Tag Archive: Caol Ila


Douglas Laing: Provenance: Caol Ila: 8 Year (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 8 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Almost completely clear spirit with just a slight green hue. Fast thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Clean medicinal character. Salt. Smoked beef slices and peat. Soft lime. Water adds slight vanilla.

Body: Sweet vanilla toffee. Clean medicinal character. Salt. Cake Sponge. Water adds more cake sponge character.

Finish: Light oak. Soot. Clean. Salt. Peppery. Water adds charring.

Conclusion: This is a very clean Caol Ila – smooth but still medicinal and salty. It seems to get very little flavour from the oak compared to usual. There are some sweet vanilla notes, but generally it just delivers that Islay medicinal character very clearly. Oddly though there is also very little peat evident either – it is clearly there in the aroma, but nigh absent from the slightly dry main body and finish.

It is very enjoyable, a very stripped down Caol Ila with very few bells and whistles. It is the base spirit smoothed out by age but seemingly otherwise just delivered as is. I was wondering if water would bring out more, but it does very little. I slowly added drop after drop until the thing was drowned and it generally just soothed the alcohol and gave a more gentle sponge character. That was it.

So, pretty good for what it is, but a tad too one note to be a classic. It is very good to show what lies at the root of the distillery style. Apart from being stripped down the only real flaw is that it needs a bit more refinement in the finish where it is a tad rough. Not horribly so though,

It does the job but brings no surprises. I enjoyed it as that though.

Background: So, seventh time around – Mini whisky samples! Woo woo! (I’m repeating myself so much that I’m starting to feel like San at the end of a bad run on Undertale …) These were donated to me by Independent Spirit for me to do notes on – much appreciated! Being a sample this is a smaller measure than normal, so may be slightly shorter notes that usual, not that I’m complaining. From a quick google I think this is made 2011, bottled 2019 . I’m a huge fan of Caol Ila, it tends to be a nice mix of Islay character and smoother, sweeter whisky – giving both peat and medicinal notes, while still not being too harsh. Let us see if this one holds up. I put Republic’s live album on while drinking. Bit of retro tunes from one of my early favourite bands.

Douglas Laing: Old Particular: Caol Ila: 20 Year (Scotland Islay Single Malt Whisky: 20 Years: 51.5% ABV)

Visual: Very pale greened grain.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Medicinal. Charcoal. Charred oak. Salt. Quite clean. Moss. Water is similar but smoother.

Body: Clean vanilla and caramel. Tinned tropical fruit. Tingling hint of alcohol. Water adds light custard. Cooked pork meaty notes. Oily and quite viscous. Light lemon.

Finish: Medicinal. Thick sheen. Oily. Slight tar. Mostly clean. Slight teacakes. Water doesn’t completely remove alcohol tingle.

Conclusion: This is a very clean Caol Ila. Very viscous as well in how it delivers the medicinal notes compared to the usual rather dry medicinal character of a lot of these. It really has a thickness to it, giving a thick sheen on your tongue rather than only evaporating to fill the mouth. It makes it a chewable medicinal style, with some, but not a vast amount of the Islay peat smoke coming in with it.

Flavour wise, while peat light, it lands smack solidly in the middle of what you would expect of a Caol Ila. Smooth vanilla and tropical fruit styling that I presume come from time spent in a bourbon cask – warming, with slight lemon notes and the expected salt character – it is not as unusual in flavour as it is in texture, but everything is done very smoothly indeed. So, the expected range, just polished beyond what you normally see.

It is not one that will convert people who weren’t fans of Caol Ila to begin with – but with the smoother character you find the vanilla and toffee being more present and offsetting the more medicinal notes – so it may tip someone on the fence over into liking it. Nothing is too hash, even the alcohol tingle feels more warming than burning – obviously its old age being put to good use. As long as you are not put off by Islay, then this is a smooth take on that, especially with water.

