Apr 242017

Caol Ila 34 y.o. (Cadenhead Small Batch)

60.1% abv

Score:  93.5/100


Yep.  Three and a half decades of sleep.  Gives my wife a run for her money in terms of affinity for dozing.  This one was tasted as part of an utterly mindboggling range of independent Caol Ila this past weekend.  Not only was it the oldest of the run, it’s actually the oldest of the 46 Caol Ila I’ve tasted to date.  Just shy of half of those have been older than 20, to be fair, so I do have some idea as to what we’d be looking for in older expressions of Caol Ila.  We certainly found it here.  And then some.

This is fantastic stuff.  Peat that is so far off in the distance it has faded into a seamless sfumato-esque haze that seems like nothing more than a suggestion.  Soft fruit notes and essence of mature old malt.  Hard to dissect, really. the integration is that complete.  And 60.1% at 34 years?  Wow.  Spectacular strength and delivery of flavour.

Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words to get the point across.  I think we’ll leave it at that.

Nose:  Spectacular nose.  Maybe the best Caol Ila I’ve ever nosed.  Old whisky to be sure.  Latex and soft, soft oak notes.  Melon.  Bordering on tropical.  Just hints of lemon pie.  Some orange.  Gorgeous tartness.  Vague industrial oiliness.  Slightly fishy.  Just the barest whisper of smoke.

Palate:  Awesome.  Maybe the oak is a little too strong, but otherwise everything is in check and firing on all cylinders.  Wow.  Great fruit tart enormity.  Thick and oily.  Grapefruit (flesh, pith and zest).  Licorice.  Hint of eucalyptus.  Gorgeous all the way through.  Nice finish on orange fruits and citrus.

Thoughts:  Great integration, great complexity.  This makes me think of old Samaroli casks.  Well done, Cadenhead.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Apr 172017

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve113

59.6% abv

Score:  84/100


Finally getting ’round to this one.  Odd considering this was one of those ‘jump the shark’ malts for me.  I remember a little too well a dialogue with a good mate of mine (a vested retailer) who was somewhat irked with my indignation at the nearly $200 price tag on this NAS unpeated Caol Ila that hit the shelves in late 2013.

That still sits wrong with me, especially in light of subsequent age-stated variants in the line (as high as 17, I think, locally at least) that have come in cheaper.  Such is.  Let’s not regurgitate the old cud.

Unpeated Caol Ila.  Odd stuff.  The 10 y.o. was a monster.  Can’t say it was spectacular, but it was unquestionably singular, and there was enough behind it to make me an admirer.  This one?  Well…not as much, I’m afraid.  That 10 was about six points higher in terms of abv and still had a ghost of peat glimpsed at the periphery.  This one (seemingly quite young, I might add) is much more naked.  Wood and clean spirit.  Not a lot more.  Spirity almost, if I’m being honest.  Still a decent enough drink, but not even close to a bargain at these prices.

When a few of us visited the distillery in very late 2012, one of the distillery folks mentioned that Caol Ila had not done another run of unpeated spirit since (I believe) 1999.  Each each successive release in their “Unpeated Style” line was simply the next successive year of a slowly maturing distillate.  I don’t think that is the case anymore (if it ever was), but I’ll try to do some digging and follow up in the comments below.

If you can find it, stick with the 10 year old Unpeated from about eight years back (give or take).

Nose:  Citrus (mostly lime).  Minerally.  White chocolate.  Had a preconceived notion this would nose a little older.  Vanilla cake.  Touch of orange and melon.  Herbal tea notes.  Somewhat reminiscent of Canadian whisky in an odd way.  Overall…quite nice and approachable.  Not even remotely Caol Ila-ish.

Palate:  Whoa.  Big oily arrival.  Grassy.  Some Sauvignon Blanc notes.  Oak and vanilla.  Lemon.  Some creaminess here.  Still not Caol Ila.  Would never guess blindly.  Sharp woody notes.  Dries up.

