Google Caol Ila testing the limits

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

March 3, 2018





Angus's Corner
From our casual Scottish correspondent
and guest taster Angus MacRaild
Caol Ila:
testing the limits?
Sometimes people very kindly send me samples of different batches of a specific bottling. In this case Caol Ila 25 year old, a whisky I usually find to be quite excellent. So, let’s see how we get on trying a number of different batches head to head over the course of one session.


This could either be fascinatingly illuminating, or frustratingly inconclusive. Anyway, let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuck in. Oh, and if you don’t mind, we’ll try to stick with short and concise notes.  


Caol Ila 25 yo (43%, OB, +/-2010) Caol Ila 25 yo (43%, OB, +/-2010)
Colour: Pale gold. Nose: Many earths, ashes, limoncello, wet rocks, kelp, soot and some briny and lightly fruity notes. Fresh green fruits such as green apples and pears. Lightly medical and kippery notes emerge as well. A permanent coastal bluster in the background. Mouth: Soft at 43% but the strength works. The light medical embrocations and soft, wispy peat smoke balances well with a little espresso, some mineral notes, lime zest, oyster sauce and a little smoked barley sugar. Finish: Medium - long. Briny, citric, lightly fruity, more soft smoky notes and a sooty aspects. Comments: Benchmark aged Caol Ila. An extremely pleasurable dram and one of the rare examples where a deliberately lower bottling strength works in its favour I’d say. Although I would love to see how the same liquid performed at 46% I have to say.
SGP: 356 - 87 points.


Caol Ila 25 yo (43%, OB, +/-2012)
Let’s see if a couple of years made any difference... Colour: Pale gold. Nose: Perhaps slightly earthier with a little more up front minerality. A few mushrooms. But otherwise we’re in very similar territory, shell fish, seaweed, many seashore aspects, quite a bit of medicine, peat embers and wood ash. Still the same lovely profile. A slightly beefier barley sweetness, if you see what I mean. Mouth: Feels a little oilier and more robust but also more medicinal and peatier. Slightly more weighty than the 2010 which does it no harm at all. Kelp, tar and brine all sloshing about. Finish: Long, sooty, mineralic, citrus fruits and some farmyard qualities. Comments: Sold and consistent with the 2010, but I’d say the added weight and texture just nudges it a notch higher.
SGP: 366 - 88 points.


Caol Ila 25 yo (43%, OB, +/-2013)
Going forward another year or so... Colour: Pale gold (in all fairness there’s a good chance caramel is being used to create colour uniformity in this bottling, ho hum...) Nose: the same but slightly more minty and mentholated; a wee edge of eucalyptus resin and some tea tree oil. A little matcha and salted white fish along side all these typical medical, briny and bonfire aspects. The nose is really the most consistent part with these 25s I find so far. Mouth: Lighter and leafier again with a more ethereal minerality and a smokiness that veers towards ash, lemons, beach pebbles and sand. Finish: Medium length, some coal tar soap and lanolin and a touch of camphor. A little more nervous perhaps. Comments: It got slightly slighter again and perhaps a touch too fragile.

SGP: 245 - 85 points.


Caol Ila 25 yo (43%, OB, +/-2016)
Jumping a head a wee bit... Colour: yup, you guessed it, pale gold! Nose: Oh, this one is a little sharper with more lively and pronounced notes of lime, fresh lemon juice a touch of grapefruit and some caphory, diesel notes. Hay, a farmyard, an old tool box in a garage, some clay, lapsang souchong and a smattering of punchy medical tinctures. A slightly greasier kind of peat. Mouth: The weight is back on again, and the peatiness is oddly more chiselled and focused towards things like mezcal and smoked agave. Paraffin, coal dust, smoked grist, kippers, peat ash, pencil shavings. Feels a little younger and more grizzly, which is no bad thing. I wonder if we are beginning to see the character of the Caol Ila distillate change a little since the earlier 1980s? Finish: Good length. Prickly peat, a warm kiln, kippers, soot, motor oil and boot polish. Comments: The most divergent so far I’d say. We’re moving towards a more simplistic and thuggish style I feel. Still a cracking dram though.
SGP: 266 - 86 points.


Caol Ila 25 yo (43%, OB, +/-2017)
One more to bring us roughly up to date... Colour: do you really need me to write it? Nose: And again we seem to have swung back to a slightly more nuanced style. This one is pleasingly camphory, slightly buttery, some freshly chopped chives, coal dust, plenty of invigorating seashore character, lanolin, fresh linen, wet rocks, sandalwood and again this rather modern smoked grist/barley aspect which I find rather pleasing. Mouth: Sooty, waxy, farmy, medicinal and coastal. Some mercurochrome, tcp, ointments, preserved lemons, green olives in brine and kippers. Finish: Good length, warm, earthy, soda bread, black olives, seaweed and smouldering peat embers. Comments: These Caol Ilas are at their best when balance and complexity are allowed to shine I feel. Also, who says all bottlings decline in quality over time...?
SGP: 366 - 88 points.