I have made this comparison before with other whiskies, but this does have small calls to Kiln Embers with its smoothness and salted lemon characteristics. This however is far more distinctively Islay and wears it more openly. A classic of Caol Ila, one that doesn’t break the style, but does it very well indeed.

Background: This is the final of the five whiskies had at Independent Spirit‘s latest Uber whisky night. This is an aged independent bottling of Caol Ila. I’m a big fan of all of Islay, and Caol Ila is definitely in the top 50% of them. Any more detailed than that is hard to call with the quality of the area. This should be an interesting one- while not the heaviest peated Islay, Caol Ila still has some character of it, and peat tends to vanish quickly with age. Should be fun. This is one of 316 bottlings for this release. Anyway, as always for these events – I was doing my notes in a social environment, with five strong whiskies back to back – my notes may be affected by other peoples thoughts, the drunkenness, and the other whisky I had. However, as before, for trying five expensive and rare whiskies like this I could hardly miss the chance to do some notes. Hope they are ok by you.

Caol Ila 12 Year

Caol Ila: 12 Year ( Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 12 Year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Quite pale grain to gold.

Viscosity: Moderate to fast speed streaks of moderate to thick size.

Nose: Kippers. Smoke. Slightly oily. Coal dust. More coal dust with water.

Body: Vanilla. Coal dust. Peat. Beef broth. Salt and light medicinal. Toffee. Lightly creamy. Orange crème. Malt chocolate. Water accentuates toffee, adds slight black cherry hints, and brings out chocolate toffee. Also light watered down tar, and hints of turkey slices.

Finish: Soft cream and coal dust. Toffee. Salt. Water adds chocolate toffee and light oily character with tarry notes.

Conclusion: Caol Ila 12! The whisky that I have many times joked about never getting round to doing notes for, finally tasting notes. To no-ones surprise at all I love it. This is a great match of the harsher elements of Islay – for example the coal dust and the salt – with a thick, sweet melted toffee and chocolate base, all infused with a slight oily, tarry, set of notes which seem to come from the mixing of the two extremes.

I think that oiliness is really what gives it a distinct character to stand out from the other Islays – kind of kipper like on the lighter edge, tarry on the lower end. The whisky is always smooth, but it has a thickness that clings so that the present but not overly intense medicinal and smoke character pushes through more obviously than it otherwise would.

Or at least it is with touches of water. Yes, I skipped straight to talking about it with water. Sorry. Enthusiasm getting away with me. Anyway, neat it is more pure coal dust and smoke in the set of notes it shows – Still not to the intensity of Ardbeg or Laphroaig but still more single minded. The water breaks that up and allows the subtleties to show.

I think what makes this stand out is that, while the base sweetness is toffee, it is done with such weight that it is more chocolate toffee than anything else, which is very appropriate to match the notes it has. For comparison, Laphroaig is more intense, very medicinal, but matches that with a clean sweetness. This indulges the darker notes, whether they be sweet or harsh, and gives this balanced, more dark character throughout.

So, yeah, I finally did tasting notes and this is lovely.

Background: *ahem* “Ok, bias warning first: This is a part of the Masters Of Malt Whisky Calendar given to The Bath Whisky and Rum Club, part of Independent Spirit, who invited me to assist with the notes in return for uploading them to alcohol and aphorisms. Sounded a very fair deal to me. Also, due to this we each only had half of the 3cl bottle so thoughts are based on a smaller exploration than usual. On the other hand I could not say no to the chance to try so many new whiskies. Many thanks!”. I love Caol ila, and have tried many expressions, yet never got around to doing notes on this. So, when it turned up in the calendar I was happy as Larry. Presuming Larry is happy right now that is. Drunk while listing to some Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Serious whisky needs serious music.

Signatory Vintage: Caol Ila 1999 (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky. 11 Year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Very light grain tinge.

Viscosity: A mixed set of thin and fast streaks, medium thickness and slow streaks form from the spirit.

