(*In honour of Maltmonster and his ongoing crusade against the Empire.)
Everyone wants to knock down the big guy.
With this mentality, and armed with metaphorical slingshot and an overly curious palate, the B-Team (part of the Collective) drew together in an attempt to bring down the mighty Goliath (Diageo). This was not because we necessarily believed we could do it (let’s face it…Caol Ila is a damn fine drink, and we were tackling a damn fine lineup of OBs*), but we had to take a shot at laying out the big beast with a few well chosen words of disparagement if we could.
At this point I’ll take creative license and once more borrow a turn of phrase from revolutionary extraordinaire, Commandante Guevara: “Little Davids strike hard and deep”. On this night we were little Davids. We went toe-to-toe with Goliath. We held strong under the enormous might of the malt. And fell.
The best laid plans of mice and men and all that though.
I take small comfort in knowing that:
a) As far as Goliaths go, there are none bigger than Diageo.
b) I already knew and loved Caol Ila. (This was like getting beaten by your hero. No real shame.)
c) We had a bloody great night of mates and drinks.
Sadly though, for those keeping score…
Goliath one…little Davids…zip.
One final sad bit of irony (kind of like an exoneration after the execution): To ice this evening’s delicious little peat cake, we finished with a dram of Port Ellen 6th Release. Yep…the distillery that DCL (Diageo) closed in order to keep Caol Ila flowing for use in blending purposes. Hands down the winner of the night. Sigh. RIP Port Ellen. RIP.
Caol Ila Unpeated 10 y.o.
Nose: Completely unlike a single malt. All thought this could have been a grain whisky. Heavy rye notes. Creamy. Coconut and chocolate. Slightly floral. Hint of eucalyptus.
Palate: Hot and biting (what did you expect at nearly 66%?). Shimmering grains and a little fruit to tease. Oaky. Surprisingly rich and pleasant.
Finish: Long and blazing. Grapey.
Thoughts: Decent balance. Seems older than its years.
Caol Ila 12 y.o.
Nose: Wow. What the hell?! I love this dram, but holy feints, Batman! Malty and iodine heavy. Band-aids. Peat and wet smoke. Citrus. Rubbery. Smoked oysters.
Palate: Subdued. Peaty and sweet. Smoked wood chips.
Finish: Billows of smoke and young peat. Tingly green apple skin and anise. Looooooooooooong.
Thoughts: In ordinary circumstances an exceptional malt for daily doses of smoke and peat, but in this line-up…left in the dust. (But don’t worry, baby…I still love you!)
Caol Ila 18 y.o.
Nose: Some pleasant ‘green’ notes (not sure…just clean and pleasant). Honeydew melon. Mild citrus. Aloe. Fruity. Salty. The smoke has faded immensely by this age and the feintiness of the 12 y.o. is gone.
Palate: Green fruit delivery. Hint of smoke that was not prevalent on the nose.
Finish: Light, fresh…and sadly…fleeting. Not a long one, but dynamic and sweet.
Thoughts: Absolutely the most pleasant surprise of the night. Great dram. If I was told it was 25 years old, I’d believe it.
Caol Ila 1996 Distiller’s Edition
Nose: BBQ sauce! Chocolate and dark roast coffee bean. Lemon and toasted woods. Sweet and kinda winey.
Palate: Smoke and iodine. Char. Wine notes at first, but soon obliterated by smoke and tar.
Finish: Tangy and lively. Smoke…apple skins…sweetness.
Thoughts: Tasty….closer to recent Ardbegs than Caol Ilas (Think Alligator). Seems a wee bit bigger than 43% too.
Caol Ila 25 y.o.
Nose: Smooth chocolate and vanilla. Melon and cherry. Mature oak. Mild pepper. Distant smoke.
Palate: Tart and almost hoppy. Smoky and weedy. Strong dark chocolate in the background. And the arrival…absolutely teeth-smashing!
Finish: Heat and sharpness all the way through, and even at the back end, despite its 25 runs through the seasons. A long, long eve with this one.
Thoughts: Huge disconnect between nose and palate. Makes for a ruddy unbalanced go. Still a great drink however. The nose though…wow.
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Nose: Smooooooooooth. Buttery. Smoky as the fires of hell. Farmy and iodone heavy. Citric. Chocolate. Cola with lime. Wet leaves.
Palate: Cocoa. Mesquite.
Finish: From here to eternity. Peat and smoke this massive don’t vacate the premises until the morning after. Thankfully.
Thoughts: F*cking brilliant, and exactly as young peat should be dished up: strong and bold. Not unlike a natural Octomore (though slightly less muscle-y).
Caol Ila (A.D. Rattray) 22 y.o.
Willow Park Exclusive
Nose: Oh, yes! Wow what a nose. Eucalyptus and fruit. Smoky and chocolate-rich. Some nice baking spices too. Somehow still mellow and showing very restrained peat.
Palate: Smooth. Waxy. Choco and fruity. Oak at just the right age. Delicious and spectacular. The perfect linger. A date that stays through all the good bits but doesn’t overstay the welcome.
Finish: All good. Drying. Typical Islay green apple ebb on this one.
Thoughts: Best nose of the night. Islay with age is nearing heaven.
So….weighing in: A tie between 22 and 18. 25 just behind. An honourable mention to the 10 y.o. Unpeated.
Thanks to all for your contributions, be they malts, pics, laughs or insight. This is why we do this. One of the most enjoyable (and surprising) tastings I can remember. Cheers to ya!
(Tasting Notes: Curt…with a line or two from The Collective)
(Photos: Pat at http://www.standstillphotography.ca/)