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

November 2, 2019





Angus's Corner
From our casual Scottish correspondent
and guest taster Angus MacRaild
Caol Ila Fun
I know, I know. Caol Ila. Again! Some bottlers - and perhaps also some drinkers - will occasionally yawn upon hearing or reading the name Caol Ila. An interesting phenomena where a ‘brand’ is a victim of the twin forces of its own ubiquity and quality. Personally, I can’t help but love its punchy, distillate-forward style.


What’s more, it’s one of those extremely rare names that have always sheltered quality from the first known bottled examples hailing from the old distillery, right through to the present day make. Perhaps these ultra-lean modern examples aren’t as majestic as their 1960s counterparts, but then again, few spirits on this whole planet are. Today we’ll have a healthy wee jumble of different expressions, including a wee pair of head to heads that speaks right to my unabashed geeky core! I’m just a bit lost for what order to do them in. Please bear with me…



Caol Ila 16 yo 1969 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice)

Caol Ila 16 yo 1969 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice)
There is a 69/85 Intertrade Caol Ila at 40% which Serge found to be 95 big fat marvellous points back in 2007. I’m not sure if this is the same juice, you just never know with these old G&M bottlings. Nevertheless, this is our only 60s example for this session so let’s have it first as a kind of historical benchmark. Colour: gold. Nose: that’s the thing about 60s Caol Ila, it’s just so stupendously fatty. A dripping, browned bacon rasher sizzling in its fat. Salted liquorice, brine and olive oil mixed, pickling juices, tar extracts and fabrics full of wood smoke. A grizzly, brusque and almost greasy spirit, yet at the same time just effortlessly charming. Mouth: these old Islays and Brora 72s by G&M are probably the biggest and weightiest spirits you’ll ever find at 40%. This one is a dense and wonderfully peaty oily slick across the palate. Salted almonds, raisins, tobacco leaf, sheep wool, mineral oil and squid ink. Truly evocative whisky. Finish: the finish itself is probably medium but the aftertaste glows with black olives, peat embers, dried seaweed and well-seasoned vegetable broth. Comments: You have to be careful with these bottlings as you find yourself kind of tasting ‘underneath’ the low bottling strength. Skirting around the obvious frustrations of 40% to look for all the glimmers of treasure within. It’s true that at even a few extra degrees this would be 94 point material. As it is, this is still poetically beautiful whisky. Harmonious, balanced, elegant and yet still powerful and thrilling. This session starts very well!
SGP: 565 - 92 points.



Caol Ila 24 yo 1976/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, 25th Anniversary Kirsch Import, cask #8081, 252 bottles)

Caol Ila 24 yo 1976/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, 25th Anniversary Kirsch Import, cask #8081, 252 bottles)
This could be a tad deadly at this stage in a tasting considering we’ll have younger ones later on, however, I can’t resist comparing to the 69 from a few years and one distillery earlier. Colour: pale straw. Nose: differences and similarities. Just wonderful freshness here at first nosing. Opens with lightly smoky lemon barley water, fresh lemon peel, sunflower oil, beach sand and chalk. Hints of smoked sea salt, seaweed in ramen broth and smoked olive oil (the Croatians make some excellent smoked olive oil I should add). Many lovely notes of bath bombs, freshly laundered fabrics and linens, sandalwood, pine cones and wood embers. Mouth: cleaves closer to the 69 on arrival with this nicely fatty and gently oily texture. Something funny like smoked bubblegum, newspaper ink and dried tarragon. Perilously easy stuff. Limes, chalk, crushed seashells, old riesling, ink, paraffin, linseed oil, oyster water… superb. Finish: good length and developing notes of putty and clay along with more barley water, lemony notes and elderflower. Comments: Definitely a lighter Caol Ila but a masterclass in pleasure and easiness in malt whisky. Goes down like… ah, no. I forget you can’t make those jokes any more.
SGP: 444 - 91 points.



Right: geek-factor 9, engage!



Caol Ila 12 yo (43%, OB, first batch, bottled 2002)

