Connoisseurs Choice: Caol Ila 1997 (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 12 Years:43% ABV) (Bottled 2009)

Visual: Reasonably dark toffee gold.

Viscosity: Initially quite solid, but forms into fast thick streaks.

Nose: Smoke, treacle and slightly tar like. Salt, vanilla and oak. Liquorice. Water opens it up heavily to a floral style, adds more vanilla along with raisins and orange peel.

Body: Salt and golden syrup mix with toffee. Light peat grows throughout, Meaty. Water again makes large changes. Custard sweet, more salt, yet still slightly tar influenced.

Finish: Milk chocolate, dry oak and again slight tar stylings. Water makes salty yet sweet with a good dose of peat.

Conclusion: Another Caol Ila! As a big fan of them, I love comparing the different bottlings to explore the range, so jumped on this one at a tidy 12 years of ageing or thereabouts.

This one is quite a heavy duty expression for the spirit, initially quite thick and tarry with a bit more peat than usual.  That said the extra weight does it good and doesn’t harm the spirit at all.  The difference may put off people who enjoy the normally more mellow restrained Islay character of Caol Ila, but for them there is still hope.  With water you get a large change, with massive sweetness coming out to counterpoint, resulting in a dulled, but not completely overpowered Islay character.

So a very nice take, with two competing styles when with or without water, a tale of two whiskies as it were. Tarry, peaty and sweet, it’s very distinctive and enjoyable.  A very interesting take on the spirit and a fine independent bottling for anyone who wanted just that touch more force to the spirit.

Background: I’m a big fan of Caol Ila and love the fact that Connoisseurs Choice make available a mix of their bottlings to sample quite cheaply.   Drunk at a local pub which has Michael Jackson’s whisky guide behind the bar, and an ever rotating stock of CC bottles.  Caol Ila is often viewed as one of the more subtle Islay whiskies, though I find it still has enough of the style to stand out, it only seems mellow compared to say Ardbeg and Laphroaig.  Note: If you look carefully, you can see my god awful handwriting in my current notebook in the photo.