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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hanukkah Whisky Report: Caol Ila 20 year old 1975 Rare Malts (75cL edition)

Yes, you read that correctly.  This one.  Happy MFing Hanukkah.

Thank you to Lee Zaro, member of South Bay Whisky Tribe and an all-round good fellow.  He handed me this very sample at (you guessed it) this year's Peatin' Meetin'.  I really do recommend Peatin' Meetin'.

Excellent label by Mr. Zaro
So once upon a Diageo time......before this current era in which they're in the single malt business......before the previous era when they were not in the business of making single malts......but in the era even before that when they were in the single malt business, Diageo (and its predecessor, United Distillers) produced the famed bottling series, Rare Malts and Manager's Choice.  Most of those bottles are long gone now, finding a second life as big ticket items in the secondary market.  If you have an opportunity to taste any of the Rare Malts, I'd recommend seizing the moment.  Many of those whiskies are excellent.

This particular Rare Malt was distilled soon after Caol Ila reopened after its closure in 1972.  Distilling restarted in the new modern distillery in 1974.  This whisky is from '75 and was bottled in 1996 at an impressively high ABV after two decades in American oak.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 20 years
Distillation Year: 1975
Release Year: 1996
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon casks
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 61.12%
Bottle #: 0337


Its color is a light amber, which makes me think they left out the e150a.

The nose begins all oceanside: saltwater, sand, and a little bit of seaweed.  A gorgeous gentle peat.  Some savory notes like smoked finish and chicken stock.  Herbal notes like fennel and anise.  Soft vanilla and brown sugar, mint leaves and cocoa.  After 20 minutes, notes of cinnamon candy and lemon cake appear.

The palate brings plenty of heat but it's not hot, if that makes sense.  Sweet herbal peat, hay, dried barleycorns, and mild baking spices.  Then salted caramel and honeycomb amongst hints of floral esters and chili oil.

The finish is the smokiest point, like salty wood smoke.  A lemon note starts small but grows with time.  Some cassia cinnamon, honeycomb, and an oyster/ocean note.  It lingers and lingers and lingers and lingers and...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)

The nose is now fruitier and maltier.  The peat mossier.  The ocean quieter.  Some funkier mustier notes arise.  And also new carpet.

More -ers for you.  The palate is spicier, bitterer, and saltier.  Again the peat feels mossier.  More floral esters.

The finish remains long.  Bitter chocolate and tangy smoke.

What a lovely whisky.  I know that ABV looks imposing, but I insist this thing works better without water.  While the palate is quite good, the nose amazes.  Its ocean note is utterly transporting.  Close your eyes and you're at the beach.  I'm typing this post the day after the tasting, but the sense memory remains.  That's some good stuff.

We can debate what creates this ocean note in a whisky.  Many whisky writers have romantically claimed it's from the ocean-facing warehouses, but really most of the oceany single malts (especially Diageo's) are aged inland.  In fact, I'm closer to the ocean than Lagavulin's casks and I don't smell like that.  Yet.  Maybe it's from the water source, or the yeast strain, or fermentation time, or where the cooperage is located.  In any case, this whisky is of the ocean.

Availability - Auctions, good luck
Pricing - ???
Rating - 92