Caol Ila 12 yo (43%, OB, first batch, bottled 2002)
If I’m in a bar with a scattering of standard bottles on the gantry and moved to have a whisky, then I have a kind of ‘no thinking’ set of names that look for. They are ‘Talisker 10, Springbank 10, Laphroaig 10 and Caol Ila 12. I’ve never really tried some of the very early batches of this bottling that came after the discontinuation of the old Flora & Fauna 15yo. So, for me at any rate, this is fun! Colour: light gold. Nose: rather briny and seaweedy at first, reminiscent of some Lagavulin 12 year olds in fact. Although this is very much Caol Ila with these nice notes of sheep wool, wet rocks, putty, iodine and oysters. Pure, emblematic and with a solid medicinal backbone running through it. Very close to what I think of when I think ‘Caol Ila 12yo’, although perhaps not as rugged and harsh as later bottlings are to my mind. Mouth: much softer on arrival that I would have expected had this been a contemporary bottling. This is oily, heathery, sooty, peppery and briny in a way that really recalls much old 60s Caol Ilas. Don’t get me wrong we aren’t at those heights of quality but the similarities in profile are really cool. Oily texture, lemon peel, hessian and a kind of kippery peat smoke. Finish: good length and rather fragrant with more smoky heathery notes, salty honey, dried mint and camphor. Comments: There’s an almost honeyed quality to this one and a sort of fat sweetness that really recalls an older style. Really fascinating and fun to try. Although, most importantly of all, it’s also technically very good I think. Not sure this kind of quality was really maintained in the immediate years following this.
SGP: 554 - 88 points.



Caol Ila 12 yo (43%, OB, bottled 2018, batch L8121)

Caol Ila 12 yo (43%, OB, bottled 2018, batch L8121)
Colour: straw. Nose: fascinating! This is indeed more brittle and sharper with a degree of salinity and acidity that the 2002 lacks. This is more seawater, ash, mercurochrome and possesses what Serge would call a ‘millimetric’ profile. There’s also a floral aspect with hints of grass, parsley and gorse flowers. Really quite surprisingly different but by no means worse. Mouth: again this is more raw, more powerful, more briny and sooty. Lots of smoked oatmeal, hay, seawater, green olives, chopped parsley, struck flints and medical things like herbal toothpaste and germoline floor cleaner. This kind of gutsy hospital characteristic which was sort of absent from the 2002. There’s also some lighter fruit notes that point towards pineapple jelly sweets and something like bubblegum. Finish: Good length, rather smoky, sooty, salty and full of salty broth, seawater and white pepper. Comments: I really wish I had a bottling from somewhere in between these two. There are clear differences and this recent bottling is very much how I think of with I think ‘Caol Ila 12’. These slightly more ashy, citric and saline accents are pure Caol Ila if you ask me. I could list fascinating differences till the cows come home but I’m really struggling to determine which is better. I’ll dock this one a single point for being a tad less complex, but both are really lovely whiskies in their own right.
SGP: 456 - 87 points.



Caol Ila 18 yo (43%, OB, first batch, bottled 2002)

Caol Ila 18 yo (43%, OB, first batch, bottled 2002)
I remember buying a bottle of Caol Ila 18 year old for my Dad around 2003. It came from Loch Fyne Whiskies, rather enthusiastically recommended by the great Richard Joynson. I remember finding it pretty spectacular at the time, to the point it was probably quite an influential bottle on my early whisky meanderings. To this day it’s always one I’m very happy to revisit. Colour: gold. Nose: what I’ve always enjoyed about the 18 is that is walks an entertaining tightrope between the younger, more chiselled style of Caol Ila, and these older, more elegant styles full of coastal complexity, medicine and citrus teas. This one leans more to the latter side of things, Green tea with lemon, soot, pine cones, roof pitch, chalk, wet beach pebbles, camphor and green olives. It’s gentle and settled with a kind if undulating medicinal quality and wafts of plain light peat smoke. Mouth: superb opening on seawater, cooking oils, herbal teas, saline broths, umami paste, various shades of olive and medical tinctures. The texture is perhaps a tad on the light footed side, but the flavours are precise and rather beautiful. In time there’s hints of green pepper and nettle tea as well, some lemon rind too. Give it time and the power really starts to increase. Wonderful! Finish: long, lemony, oily, heathery, medical and herbal. Comments: No wonder people fell in love with this bottling. It possesses this kind of uniform ‘Islay’ characteristic that the best Islay whiskies were showcasing back in these days. A profile which is just so direct, clear and seductive it’s hard not to be swayed. What I find really cool is how the overall profile is very similar to the first batch of the 12 as well.
SGP: 554 - 90 points.