Nose: Moderate peat and smoke. Almonds or maybe marzipan. Pencil shavings. Water makes slight charcoal and a sweet touch of orange crème centres.

Body: Smooth. Custard. Kippers. Dry touches. Beef undertones. Salt lightly. Orange. Water makes sweeter, a mix of custard and broth. Grapes.

Finish: Smoke. Very dry. Peat. Vanilla and orange. Less dry with water. Fudge and chocolate come out. White grapes.

Conclusion: I’ve spent so long trying different independent bottlings of Caol Ila that it gets hard keeping track of them for mental comparison.  I have an image of the one I consider my favourite and all items are compared to that, but I fear I have built up that whisky too much in my mind compared to its actual stature.

This the fact that this impresses me and stands out on its own is amazing as it has to fight against not just great Caol Ila expressions but my romanticised memories thereof.

Caol Ila always does a great balance of sweet spirit against a moderate salty island character. This does that but also adds the oddity of light fruit cream centres and grapes. The elements are so light that they could be nigh illusionary, but they float there making the base flavours just that touch brighter and more drinkable.  The subtle contrast you find makes it that slight cut above the usual expectations.

You need a touch of water to fully appreciate it. Without that it is too dry, similar to a lot of SV bottlings I’ve noticed. I can overlook that as with water the grape rounding to the main body give the impression of a complex whisky that has spent a few short years in an unusual cask ageing. All this in a comparatively young and standard aged whisky. Very nicely done.

A very well done independent expression and well worth it for any Caol Ila fan.

Background: Drunk in the tasting rooms. I’m a huge Caol Ila fan, though notoriously I have never tried the standard expression. A wealth of independent bottling. Yep. Aged version yep. Unpeated version. Yep. Distillers edition. Yep. The bog standard expression. No. I really should get around to that at some point.

Caol Ila: Distillers Edition (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: No Age Statement: 43% ABV)

Visual: Rich yellowed gold.

Viscosity: Lots of fast but thin streaks.

Nose: Smoke. Red grapes. Raisins and spice. Mulled wine. Dry beef slices. Water adds custard sweetness and orange rind. Peat touches as well.

Body: Muscat grapes. Rich mulled spices. Raisin and plums pudding. Cinnamon sticks. Water opens up to beef broth. More water adds white wine and white grapes unexpectedly.

Finish: Dry. Rum soaked red grapes. Cloves. Chives. Raisins and slight salt.

Conclusion:  Whew. Spiced and warming this is the mulled wine of whisky. This intensely spicy fruity grape filled Caol Ila is an assault on the senses.

The Islay peat and salt style, while present was never the main point of the Caol Ila, and here it has to fight against the massive spice influence. The fruit and spice wins the foreground leaving the beef and island character rolling around underneath.

The finish is mouth puckering in spicyness, its flavour roams wonderfully through Muscat grapes and peat punch.  The struggle between the two sides is well done. The fruit wins in most cases but the closeness of the battle gives your tastebuds a war of flavour to enjoy.

This is just off being one of my favourites but it is a close run thing.  For me the spiciness can get a bit overpowering occasionally, but that really is a matter of personal preference on a great whisky. Another huge point in its favour is the great range or response it had to water, you have a lot of play in it to open up and try different elements within.

This is a great booming whisky that reminds me of Sassica finish Benrmoach in the spice levels.  This however holds up a lot better for the base whisky holding it’s own. Really good and well worth trying

Background; Drunk at the Rummer Hotel at the same time as the Littlemill reviewed earlier. Islay, and Caol Ila are two great loves of mine in the whisky world. Despite that I have never tried that bog standard ten year Caol Ila bottling. That didn’t stop me being highly excited when I saw that the hotel had the range of distillers editions of various whiskies, including this one which has been aged in Moscatel Barrels.

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.

Coopers Choice: Caol Ila 1992 (Scottish Islay Single Malt Single Cask Whisky: 17 Years: 46% ABV)

Visual: Grain with just a hint of gold.