Thoughts:  Better nose than palate.  Ultiamtely lacking personality.  Not bad, but almost too naked and lacking in character.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:29 pm
Oct 152015

Caol Ila 18 y.o. Cask #11143 (A.D. Rattray)185

55.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Good whiskies are found everywhere.  We know this because we’re constantly hunting them down and sharing the word via forums such as this.  Truly spectacular whiskies, however, are unquestionably much more scarce.  And even more elusive are truly spectacular people.  Here’s a little story of how these two things came together for me in a serendipitous little meeting.

A while back I saw a message on Twitter that showed a dram of Caol Ila.  Not just any Caol Ila, but one so deep and dark I was simply blown away by the depth of brown and red in the glass.  The colour was stunning – not that we form our opinions based on colour, mind you – and obviously spoke of a massive sherry influence on the spirit.  To date there have only been a couple of uber-sherried Caol Ila expressions that have crossed my lips.  I recall one being incredibly industrial and almost unapproachable, while another was quite spectacular.  Even that oddball industrial mash-up was singular enough to make me come back to it time and again out of sheer ‘can’t-wrap-my-head-around-it-ness’.

I started asking questions and was informed that this Caol Ila was an 18 year old independent bottling from A.D. Rattray, bottled exclusively for Wine & Beyond, and was being used by my dear friend Val Bradshaw for a whisky tasting event.  She and I discussed a bit and I walked away with an assurance that she would try to let me taste this one at some point.  Whew!  Mission accomplished.  Little did I know, though…

A long while later Val came by for a wonderful evening of friends, drams and discussion.  She didn’t bring me a sample of that Caol Ila that night, however.  She brought me an entire bottle.  A beautiful gesture from a woman with a heart of gold and an infinite understanding of both the spirit itself and the spirit inside that drives my passions.  These are the things that make a whisky unforgettable and help us cement memories and friendships that last a lifetime.  Not the gift itself, of course, but the thought behind it and the place it comes from.  Amazing.

And the malt itself?  As wonderful and unique as I’d hoped.  Deeply rich sherry and earthy peat in a perfectly matched tug-of-war.  No winner.  Just a contest for the ages.  And the best part?  This one takes me right back to Islay; sipping whisky in the warehouse, right from the barrel.  Nothing like it.

I should note:  The bottle is marked as a partial cask.  Wine & Beyond took a chunk of the outturn, but where the rest wound up?  Who knows.

Nose:  Bucketloads of sweet jammy fruits and bold clouds of smoke.  Caol Ila?  Really?  I’d guess Bowmore if tasted blind.  Flint, ash and iodine.  Some rubber and tarry notes.  Menthol drops and cherry cough syrup.  Cask char.  Dark syrupy notes and strong vanilla.  Spicy tea, cold coffee and dark chocolate.  A savoury, meaty note too.  All of these descriptors are accurate (in my humble opinion anyway), but they don’t work to describe the cohesive whole.  Man, what a nose.

Palate:  Huge arrival.  Bigger than huge, actually.  Like plums and berries that have been rubbed in a tangy Asian sauce and roasted over a smoky-as-hell bonfire.  More oceanic here.  Grapeskins and good chocolate.  Ginger and cinnamon.  Dark, moist tobacco.  Again…very jammy.  Earthy, peaty and farmy.  Great juicy dram.

Thoughts:  Unforgettable, not simply due to the backstory, but because of its intrinsic nature.  Deep and contemplative.

*Sincere thanks to Val Bradshaw for the hook up on this gem.  Love ya, babe.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:15 pm
Sep 282015

Caol Ila 25 y.o. (2011)030

43% abv

Score:  88.5/100


I last tasted this one at home amid a small range, side by side with the Caol Ila 30 year old special release and a couple others.  While this 25 year old distillery bottling is served up at a rather anemic 43% abv, the 30 year old weighs in a much more strapping 55.1% abv.  I should also make known that there was this nagging little voice in the back of my skull that kept whispering about how spectacular the old 25 year old cask strength edition was.  Ill-advised preconceptions had me coming into this one less than enthused for the low abv, I hate to admit it, but still eager to try.

