Thursday, 23 April 2015

An ode to Islay 5: Caol Ila

caol-ila-scotch-whisky-logoI’m running out of time in April to finish this set!  Caol Ila’s a firm favourite of mine, primarily from the constant presence in SMWS outturns (if there isn’t one in an outturn, I want to know where it is – looking at you May!).  Before the SMWS 53 obsession, I reviewed most of the OBs, and of course I’ve covered many in other tastings and outturn reviews.  Here’s the last two years FI bottlings and a bunch of other stuff I’ve picked up on the way or not given proper attention to. 

Not much of a logo though, is it.

Caol Ila, Feis Ile 2013, 56.5% A⊕

“Spirit distilled in 1998 has been triple-cask matured. For 12 years it rested in a combination of Refill Butts, Hogsheads and Barrels. The vatted whisky was then allowed to mature for several months in active hogshead casks to impart a spicy/oaky note to the existing delicate Caol Ila smoke. Finally it was treated to a final gentle maturation in European oak.”

CaolIla 2013Nose - Musky sweetness, fecund and perfumed, with hot dogs, cereal and dried prunes.  Some burnt sausage on a BBQ, and a touch of burning insulation.

Body - Plasticky, intense peat and great sweetness.  Balanced and very tasty.

Finish - Long, more hot dog smoke, meaty and savoury with lingering sweetness.  Wood structure at the end is balancing and numbing.

What’s not good about it - A little bright, could do with some more richness.

What’s good about it - Meaty and tasty, balanced and bold.  Good stuff.

Caol Ila, Feis Ile 2014, 55.5% A⊕

American oak hogsheads, 1500 bottles.

caol-ila-2002-feis-ile-2014-whiskyNose - Dark, dusty perfume, more fishy and coastal than hot dogs.  Sweet, delicious, if uncomplicated on the nose.

Body - Bright crab apple and unripe pear, balanced sweetness and peat.  Lots of wood and toffee and great waxed peat.  Lovely.

Finish - Medium, balanced with advancing musky notes.  Ends a little ordinarily and a little early but the overall feeling is one of high quality and sweet, tropical, waxy peat.  A rich and high quality Caol Ila.

What’s not good about it - Finish is a little disappointing.

What’s good about it - Everything you want in a Caol Ila - bright, waxed intensity and lots of coastal salt and numbing peat.  Rather good.

Compared: n - 2013 is slightly lighter, a little more musky, less sweetness and intensity and not quite so sexy.   The 2014 is more full and rounded.  b - The 2014 definitely takes it with more midrange and deep sweetness.  Both are good though, I’d be tempted to buy both but might go to the 2014 first.

Caol Ila 1996 Masterpieces, 2014, Speciality Drinks ltd, 62.2% A+

Released at the whisky show 2014 and loudly praised by all.

cilsdl1996Nose - All very restrained - dusty wood spice on the nose and light, sweet peat.  Toffee almonds, toast and jam and some wet rope.  But all very light and blonde.  With water, a little more sweetness comes through - some travel sweets and sesame snaps, and just a hint of the medical - some old bandage and disinfectant cream.  As the whisky opens up though, more sweetness, some musk and wax start to appear.

Body - Delicious cereal and peat arrival, very well balanced and clean.  Very oily.  With water, retronasal citrus dust.  With time, richer and riper.

Finish - Long, old, ripe cereal peat.  Pear and oily toffees.

What’s not good about it - A little simple.  This is a good whisky but I’m not in a rush to secure a bottle.  Better Caol Ilas come out of SMWS every month.

What’s good about it - Elegant and balanced, clean and very well presented.  

Caol Ila G&M Cask Strength, Distilled 2003, 59.6% A+

10.09.2003-13.08.2014, casks 302381, 302382 & 302383 (refill sherry butts)

cigmNose - Masculine (deep cereal, sweat, toffee, blonde oak) and feminine (white flowers, grapes, peat and granite).  This is a complex and arresting nose that draws you in but it doesn’t scream Caol Ila.  With water, more ozone and pickled gherkins, more S&V.

Body - Warm toffee, then huge wood with fireworks, liquorice torpedoes and finally that refill sherry.  Dusty complexity like a big, expensive, OB Ardbeg.  With water, a lot weaker but a bit more fruit (and sherry) to the fore.  

Finish - Wonderfully sweet and wooded, a big, complex, expensive cask edge.  Lovely stuff.

What’s not good about it - Certainly challenging.  Non-relaxing.  Also, not enormously Caol Ila.

What’s good about it - Complex, intense, balanced.  Rewarding, but not that compelling.  I split a bottle of this with friends, and am enjoying my share but I’m not rushing to secure a bottle for the archive.

Caol Ila G&M Private Collection, 1994, Sassicaia Wood Finish, 45% A+

Private-Collection-Caol-Ila-SassicaiaNose - Deep, perfumed, winey and a little spicy.  Dusty Caol Ila peat and enormously delicious on the nose.  Simple but wonderful.

Body - Competent, warm but ordinary Caol Ila, but then a big hit across the palate of dry red wine, Oloroso nut and sulphured tannins.  Epic.

Finish - ...the finish is a little short though, peppery and tannic, with English mustard and sage.

What’s not good about it - A bit of a car crash into dry red wine.  Caol Ila needs that intense, sweet backing to really work and this doesn’t really equal Caol Ila for me.