Viscosity: Very slow thin puckering.

Nose: Light salt at a distance. Medium peat, though heavier than a standard Caol Ila. Warming. Light rockiness. Quite smooth. Touch of apple and custard, then peanuts and cider toffee.  Water negates most of the complexity – leave this one dry.

Body:  Very sweet and smooth front hit. Toffee and salt. Peat at the back. Tingling, stewed apples and pears. Water adds massive apple and custard sweetness.

Finish: Beef and dry moss. Whole meal bread and peanut butter. Water makes milk chocolate with light spice.

Conclusion: I had to take a look around when drinking this to make sure I wasn’t picking up someone’s food in the aroma. Each lift of the glass brought a different take on the spirit, and brought forth so strongly and so forthright that I found it hard to imagine I could have missed it before.

Water then should be avoided as, while it makes it much easier to sip, it makes for a much simpler sweet whisky. It seems its great flavours are tied up in the struggle against its force.

When taken dry it can take a bit to get past that alcohol tingle, but when you do so you get such a varied range of peanut, pear and apple that mix with the usual restrained Caol Ila take on the peat and salt.

The main weakness that is that its greatest flavours are in the struggle, and lost if opened up.  It’s still worth taking the time to appreciate, a fine if quirky take in this distinguished Islay spirit.

Background: (Distilled 1992, bottled 2009). I had drunk this a while back but had not had my tasting note kit with me, so dropped back to the pleasant theatre side pub that had this nice Caol Ila oddity.  Caol Ila is a Distillery with a spirit I have yet to find a bad example of, and seems to have a good selection of independent bottling to choose from.  Drunk mid day on a weekend with nice relaxing warmth to the day and no need to rush.

Signatory Vintage: Caol Ila 1994 (Scottish Islay Single Malt, Single Cask Whisky: 10 Years Old: 43% ABV: Cask 6901 – Hogshead Cask)

Visual: Pale, just off clear. Almost algae influenced water. Mot much colouring at all.

Viscosity: A mix of fast middling and slow streaks, all thin and form within 10-15 seconds.

Nose: Light peat and salt. Brackish water. Still quite fiery. Strong crushed petals. A touch of sugar lattice. Light leather. Water opens up into light smoked meats.

Body: Opens up smooth and syrupy, then forceful salty and seaweed come through. Toffee, strawberry and cream. Becomes lighter front and more evident peat back with water – the toffee becomes more caramel and lime comes out.

Finish: peat and salt, ocean soaked stones. Roast beer, tongue numbing and light wood.

Conclusion: What initially seems to be a too fiery and simple expression of Caol Ila end up really opening up as you get used to its kick, and so reveals a wonderful rich mix of sweet and salt.

The touch extra strength gives it a lot of room for customisation with adding water, and so expresses a fine range on this pleasurable dram.

I believe you would have to work hard to turn out a bad Caol Ila, this doesn’t top the better CC efforts, but it is a fine powerful yet complex drink.

Caol Ila Connoisseurs Choice 1996 (Scottish Whisky: Islay Single Malt: Bottled 2008 (12yo): 43% ABV)

Visual: Light pale lilac gold.

Viscosity: Fast forming thick trails.

Nose: Salt, hay fields and grassy banks. Light but punchy. Slight rocky and slight light vanilla.

Body: Sweet syrup with decent peat, sea breeze weather. Light sweetness and smooth.

Finish: Wonderful long peat, marshes, yet also a distinct freshness. Not harsh. Burnt oak casks and slight salt.

Conclusion: A lovely light yet forceful dram which mixes a touch of salt with a light comparatively floral sweet whisky. As always Caol Ila makes for a tasty contradiction.

Not the best Caol Ila I’ve had but still a damn good whisky – It speak more for how high the distillery sets the bar than for any flaw in this whisky.

Well worth a slow sample.

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