Happy to report that while it was indeed a little thin, it was certainly not lacking for character or quality.  In fact I found it not dissimilar to Port Ellen of comparable vintage.  Not much of a surprise there, really, as these two malts have almost always matured to a similar profile by this age bracket.  Delicate whisky that deserves complete attention, arrives with little bombast, but lingers beyond the last sips.  That’s an admirable quality for a low test, chill-filtered (and probably coloured) whisky.

My favorite Caol Ila by no means, but one I would love to have made available locally on a much more regular basis.

Nose:  Almost Port Ellen-esque.  Slightly grassy and herbal.  A touch of lime.  Very fresh and light.  Cooking oil on wood.  Faint, faint smoke.  Sweet and dessert-like.  Some vanilla.  Pastry and a little orange and lemon.

Palate:  Slightly leathery at first.  Again…I’d probably guess Port Ellen or older Caol Ila if tasted blind.  Oak.  Oysters on the shell.  Notes of lemon.  Very bitter and strong vanilla.  A little bit of smoke now.  It grows bigger on the tongue.  Smoked apples skins.

Thoughts:  Lovely whisky but a tad disappointing nevertheless.  So many great notes.  Should have been left intact, high strength and unfiltered.  Oh well.  We can carry on about what we don’t have or lean back and acknowledge that this is still a very special malt.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:34 pm
Sep 242015

021Caol Ila 30 y.o. (2014)

55.1% abv

Score:  90.5/100


This was one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2014.  To my knowledge it is the oldest distillery bottling of Caol Ila that Diageo has ever offered up.  It’s certainly the oldest official release I’ve tried so far.

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a couple of 30 year old Caol Ila independent bottlings, but it’s debatable how true they are to the distillery’s target profile, irrespective of how great they were.  This opportunity to see what the brand itself would offer up as the apex expression of its mature malt is a privilege, especially in light of the hefty price tag associated.  Even if I ultimately wanted to scoop one up, the nearly four figure price tag was enough of a deterrent.  Enter the generosity of friends, and voila!  A few notes to share and some lasting memories of another glorious example of what mature Islay whiskies can be with enough time and care.

This bottling – a part of Diageo’s annual run of special releases – was a limited release of 7,638 bottles.  The price was high, of course, but so is the payoff.  Having tried it now, would I drop the coin for this one?  Nah.  I’ll save those kind of rare purchases for something a little more special.  That shouldn’t belittle the point, though, that was a special dram and one I’m pretty damn pleased to have as a notch on my bedpost, if you will.

Nose:  This is BIG whisky, and one I’d never peg as a Caol Ila.  Quite ‘meaty’ for lack of a better word.  Burnt wood.  Big spicy notes.  Well-seasoned leather.  Opens slowly into thick threads of smoke and caramel.  Citrus, but less than I’s expect with Caol Ila.  Lime candy.  Certainly somewhat coastal.

Palate:  Oh yeah.  Nice delivery.  Massive and oily.  More smoke now.  Peaty and earthy notes grow bigger over time.  Tangy fruits and an intensity somewhat like an underripe green apple.  Pencil shavings.  Caramelized ham.  Again some leather.  Slightly menthol.  Salty, and did I mention oily?

Thoughts:  This is a whisky tied up tight.  Hard to unravel and demanding of attention.  Complex and not really all that recognizable as Caol Ila.

* Sincere thanks to the kind, anonymous gent who shared a healthy dram of this with me.  Appreciate it.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:45 am
Jan 282014

Caol Ila 30 y.o. (Wilson & Morgan)063

57.5% abv

Score:  92/100


I’m not certain there is any distillery out there that has a greater representation among  independent bottlings than Caol Ila.  They’re simply EVERYWHERE, and to be honest…they’re more staggered in terms of profile and quality than the back catalog of Metallica.