Caol Ila 18 yo (43%, OB, bottled 2015, batch L5269)

Caol Ila 18 yo (43%, OB, bottled 2015, batch L5269)
Colour: slightly lighter gold. Nose: the difference between these two is far narrower than the 12s but it is still distinct enough to notice. Here we’re still in this kind of coastal, elegant, sooty, medical ballpark but it maybe lacks the deeper, more gentle peat tones of the 2002. It’s also leaning more towards freshly chopped herbs (parsley, chives), fresh oysters, lemon juice mixed with sunflower oil and natural tar extract. Clean, pin sharp and super fresh with a wee antiseptic touch. Mouth: ooft. Here the difference shines far more clearly. And we’re going in the same kind if direction as the 12s. More salinity, more purity and a far more direct minerality. Anchovy paste, wet pebbles, cloves, hessian, white pepper and smoked mackerel. Finish: long with a kind of sooty/smoky/peaty triplet note. Smoked fish, putty, tar, dried herbs, miso and a rather grassy and punchy olive oil. Comments: A while back I did a similar vertical of Lagavulin 16s and the quality definitely wavered towards the contemporary end. What’s cool about these Caol Ilas is that, while the character has obviously altered within the relatively modern era they all hail from, the quality itself is impressively consistent. I’m very happy with this wee quartet.
SGP: 465 - 88 points.



That was embarrassingly fun. Now, let’s have some youthful power to finish.



Caol Ila 8 yo 2011/2019 (57%, Lady Of The Glen, cask #313406, Amarone finish, 293 bottles)

Caol Ila 8 yo 2011/2019 (57%, Lady Of The Glen, cask #313406, Amarone finish, 293 bottles)
Amarone is a full bodied, dry red wine made from the juice of grapes which have air dried on straw mats. It’s not my idea of a natural bedfellow for Caol Ila, but there’s many whisky lovers around the world who are lapping up these sorts of finishes these days. So, in other words, what the hell do I know! Colour: rose gold. Nose: indeed, what do I know? This is very nice and approachable with lots of tobacco pouches, smoked fish, black pepper, leather, tar, smoked mint and hessian. There’s a kind of syrupy feel to the peat along with peach stones, sea salt and caraway. Unusual but quite fun. With water: strawberry cough medicine, fruity shisha pipe smoke, potpourri, jasmine tea and something like smoked cranberries! Mouth: the good news is that the wine is in check. In fact it feels like there’s some added sweetness at play rather than dryness. These notes of soot, lemon curd, menthol tobacco, fennel, putty and anthracite all work well together. Gets a little jammy and resinous in time. I’ve just realised this feels older than 8. With water: again rather sooty and leathery, with sweet tobacco notes, salted honey, smoked olive oil and lightly burnt raisins. Finish: long, peppery, pretty salty, hints of citrus pith, rather tarry, blood orange and salted liquorice. Comments: Not sure how long the finish was on this one but I find it annoyingly good. Although, what I find good is the sense of cohesion and identity. You never really feel like you’re sipping some overly doctored young anonymous peater. Good work.
SGP: 566 - 86 points.



Caol Ila 9 yo 2009/2019 (58.7%, Elixir Distillers ‘Magic Of The Cask’, cask #316103, refill Gonzalez Byass sherry, 308 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2009/2019 (58.7%, Elixir Distillers ‘Magic Of The Cask’, cask #316103, refill Gonzalez Byass sherry, 308 bottles)
This was selected for the 2019 Whisky Show, which sadly I had to miss this year. I was sorry not to be able to see Oliver Chilton in his wizard hat and cape, emerging from a cloud of smoke between sherry butts and waving his special valinch wand. Casting his magical cask spells and doing his disappearing bung tricks for the gathered admirers… Anyway, apparently this one has been full term in an old school ex-bodega sherry cask. Which I find very cool. Let’s try it… Colour: gold. Nose: a gutsy and rather earthy Caol Ila. Lots of dunnage, black pepper, hessian, paraffin, baking parchment, black olives and smoking peat embers. I find lots of soy sauce, Magi seasoning, umami paste, anchovies in oil, smoked teas and engine oil. A rather gravelly mechanical flecked mineral side with notes of seaweed, lemongrass and pitch. Powerful and pretty hefty stuff! With water: fish sauce, hot smoked paprika, ointments, smoked sea salt and sand. Mouth: ooft! Raw seawater, pine resin, anthracite soot, dried kelp, tarry rope, iodine, caraway distillate, sheep wool, brine and smoked game meats. What I find impressive is that the refill aspect here really works. It feels mature but the sherry is restrained and melds with the Caol Ila character into a nicely meaty, oily, textural smokiness. With water: there’s a coarseness to this, although I don’t mean ‘rough’. Rather this is more a very rugged, textural, mineral, smoky and coastal whisky with no frills and many wee jagged edges. Although, it never comes across as immature, instead there’s an impression of deliberate power about it. Finish: long and full of boiler smoke, kippers with lemon juice, salty seaweed broth, tar extract, herbal teas, hessian and cough syrups. Comments: I can see why they would have chosen to bottle such a cask now rather than waiting longer. Although, having said that, I hope they have sibling casks. Now, let’s not forget to tip the magician…
SGP: 467 - 89 points.



Big hugs to Dirk for the Caol Ila 12 and 18s.




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