A VERTICAL TASTING OF SIX SMWS CAOL ILAS - by Par Caldenby
After having collected Caol Ila bottlings for the better parts of two years, from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society branch in the Netherlands, I had a first crack at them a few months ago at a small tasting, but the real test for them came about now, by early November and how fitting is it not to hold an autumnal event, given the typical character of Caol Ila?
The event was well appreciated by all eleven participants and it was apparent that the range of whiskies, from 8 yrs up to 20 yrs of age, both showed off a distillery character and distinctive differences due to the six different casks and ageing periods. All casks were ex bourbon wood, with the youngest being a barrel and the five others hogsheads.
The tasting was held with the oldest entering the nosing first and then successively going down the ages to the 8 yrs old. As age does polish the whiskies off, this appeared to be the sensible thing to do.
Tasting notes in order of appearance and personal scores out of 100:
Cask 53.71 at 20 yrs and 55,3 alcohol by volume (abv), distilled in January 1983: Some peatiness on the nose and evident but fresh oak, slight leathery and “horsey”; more light fruits like yellow plums with water and time (20). Soft but powerful taste, with peat, vanilla and flaky sea salt on tinned fruits (22). Powerful but rounded finish on some peat, vanilla, leather and heavy fruits (21). Opens up and plays down the peat with water, gains on time in glass (20). Overall score 83 and key characteristics “leather and flaky sea salt”.
Cask 53.59 at 19 yrs and 53,6 abv, distilled in January 1983: Clearly fruity on the nose and with a good measure of high quality US oak, nail varnish and some peat (21). Soft but very powerful delivery on the palate, with saltiness, olives, soft oak, leather on a fruity base (23). Finishes on green olives, salty peat and buttery fruitiness (22). Long on the palate, creamy and becomes increasingly peaty with water (22). Overall score 89 and key characteristics “creamy oak and green olives”.
Cask 53.66 at 13 yrs and 58,7 abv, distilled in April 1990: Olives, bacon crisps, peat, unripe peaches, green fruits and sea weed on the nose (18). Sea weed and peat on the palate, with the typical leathery and olive tinted fruitiness (21). Finishes on screaming peat, a little oak, malty ale and late fruitiness and a lot of bitter chocolate with water (21). Warming, intense, almost violent and perhaps a little immature, still (20)? Overall score 80 and key characteristics “smoky meats and thin fruitiness”.
Cask 53.67 at 13 yrs and 56,6 abv, distilled in February 1990: Rounded nose with clear but restrained peat, salivating oakiness and becomes fruity with water (21). Fruit and peat on the palate, with vanilla, flaky sea salt and fudge (22). Finishes with the flaky salt becoming leathery, with subtle vanilla and fruit notes…but some lurking peat too (22). Rounded, very well matured and more fudgey than the others – but be a bit careful with the water (21). Overall score 86 and key characteristics “peaty fudge and rounded fruit”.
Cask 53.74 at 13 yrs and 57,9 abv, distilled in April 1990: Kippery nose, olive oil, violently briny notes, smoke, a bit “horsey” and milk, going towards more oak, malt and even some Coca Cola notes (22). Deeply fruity base note on the palate, spruce wood, smoky peat, vanilla from the oak (23). Finishes on vanilla and smoke over fruit, on a bed of spruce…(23) As you can imagine, an excellent development over time, with a fruity base and intense high notes. Overall score 90 and key characteristics “maritime smoke on spruce and fruity malt”.
Cask 53.54 at 8 yrs and 59,1 abv, distilled in October 1993: Noses of smoky peat, very clearl US oak, smoked meat, intense liquorice, leather, some green grassy notes and marzipan (22). Smoke, sea weed, flaky sea salt and some fruit, on a bed of oak notes (23). The finish draws towards aniseed, billowing smoke, tar (23). God do I love this bottling! Solid body, bone dry, intense, lively, but oh, so balanced and typical of an excellent Caol Ila (23). Overall score 91 and key characteristics “bone dry smoke and sea weed”.
My score thus gave that the 53.54 was my number one, with the 53.74 the runner-up and the 19 yrs old 53.59 coming in third. None was sub-standard, though, which is very important.
The total vote from the tasting panel was not at all like mine, however: The 20 yrs old 53.71 won by a mile, before a tie between the 8 yrs old 53.54 and the 13 yrs old 53.74, with the 19 yrs old 53.59 just one single point behind them and the two 13 yrs old 53.66 and 53.67 tying up for the honourable fifth position.
If you have never tried single cask bottlings of Caol Ila – do it! It is slightly less heavy in body when compared to the Kildalton malts, but no less intense. Buckle up and let the engine roar!
/ Par Caldenby, 5th of November, 2004