Interestingly though, through all of these variants, there aren’t as many truly old Caol Ilas out there as you might imagine.  In fact, to date this is the oldest whisky I’ve tried from Islay’s most prolific distillery.  It was distilled in 1983, when I was about 5 years old, and bottled in 2013, when I was…decidedly older.  Ahem.  This 30 year old came from a single butt (#1096).

A mate of mine, before the cork was popped on this wizened old malt, said his initial impressions of it (from a prior sampling opportunity) were that it was quite in line with many of the older Port Ellen releases.  After having tried it now, I can sorta see the parallels, but wouldn’t necessarily make the comparison myself.  It’s more an extension of the more typical delicate Caol Ila profile, but with an added creaminess and a vastly understated (comparatively speaking) citric profile.

It’s a little pricey…and most likely tough to find…but well worth it if you can.  One of the best Caol Ilas I’ve tried.

Nose:  Sweet and creamy.  Hot cross buns.  Stretchy, chewy white taffee or nougat.  Vanilla and melted white chocolate.  Lemon.  Very faint smoke.  Some very soft syrupy fruits (pear, green grape, orange…maybe touches of peach).  Again…not so sure about those comparisons to Port Ellen.  This is much sweeter and creamier.

Palate:  Fruit cocktail.  Tangy tangerine and pineapple.  Smoke.  Black currant.  Unbaked spicy dough.  Great oily mouthfeel and big beautiful flavours.

Thoughts:  Wow…there is a great balance in this bottle.  A great cask at an ideal age.  Love the pronounced and unique fruit profile.  An old Coal Ila with a lot of life in it still.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:59 am
Dec 022013

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Late last year (2012), the good folk at Master of Malt launched a new line of independent bottlings.  Perhaps it was a retaliatory gesture aimed at the creative geniuses behind the Dali-esque naming conventions and abstract tasting notes of the SMWS.  Or maybe it was a shot at Edradour in the way of ‘Aha!  We too can dupe the public into spending much on wee 50cl (500ml) bottles!’  Or maybe, just maybe…it was simply because they had access to some really good whisky and wanted to provide another alternative in the ever expansive market of independent bottling.   

Either way, all three scenarios are met head on with the new brand ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’.  The niche here is how utterly ridiculous these bottles look nestled amidst the shelves of austere single malt Scotch whisky packaging.  Each label is adorned with comic book-esque drawings artistically reminiscent of a cross between ‘Where’s Waldo’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Beavis And Butthead’.  The images are not random bits of artistic tomfoolery, however.  They are rather cleverly reflective of the distilleries captured within the glass, and depict some subtle secrets and whisky geekery, sure to have the whiskily-inclined salivating at unraveling all of the hidden meanings.

Now…much like the old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, it would be a big mistake to dismiss these releases as novelty items.  I mean really big mistake.  As much as the purists may prefer a more…ummm…elegant outward appearance for our snooty tipple’s daily wardrobe, the simple fact of the matter is as mentioned above:  there is some damn good whisky in these bottles.  As soon as these are naked in the glass, all doubt disappears.  We’ll come to some actual tasting notes and details in just a moment.

A little on the bottings themselves…

Each release is wax-sealed, cask strength and non chill-filtered.  Further, in a rather interesting move…they are also non age statement (NAS) whiskies.  If I understand correctly though, these are not single cask releases.  Rather they are built in small ‘parcels’ to a specific desired quality.  *(If I’m wrong here, please correct me).  Either way…the NAS approach will allow Master Of Malt much greater future flexibility in regard to batch variance.  Rest assured, friends…if any of you are naturally cynical about the whole NAS concept (and I know many of you are, especially in light of the whole 1824 deal) …these are not young whiskies.  You can tell just by nosing.

One other point to note:  While other independent bottlers seem to be struggling for some variety in their portfolios, MofM have managed releases from Port Ellen, Brora, Ardbeg, Macallan, Caperdonich, etc.  Neat stuff. 

At this point I am won over.  Can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Forgive the quality of photos (or lack thereof).  They were thrown together rather quickly in the  shop.


