Ilas by Signatory. These are still solid value for money at retail and in auction if you ask me. The sort of bottle to keep for the future and be knocked out by in years to come. SGP:428 - 90 points. (Fergus agrees: ‘solid 90’ he says before abandoning this session to drink beer in the kitchen)  


Back to Cadenheads...



Caol Ila 34 yo 1982:2016 (50.4%, Cadenhead, Small Batch for Bresser & Timmer, bourbon hogshead, 150 bottles) Caol Ila 34 yo 1982/2016 (50.4%, Cadenhead, Small Batch for Bresser & Timmer, bourbon hogshead, 150 bottles) Colour: Gold. Nose: Ooft! These extra few years really make a difference. This one is leafier with a really gentle and delicate smokiness. Earth, dried mushrooms, a little waxiness, notes of various dried herbs and green tea. A little mint. This one is really going more towards the style of the 1979s. Some notes of pollen and honeysuckle along with various other wild flowers. A beguiling and beautiful nose! With water: more saline and blatantly coastal now with a glorious freshness. Mouth: Hugely rich and medicinal. Notes of aged mead, sourdough bread, wild flowers, lamp oil, hessian. A muscular but well-poised peatiness with a plush and ripe green fruitiness throughout the whole thing which becomes tropical towards the finish. Quite stunning really. With water: a touch of wood but its perfectly integrated and controlled. More mead, natural tar, some smoked fish and some oysters and lemon juice. Finish: super-long. Complex with all kinds of smoke and oil notes along with menthol, medicine and a slowly undulating peatiness. Glorious. Comments: We’re really entering another level here. Caol Ila seems to be that rare thing, a heavily peated malt that ages particularly well. These casks are really hitting perfection at this age. SGP:537 - 92 points.  


Caol Ila 34 yo 1982/2016 (51.1%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, bourbon hogshead,180 bottles) Caol Ila 34 yo 1982/2016 (51.1%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, bourbon hogshead,180 bottles) Colour: Light gold. Nose: A little sharper than the Bresser & Timmer, more citrus qualities such as fresh lemon juice, lemon zest and a saline, preserved lemon note as well. Candied fruit peel, orange liqueur and, with a little breathing, a lovely medicinal note emerges. Bandages, germoline, tar and white pepper. Some touches of leather, old books and dried mint as well. Beach pebbles and dried kelp as well. With water: darjeeling tea, coal dust, smoked meats and dried seaweed. Mouth: This one is bigger, punchier, wears its age more lightly and has a more voluptuous medical profile. More iodine, tcp, mercurochrome and natural tar. An earthy gentian quality along with a sweet peatiness that permeates everything. Some green fruit and citrus as well in the background. With water: lemon oil, fresh thyme, white fish and brine. A leaner yet still well-balanced profile, more towards citrus, peat and coastal qualities. Finish: Another lengthy one, full of peat oil and little duets of green and citrus fruits. Comments: Boringly great. Not quite a spectacular as the previous one but still pretty dazzling. SGP:438 - 91 points.  


Let’s have one final one for the road...



Caol Ila 21 yo 1974/1995 (58.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Caol Ila 21 yo 1974/1995 (58.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) I believe this one was bottled for the French market and is quite rare these days. As ever, Cadenheads reassure us it was ‘matured in an oak cask’. Colour: White wine. Nose: A blade! This is a swoosh of grizzly peat, olive oil, cut grass and a whole seashore of minerals and coastal qualities. This will be quick. Tar, brine, shell fish, medicine, a basket of Sicilian lemons, gravel, ash, bonfires etc... only with the volume turned up to 11 on all of them. With water: fish sauce, sea weed, anchovies, coal hearths, amazing intensity and precision of aroma. Mouth: S.T.U.N.N.I.N.G! A hospital heated with peat fires. On an island. In a hurricane. A huge, gravelly, mineral-laden, fat, ripplingly muscled dram - the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Islay. With water: best call the anti-maltoporn brigade. Finish: the kind of whisky you can swallow and just close your eyes and forget about the woes of the world for a good half hour. Comments: Many of these 74 Caol Ilas are still overlooked in my opinion. This one would easily hold its own against its contemporaries from Port Ellen or Brora. Totally majestic stuff! SGP:449 - 94 points.








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