A vatting of all five of those 25 year olds is rather excellent, all the best aspects seem to shine, as is so often the case with these sorts of fun experiments. For the record: SGP: 366 - 89 points.  


I feel it would be a shame not to have a few wee bonuses while we’re on the subject of Caol Ila...  


Caol Ila 31yo 1983/2015 (49.4%, Signatory Vintage, hogshead, cask #5291, 144 bottles) Caol Ila 31yo 1983/2015 (49.4%, Signatory Vintage, hogshead, cask #5291, 144 bottles)
Colour: Pale gold. Nose: A different level to the 25s. This is more concentrated and more complex as you might imagine. But at the same time it’s also extremely classical aged Caol Ila with these beautifully balanced medical, seashore and soft green fruit characteristics. Light tea notes such as green tea, mint tea, chamomile and lapsang souchong. Also many mineral qualities such as wet beach pebbles, sand and a few flinty notes. A couple of pineapple cubes, a few gorse flowers, sea salt, frying pancetta and underneath everything a wee slick of peat oils. Mouth: Soft, undulating, waxy peats. Almost like if you were to take a very old Glen Grant or something similar and infuse it with some aged peated malt somehow. There’s honey, glazed citrus peel, camphor, smoked oysters, a little cured meat and some earthy and background farmy notes. Goes on with smoked kelp, tar liqueur, lanolin, coal dust and herb infused olive oil. Finish: Long and showcasing a beautiful fusion of luscious green fruits and thicker, peats and waxy notes. Almost suggestive of some aged mid-1970s Broras. Comments: A beautiful and immensely quaffable Caol Ila that, unusually for an older whisky, comes across even better on the palate than on the nose. Top notch stuff!
SGP: 465 - 91 points.


Caol Ila 1977/1996 (60%, Blackadder, Limited Editions, cask #4, 360 bottles) Caol Ila 1977/1996 (60%, Blackadder, Limited Editions, cask #4, 360 bottles)
Colour: Pale gold. Nose: Fresh oysters covered in lemon juice, gravel, minerals, seashore, kelp, sandalwood and a lean, saline and potent peatiness rummaging away in the background. A pure and chiselled type of profile with petrol and germoline qualities sloshing about in the depths. The medical and salty aspects increase with time. Also becomes a little flinty and grassy with some fresh green herbs. With water: a little softer and more relaxed with an earthier style of peat. Mouth: Caol tar soap, olive oil, raw peat, soot, green peppercorns in brine, kippers, frying pancetta and beach pebbles. With water: softer, more lavishly medicinal, more mineral, more herbal and again more earthy. Some lapsang souchong and smoked fish in the background. Finish: Long, ashy, lemony, peppery and pretty perfect with some meaty shellfish qualities. Comments: There are many terrific old Caol Ila’s such as this one. Although, I feel the 1977s and 78s really possessed something ‘singular’ and a little separate from the earlier 74s and the later 79s-82s. Maybe that’s just me. Or maybe I need to do a vertical of Caol Ila from every vintage since the new distillery from 74 onwards? Or is that rather like trying to watch every single James Bond film back to back: insane and daunting?
SGP: 346 - 91 points.


Caol Ila 1977/1993 (65%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #53.6) Caol Ila 1977/1993 (65%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #53.6)
65%, I suppose I should sit down for this one... Colour: Pale gold (If distilleries had a colour I feel Caol Ila’s could quite easily be ‘pale gold’) Nose: A grouchy, austere, total brute at first nosing! Some simmering peat oils shyly lurking under a mountain of smoked cornflakes, shredded wheat, muesli and freshly malted barley. Although I feel this may kill you stone dead if you were to drink it for breakfast. With a little time it develops along more classical Caol Ila lines with these notes of petrol, mercurochrome, germoline and crushed sea salt. The very definition of purity and power! Possesses an almost blade-like precision.  Tiny touches of earth, lemon juice, iodine, seaweed and white pepper all whisper out at you. With water: citrus, wax, hospital corridors, a hay loft, brake fluid. Close to perfection really! Mouth: a maelstrom of syrupy peat oils, camphor, resins, minerals, various oils, soot, wax, gentian eau de vie, tar liqueur and herbal toothpaste (my beloved Euthymol). Goes on with warm peat embers, coal dust, sandalwood and pure brine. The austerity has eased off and in place is just a spectacularly powerful, pure and surprisingly complex Caol Ila. With water: a sweeping smokiness that takes in freshly malted barley, peat embers, kippers, hessian, farmyard and bonfire ash. Then veering towards to dried herbs, mint and various sooty aspects. Quite brilliant! Finish: Extremely long and superbly precise, sharp and vivid. With these wonderfully vibrant coastal aspects, blue peat smoke, black olives, kelp and olive oil. Comments: It’s a bit of a monster and it makes you work for it, but my God it’s worth it. A terrific and beautifully powerful but complex Caol Ila. I love it!
SGP: 367 - 93 points.


Thanks to Dirk and the Thompson siblings.  



More tasting notesCheck the index of all Caol Ila we've tasted so far






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