Saturday, 9 May 2015

Three big old Cadenheads Caol Ilas

In the last three years Cadenheads have released three bottlings of Caol Ila from 1984.  Goodness knows what Cadenheads could lay their hands on in their warehouse if they wanted to, there must be tens of thousands of casks of whisky sitting in their name.  I really, really hope we’ll be seeing more Caol Ila from ‘84 next year, I would expect so given the amount of effort that’s gone into choosing the cask for the 31 year old to mark the 20 year anniversary of the London shop!  Just imagine having the choice, the options…. I have a request in for a 30+ year old bourbon Glenrothes, watch this space.

I was late to the party with the 29 (but scored a sample), bought the last bottle of 30 year old (according to the site) based on my overall love of Caol Ila, and the first bottle of the 31 year old.  I think you know how this vertical is going to turn out!


Cadenheads Caol Ila, 29 years old,  55.5% A⊕+

1984 - December 2013, Bourbon hogsheads, 564 bottles

IMG_20150509_193115Nose - Herbal and mineral.  Rye bread and caraway, wood polish, bright cherry sweets and Chinkiang vinegar.  Very sweet, almost solventy like old school permanent markers and coloured chalk.  After you tasted It, the dusty "old Islay" refreshers come through on the nose and there's something almost winey in there - in the way that red wine whiskies can be so satisfyingly meaty.

Body - Glorious.  Tobacco and oak, toast and honey, crystal malt and toffee pennies.  Lots of library.  Rich, ripe, boiled sweets and sour mineral.

Finish - Long, a little sour peat, lurking tannins and the bitterness is quite big but the preceding sweetness and the echoing peat makes it work.

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - So much character and poise.  Big, sweet, balanced, old and important.  Professionally done.

Big thanks to Sean at for the sample!

Cadenheads Caol Ila, 30 years old, 56.2% A⊕+

1984 - October 2014, Bourbon hogshead, 192 bottles

20150509_195631Nose - Sweet toffee, hot beeswax and honeyed malt.  Salted caramel.  Again, that slightly sharp but deeply right, sweet peat is there, intensely ripe and dusty Islay.  This is as big and lewd as any big old SMWS Bowmore, but less silly - the wood is keeping things serious.  Having spent some time with my own bottle of this, I know what a lively, compelling and consistently interesting nose this is - sweet, gentle, but intense and balanced with plenty of funk and fire.

Body - Richer, more cereal and spicier than the 29.  Like a more rounded Sauternes port charlotte, it's got that numbing, stewed tea quality balancing out the ripe fruit and engine oil toffee.

Finish - Long, dusty, stewed fruit and tea.  Chocolate covered toffee and chewed pencils.

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - Deeply, darkly sweet, funky and a bit weird but totally composed about it.

Cadenheads Caol Ila, 31 years old, 54.3% A⊕+

1984 - May 2015, a single first fill bourbon hogshead for the whole 31 years! 168 bottles.  This went on preorder today, and will be available from Wednesday – get yours here.

CAD214-cr-400x600Nose - Sweetly mineral with mini-marshmallows and chardonnay.  Cut red cherries, refreshers, bright boiled sweets, peach stone and acrylic paint left to set in the pot (I'm cast back to my younger years painting Citadel miniatures).  With time, that deep, old Islay funk starts to reassert itself - sweet, dirty and juicy.  I tried this first a few days ago at the Cadenheads tasting for the 20 year anniversary of the London shop and what struck me then was how damn juicy everything was (and everything was old), and this is no exception. 

Body - Gentle, sweet, juicy and fresh.  Yet oaked, musky, acrylic and spicy.  Perfectly poised.  Some fetid peat.  Extraordinarily drinkable. 

Finish - Long, robust and dusty.  Retronasal mango and cobnuts. 

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - Beautiful, fresh, elegant and very fruity.  Bold, structured and definitely a Scotch, and most certainly an old Islay. 

Three Caol Ilas from 1984 – how do they compare?  I really enjoy stacking whiskies against each other like this as you pick up all sorts when you side by side them. 


29 30 31
29 IMG_20150509_193115

N- 29 is sharply sweeter, more winey, a little more tobacco, 30 is gentler, sweeter

N - 31 is obviously sweeter and more toffee, more wax and amazingly, more competent than the 29.  What a nose!
30 B - 29 tobacco, oily, very long finish, 30 is sweeter, more cereal and petrol, oddly more tobacco on the finish, in comparison almost cloyingly sweet at the end 20150509_195631 N - Very little in it - the 31 is a touch more deeply toffeed?  A bit sexier where the 30 is a bit more "mens deodorant"
31 B - 29 sweet petrol, 31 musky, spicy chilli, dank sherry, botrytis, dried porcini.  It's weird how these things come up when comparing! B - The 31 is definitely more roundly sweet, but has much more fire and spice in the finish.  The 30 seems a bit more relaxed and grown up in comparison. 20150509_195651

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