What’s good about it - An incredible nose, and the immediate delivery rocks with nutty, dry wine and toasted cereal.  

Thanks Barry for the sample!

Caol Ila, 5 years old, Douglas Of Drumlanrig, cask 10409 (refill hogshead), 59.1% A+

Bottled specifically for Loch Fyne in celebration of Feis Ile 2014.

dougllas-18Nose - Sweet, sharp S&V crisps, radish and fried shellfish.  Horseradish.  White bread.  It’s compelling... with water, muskier.  This is great like a young Kilchoman.  

Body - Mussels, malt vinegar, chicken liver paté... but still malt rich and very tasty.  Chips and spring onion with water.  

Finish - More citric acid, balanced but intense.

What’s not good about it - obviously it’s young if that’s a problem.

What good about it - The perfect storm otherwise though - balanced, sour, sweet and really tasty.  Lip smacking stuff...

Thanks Stumbler for the sample!

Caol Ila The Ultimate Selection Cask 302415 , 11 years old, 46% A

Hogshead.  361 bottles.  10.09.02 - 18.09.14

caol-ila-11-years-old-2003-the-ultimate-selectionNose - Sweet and sharp again, mineral and metal.  Weirdly, reminds me a bit of bolognese sauce - stewed meat and oregano.

Body - Fresh, juicy and seasidey.  Sweet seaside rock, crushed oyster shells and pearl barley.

Finish - Medium, a little ordinary, with musky peat coming through at the end, slightly spicy.  All very jolly though.

What’s not good about it - Quite meh, particularly for something with The Ultimate written on the label.  I’d rather pick up a Kilchoman 100% Islay for this kind of money
What’s not good about it – Ordinary. 

What’s good about it - Competent (as you’d expect for Islay’s most competent distillery), juicy, fresh, balanced and gluggable.  Not lighting any fires though.

SMWS 53.213, Caol Ila, A dram at night, fishwives' delight, 18 years old, 56.2% A+

24th August 1995, Refill hogshead, 271 bottles.

I’ve got decaliters of SMWS Caol Ila at home, I flipping love it, and it’s become a bit of a completist thing for me.  As far as I know this was released in Japan and did the rounds in the UK at some member’s tastings at the end of last year (2014), more recently it became available on the UK site.  Thank you John McCheyne for setting me aside a taste of this from the dregs of a tastings bottle!

smws-0053-213n-1Nose - Sweet, bright peat of course, dusty almost.  Rye bread and honey.  In the sinus, smoking fags and ozone, damp wool and lots of cereal.  With water - sweeter, whiter, almost floral, approaching old-Islay dusty refreshers too.  

Body - Robust - peat and copydex.  Green apple and oak, very cereal led.

Finish - Long, very long and spicy.  Sour peat and lots of oak dust.

What’s not good about it - Quite sharp and sour and certainly heavily peated, you’d want to be in the mood for this and personally my eye would stray to SMWS 53.210 (reviewed below) - it has tough competitions from its peers.

What’s good about it - Complex, robust and bold, and typical refill bourbon Caol Ila.  

SMWS 53.198, Caol Ila, Wasabi on a California Roll, 18 years old, 59.1% A⊕

29th August 1995, Refill sherry, 510 bottles.  Reviewed once before (briefly) at the SMWS game and whisky bar.  This is one of those rare SMWS bottles I’m sailing close to actually finishing - not quite yet though!  Hopefully publishing this review will help me let it go.

20150421_215406Nose - This is Caol Ila, pure and bright.  Sweet cereal peat, ozone, tobacco, salt and vinegar crisps, cut grapes and wet coal.  Pure, masculine and confident.  

Body - Ripe berries, salt and vinegar again with intense oak and peat.  Beautifully done.  Water makes it a bit more classical and brings out the perfume/deodorant.  

Finish - Deep, bright, wet cereal.  Apples.  Balanced and long with lingering sweet fruit.

What’s not good about it - Water spoils the finish a touch.  Also, a bit uncompromising.

What’s good about it - Despite being a refill sherry, this does the “boring refill bourbon cask” thing (you know, where the cask doesn’t seem promising on paper but the whole thing just works beautifully) very well.  Big, sweet, Islay nose and a great expression of the distillery.  Complex, balanced and would make a big evening ender.  Not that mine’s over yet..

SMWS 53.210, Caol Ila, Fantastic stuff, 24 years old, 53.3% A⊕+

19th December 1989, refill bourbon, 240 bottles.  Briefly mentioned here before.

20150421_215415Nose - Heavenly.  Deep glaze, pear, apple pie, a far away bonfire.  Sweet, bright, mineral and wet tobacco.  It’s actually making my mouth water.

Body - Ripe and balanced, with some serious wood wax starting to show with this big Islay bruiser’s age.  A touch of parmas at the side of the tongue and loads more tobacco.  With water, riper peat and it feels like a big, important Ardbeg.

Finish - Long, old oak and rolling tobacco in the mouth.  Maybe I just miss the rollies?  Lingering petrol.

What’s not good about -  Nothing.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to write proper notes for this bad boy but I love it just as much as ever.  

What’s good about it - Sweet and complex on the nose.  A big, old and important delivery.  Fruits, parmas, well integrated peat and good wood.  This is a big whisky - go back in time and buy a case.

Only three surviving distilleries left, the young but incredibly competent Kilchoman next…

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