Secret Distillery (Batch 1)045

55.4% abv     486 bottles

Score:  89/100

Nose:  Tobacco and raisins.  Cinnamon and fresh scones.  Some floral notes.  Baking spices.  Fudge and caramel macchiato.  Honey.  Creamy caramel with fruit.  Rich, rich, rich.

Palate:  Surprisingly tart up front.  Followed by big, dark intimidating fruitcake notes.  Then some apple.  Think a’bunadh meets amaretto with a wee splash of Southern comfort.

Thoughts:  A neat one.  Both in character and out of character at the same time.  Like seeing this distillery in another dimension.

*Secret Distillery’s real name rhymes with Ben Schmarclas.


Macallan (Batch 3)048

43.4% abv     245 bottles

Score:  86.5/100

Nose:  Bread dough.  Nice spices..and lots of ’em.  Some apple pie, heavy on the cinnamon.  Some old library notes.  Buttery sauce.  A little atypical of Macallan.

Palate:  Creamy and spicy.  A fair bit of dry oak.  Over-toasted marshmallow.  Grape skins.  Bitter chocolate.  Fairly tannic.  Zippy with spice and very pleasing apple notes.

Thoughts:  Not a bad whisky, but the low, low abv makes me think this one cooked in the warehouse for a while.  If this is indeed and older dram…I’m a tad underwhelmed.


Clynelish (Batch 2)042

50.6% abv     319 bottles

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Lavender and perfume.  Some pepper.  Nougat and honey.  Lemon poppyseed muffins.  A little orange juice.

Palate:  Wow!!  Old wax and dunnage warehouse.  Just extinguished candle.  Oil lamp.  Charred oak.  Some smoke.  Sooooo old school.  Cinnamon.  Apple juice and skins at the back end.  One of the all time great palates.  Loved it.

Thoughts:  Some disconnect between nose and palate, but they are at least complimentary.  The palate though…gad!…extra points for sure.  Just wow!


Springbank (Batch 2)053

53.1% abv     450 bottles

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Pickle.  Dust and pine.  A bit of peat, yeah.  Flinty.  Winter wood fire.  Clove and pepper.  Pine sap.  So odd…so unique…so intriguing.

Palate:  Now there’s the smoke.  Kinda oily.  Notes that should only be found in older whisky (wonder how old this actually is).  Some great sweetness meets the machine smoke.  Some figgy notes with honey.  Smoked fruit skins.  Pear, apple and currant.

Thoughts:  Very different for a Springbank.  The pine and pickle notes really threw me off, but surprisingly…worked out just fine in this one.  I liked it.


Highland Park (Batch 1)047

44.7% abv     241 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Sweet nose with a great composition.  Tangy jam note.  Peach, orange and lemon.  Warm leather and a very inviting salty note (makes the mouth water just inhaling it).  A touch of oil.

Palate:  Smoke and earthy notes.  Hay.  A mix of green and purple grapes.  Walnut.  Old school heft and some moderately subtle sherry-like tang.  Tart marmalade.

Thoughts:  Balance, balance, balance.  Again…a little out of character, but not too far off the path.  Not bad at all.


Bowmore (Batch 2)038

49% abv     292 bottles

Score:  89.5/100

Nose:  Farmy and iodione-heavy.  Rubber, smoke and other such.  Lemon zest.  Damp soil.  Smoky fruits.  Gravel dust.  Dry ash.  Sultanas.  Develops a bit of orange and some creaminess, surprisingly…but only if you give it a bit of time.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  Oily..smoky…earthy, and rich in dark red and purple fruits.  Think Laimrig meets motor oil.  Plum and purple grape.

Thoughts:  A well-earned 89.5.  Maybe even closer to a 90.  This is a neat Bowmore.  These recent profiles that combine jammy fruit notes and industrial oiliness…win.  Just win.


Caol Ila (Batch 1)039

45.8% abv     732 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Prickly and briny.  Peat and smoke.  Sweet and citric at the same time.  Orange oil.  Olives.  Candy sweetness.  A dusting of salt and pepper.

