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October 30, 2014


The Caol Ila Days, part one

The highly reliable, big fat distillery with an elegant style has already granted us with many glorious malts and thanks to both the owners and the indies, there’s still plenty of new expressions to taste these days. We’ll try to go ‘deep’ today, but we may need several days to go through the 20-30 versions that are sitting on my tasting desk. We’ll see… As for the line-up, we’ll try to follow our inspiration.

Caol Ila 18 yo (43%, OB, +/-2014)

Caol Ila 18 yo (43%, OB, +/-2014) Four starsWould you imagine that last time I tried this neat 18 yo, that was in 2007! I feel shame… Colour: gold. Nose: oh this is subtle, mellow, complex and yet ‘focused’, with whiffs of copper (maybe that’s because I’ve just pictured the stills in my mind while writing the lousy intro), a working kiln, a light brine, fresh butter and then wet bark, a little moss, cider apples and just a little toffee. I guess you could describe this as ‘fresh and elegant.’ It’s only mildly smoky. Mouth: there, the citrus fruits that were missing in the nose. Orange juice and brine with the smallest kippers and then some apple juice and a wee metallic touch again. Still very elegant, rather fruitier and softer than other Caol Ilas. Finish: medium length. Rather lemon than oranges, a little smoked tea. Comments: it’s gentle indeed, complex, well-mannered Islay. Probably and excellent introduction to the peated Islays, especially for wine freaks methinks. SGP:555 (how balanced is that) - 87 points.

Caol Ila 1995/2011 (46%, Moon Import, cask #9810, 348 bottles)

Caol Ila 1995/2011 (46%, Moon Import, cask #9810, 348 bottles) Five stars That’s right, not a new bottling but it’s still available here and there – maybe because it’s quite expensive. Colour: straw. Nose: starts more buttery than the official 18, fatter, with more vanilla and a mixture of quinces and citrons. Then it’s more camphor and antiseptic, oysters, seaweed, brine, hessian and all that. Coastal? You bet. Mouth: perfect. I mean, it’s a bit early to have the perfect ones within the flight but 1. They may well all be perfect and 2. I do not control this sort of thing. Great minerality, sharpy lemons, green tea, smoke, kippers… And a pretty fat mouth feel, which works very well here. Finish: long and more bitter, which is always welcome in my book. Lemon skin. Peppery spices in the aftertaste. Comments: bang! SGP:467 - 90 points.

While we’re in Italy…

Caol Ila 16 yo 1995/2011 (46%, High Spirits, Colours Collection)

Caol Ila 16 yo 1995/2011 (46%, High Spirits, Colours Collection) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: different. Steelier, with much more seawater, and rather less fruits and smoke. Some overripe rhubarb (as far as rhubarb can be ripe), stewed fruits… This is pretty unusual for Caol Ila, let’s check the palate… Maybe also a little mint, or rather mint liqueur. Crème de Menthe. Noses a notch sour. Mouth: not at all, this is funny, it’s now very close to the Moon (so to speak). Same nervous, peppery, lemony style, maybe a tad bitterer in fact. Very good body. Finish: indeed, it’s bitter and even acrid, but that’s not a problem at all with these profiles. Keeps your palate clean. Bitter almonds in the aftertaste. Comments: not 100% sure about the nose, but the palate was great. High quality anyway. SGP:457 - 85 points.

And now the new unpeated…

Caol Ila 15 yo 1998/2014 ‘Unpeated Style’ (60.3%, OB, Special Release, 10668 bottles)

Caol Ila 15 yo 1998/2014 ‘Unpeated Style’ (60.3%, OB, Special Release, 10668 bottles)  Two stars and a half I’ve never been the biggest fan of these versions. Colour: pale gold. Nose: vanilla and marshmallows. Marshmallows and vanilla. Not grain whisky ex-first fill American oak, but that’s the nearest style in my opinion. With water: shuts it down. How bizarre… A little raw barley, but that’s almost it. Mouth (neat): ultra-sweet hyperbolic vanilla and jelly babies. With water: very sweet indeed, with a little more fruit. Peaches, perhaps, barley water. A (much) simpler Balblair, I’d say. Finish: not too long, very sweet, narrow. Comments: probably a bottling that I simply do not understand. It’s me, I’m sure. But in a way, it’s flawless. BTW, I found much less peat than in earlier versions. SGP:631 - 78 points.

I’ve got an idea (oh, no), let’s have a peater at a similar strength…

Caol Ila 18 yo 1996/2014 (62.2%, Speciality Drinks, Masterpieces, hogshead, 299 bottles)

Caol Ila 18 yo 1996/2014 (62.2%, Speciality Drinks, Masterpieces, hogshead, 299 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: it’s not hugely expressive, but that’s normal at 62.2% vol. It seems that its great, yes it seems so, but… With water: oh yes, an immaculate, uncomplicated, straightforward nose. Peat smoke, menthol, lemon juice, iodine. That’s all, folks, but the proportions are exactly right. Mouth (neat): oh Mephistopheles, why have you poured such strong whisky into my glass!? Seriously, its ultra-sweet, but that may well be the very high strength. So… With water: more than perfect. Hyper-sharp, ultra-precise and concise Caol Ila. Finish: long, ultra-sharp, but the aftertaste is a tad fatter. Smoked butter? Comments: a dilemma. It’s perfect, so it deserves 90 in my book, but it’s also a tad too simple, let’s not exaggerate and overrate sharpness/cleanliness. But it’s great. But it’s simple. But it’s great. And yet it’s simple… SGP:467 - 89 points.

While we’re in swinging London…

CI7 (58.5%, Speciality Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2014)

CI7 (58.5%, Speciality Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2014) Five stars Another brand new one. Colour: straw. Nose: noses younger, sweeter, rounder, also more mature at the same time (like kids, whisky can be mature wile young, and conversely) – which is still a little bizarre, isn’t it. It seems to be a more civilised CI, while I remember CI6 was more brutal. Seawater, hessian, creosote, whelks, fresh walnuts, beach sand. With water: standing on the pier at the Distillery. Mouth (neat): love this. It’s a tad more medicinal and herbal than the ‘masterpiece’. More mercurochrome. What a perfect spirit! With water: a blade. Plus earth and roots. Love roots. Finish: ultra-long, earthy. Love earth. Comments: I’m sure I could spend hours around a table chatting with the great people from The Whisky Exchange, debating this crucial issue: between the 1996 and the CI7, which is best? And we’d drink all the stock in the meantime… SGP:368 - 90 points.

Good, that’s six CIs, we’ll have more next time. Especially older ones…

More tasting notes Check the index of all Caol Ila I've tasted so far



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