Anyway, that was a good start for Caol Ila and I. On Monday, I posted a report on the officially bottled 12 year old. On Tuesday, it was a post on the official 18 year old. Today, it's the 2012 limited release of a cask strength 14 year old, that was unpeated.
Yep, unpeated. In the 1980s, the distillery started experimenting with unpeated malt runs and continued to do so off and on until 2005 when the market's demands for peated malt ended these trials. In 2006, they started an annual limited edition bottling of the unpeated Caol Ila. The positive response has kept the releases going ever since.
I'll tell you ahead of time, I didn't find any peat from my sample of the 2012, but I can definitely see why some folks refer to these releases as Caol Ila Highland.
Distillery: Caol Ila
Age: minimum 14 years
Maturation: European oak casks
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 59.3%
Chilfiltered? No need to with this ABV
The color is gold, just a smidgen darker than the 18. Lots of ethyl burns one's nose as the whisky announces its high ABV. Interesting that this comes from European oak because I get tons of vanilla from it, but more on that in a sec. The other main notes are swimming pool chlorine, cocoa powder, butterscotch, and roses. But there's also an intense vanilla and brown sugar combo that smelled strikingly like Johnnie Walker Black Label. Then there's Nilla Wafers, which I usually find in Canadian blends. Then (to confuse you further) the floral note combined with a lot of coconut cream hits, reminding me of high strength single grain whisky. The palate was more straightforward: digestive biscuits, charred wood, brown sugar, sea salt, and a brief savory note. It's a bit hot and toasty, but simple. Lots of malt arrives in the lengthy finish, followed by salt and toasted wheat bread. Again, focused like the palate.
The nose starts with swimming pools filled with caramel and roses. Salted caramel ice cream with Cool Whip on top. The palate is now reminiscent of a toasty malty blend. All sugar and spice, maybe some nutmeg and vanilla bean. Reminds me of Compass Box's Great King Street Artist's Blend. It finishes mildly with salt and malt.
I apologize for all of the comparisons in my notes, but the whisky continually reminded me of other whiskies. Which was kind of weird. I also found very little of the classic European oak notes, other than maybe the toast and spice. Adding water made it a better drinker but also did not make it stand out in any way.
No actual criticisms come to mind, other than this version of the "Unpeated Style" of Caol Ila seems interchangeable with a number of inoffensive single malts and high malt blends. Its benefit is its high strength which allows for the expression of the full power of the malt and also allows for toying around with water.
With and without water, I tried it alongside the regular 12 year old and always preferred the peated version. It could be a case of my nose and palate preferring the phenolics, but I did find the peat bringing more depth and variety to the experience. As for other opinions, Serge liked this unpeated version slightly better than I, though he found lots of vanilla and not much sherry as well.
If you can find it in the $75-$85 range, then it'll be what currently passes for a good deal on a cask strength bottling at its age. I do recommend trying it first, just to make sure your expectations are in the right place. For me, I'll stick with the bacon, barbecue, and campfires of the peated version.
Availability - A couple dozen specialty retailers in the US, more available in Europe
Pricing - $75 to $100 in the US, much pricier in Europe
Rating - 80