Palate:  Very Caol Ila.  Some melon with citrus.  Toffee and smoke.  Oyster with salt, pepper and lemon.  Wet rock.  Ocean shoreline.  oil.  There are some notes that make me think of Kilchoman (if that distillery’s malt were a little more mature).

Thoughts:  Damn decent Caol Ila, but definitely not the best of the indies I’ve tried.  Particularly liked the oceanic notes and oily saltiness.


Look forward to future releases.

Thanks to our mate, Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, for the chance to try these. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:19 pm
Oct 312013

Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2011047

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100


Here’s one I’ve tasted on multiple occasions now, and have finally come to terms with.  To be honest, it was the slightly better 2012 edition that led me back to revisiting the last of this 2011 release that I had squirelled away in a wee sample bottle.  Recognizing that there was something kinda special about the 2012 left me thinking back to what it was that hadn’t ticked all the boxes for me with this expression from Islay’s most prolific distillery.

I’m happy to say  the whisky was much better than I recall.  I’m somewhat saddened to say, however, that my initial assessment still stands: Caol Ila 12, the flagship in the range, is a better whisky (and much cheaper).  If we want to get into the comparison game, let’s go one step further.  While somewhat maligned by many out there, the Caol Ila 18 is a sparkling example of a lovely mature Islay malt, and possibly my favorite in the core range.  If you can find it, I’d highly recommend that one as the cornerstone of any love affair you may opt to pursue with Caol Ila.

This Distiller’s Edition is a mature Caol Ila (12 years, I believe, that has been re-racked into ex-moscatel barrels for a final period of maturation (6 months or so, I’ve read).  Though the term itself is occasionally frowned upon by the industry, we call this ‘finishing’.  I think the assumption being, if one reads between the lines, that the whisky is not quite complete without this step.  Undoubtedly in some cases this is exactly the case, where a sweet cask finish can hide off-notes and immaturity, bringing the whisky up to a more easily-marketable finished product.  I have no real issues with the concept, but I’m also not 100% behind it either.  C’est la vie.  If the juice is good…I’ll drink it.

In the case of the Caol Ila DE, what we ultimately end up with is a malt that is surprisingly rich in smoked sweetness (think BBQ sauce), but by no means is it what we often refer to as an ‘Islay heavyweight’.  Easily approachable, this one, but do take heed…you gotta have a sweet tooth to fully appreciate its layers.  Decent, but not entirely successful in my eyes.  The following year’s edition strikes a more harmonious whole.   

Nose:  BBQ sauce, as mentioned above, and quite sweet.  Smoky, peaty and iodine-rich.  There is a hint of what the evenings smell like on Islay when you walk the streets of Bowmore.  Anyone who has been there will know what I mean.  Chocolate and fresh coffee beans.  Lemon zest and a bit of orange rind.  Toasted woods.  Smoke and char.  Slightly top-heavy actually.  

Palate:  Chocolate.  Oyster sauce.  Ju-jubes.  Smoke and dark earthy notes.  To be honest, the wine notes don’t really help here.  Think wine and perfume meets rubber and smoke.  As expected…apple skins on the finish.  Better palate than nose.  Also a better palate than the later 2012 edition, I think.

Under-powered, though I see the faintest hint of a Port Ellen-like promise here.  Left to mature longer, perhaps this would become what an older PE is.  Nice but too much wine-weighting for my liking, and certainly too little ‘oooomph’.  


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:07 am
Oct 302013

Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2012141

43% abv

Score:  88/100


Well, now.  This was a pleasant little surprise.  The 2012 edition of Diageo’s Distiller’s Edition Caol Ila came right out of left field for me.  Not that the whisky itself was unexpected, you understand (I believe these are annual releases), but the quality of the dram was a treat. 

Rightly or wrongly, I tend to look at the Distiller’s Edition range as sort of ‘surplus to requirements’ for the most part.  I’ve tried a couple that were quite decent, but I find more often than not the marriage of what Diageo dubs its ‘Classic Malts’ with a short period of quirky cask finishing (moscatel, amontadillo, amaroso, etc) feels somewhat contrived and not necessarily leading to an integrated whole.  To be blunt…a couple I’ve tried seem almost concocted by an amateur.  There is a disconnect in there somewhere that leaves me wanting.

I think a lot of these cases this has to do with the decision to mutate a rather delicate spirit in the first place.  It’s kind of like throwing a heavy pack on a scrawny l’il guy and telling him to head for the summit.  The heft is simply too much in some cases.  I’ve tried at least three (and if I recall correctly, a fourth) of these Caol Ila DEs (2009, 2011 and this 2012), and can happily say that this one bears the burden of an extra weighting of sweetness the best of the bunch.  Maybe a shorter finishing time on this edition?  Dunno.  Either way…yep, we like.  Not quite as much as unadulterated Caol Ila, but a worthy addition to the rather slim range available from this distillery. 

Here we have an Islay malt that manages to retain the sweet, citric clarity of Caol Ila, but dresses it up with a little bit of spice, fruit and sweetness.  Good execution, even if I’m not entirely behind the concept.  Grab a bottle of this one if you can find it.

Nose:  Very sweet smokiness.  Peat, as to be expected.  A bit of BBQ sauce (likely via the meeting of smoke and tangy sweetness).  Rock candy.  Iodine.  Citrus zest and juice.  An odd out-of-character jammy note.  Nice balance struck between some very disparate individual notes.  Overall…a rather great nose. 

Palate:  Apple and just the faintest hint of banana candy.  Smoke.  A little barley and sweet wine notes.  Some wet rock (y’know…that flinty, dusty flavour).  Grilled seafood.  Some Granny Smith apple at the back end brings it full circle.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:04 am
May 142013

Caol Ila 22 y.o. A.D. Rattray

57.7% abv

Score:  92.5/100


Caol Ila, by nature, is a fairly delicate spirit.  To those that have been around the block a time or two, this may seem almost counterintuitive.  To those that have been around the block more than just a couple of times, you likely know exactly what I mean by ‘delicate’.

So how does a whisky that peats its malt to about 30ppm (maybe a little higher?), much like its sister distillery Lagavulin, retain a ‘delicate’ character?  Really not sure, to be honest, but it is true that despite all of the billows of smoke and peaty underpinnings, the whisky somehow manages to exhibit a rather surprisingly light and brittle citrus character.

Again somewhat contrary to what most might expect in a ‘delicate’ malt, Caol Ila is one of the more oily-bodied drams you’re likely to encounter.  I think it is this latter characteristic that allows the spirit to be so malleable in its various releases.  Independent bottlings, in particular, are very subject to enormous variation.  Most, of course, also boast high enough alcohol content to not require chill-filtration, allowing the fats and oils to remain.  Flavor coagulates, then clings to all nooks, crooks and crannies of the mouth.  When you have a spirit that retains viscous pockets of flavor in this manner, you’re bound to have an end product that can adapt to many a nuance and deliver it in strength and confidence.

This 22 year old Caol Ila is from a barrel that was selected and bottled exclusively for Calgary’s Willow Park Wines And Spirits.  Great cask selection, I should add, as this is one of the best Caol Ila’s I’ve yet tasted.  The flavors herein are absolutely not typical of Caol Ila OBs (original bottlings from the distillery), but are bold, balanced and beautiful.  I love this whisky.

Nose:  Wow what a nose.  Lovely tightrope walk between white fruits and aged mellow peat.  Some eucalyptus and a little pepper.  Smoke and nice rich chocolate.  Some nice baking spices too.  Somehow still mellow and showing very restrained peat.

Palate:  Love the way the sweet and tangy notes arrive and spread across the tongue.  Smooth and a little waxy.  Chocolatey and fruity.  Some orange-y notes.  Sweettarts candies.  Oak at just the right age.  Delicious and holding the perfect linger.  Typical Islay green apple ebb and fruit skins on the back end of this one.

Go see Dave Michiels down at Calgary’s Willow Park Wines And Spirits for this one before it’s gone.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

 Posted by at 7:08 pm