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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 18 year old

Yesterday it was Caol Ila's 12 year old.  Today, their 18 year old.

Time to set the Fawning Meter to Full Toady.

But first, some totally useful Caol Ila trivia!

The Caol Ila distillery was originally built in 1846.  In 1879, it was rebuilt; or, as per Alfred Bernard's report in 1885, the distillery was "much extended and improved, and is arranged in the most modern style and possesses all the newest appliances used in the art of distilling."  In 1972, DCL (proto-Diageo) thought it needed to be further extended and improved as it was no longer arranged in the most modern style, nor possessing all the newest appliances used in the art of distilling.  So they knocked it down and built the current standing edition of Caol Ila.  In the years since the rebuild it has become one of the most technologically advanced of Scottish distilleries with many of its processes being run by computer hardware and software rather than by humans.

Caol Ila has been a favorite of blenders for well over a century, so it was an important addition to DCL's holdings when they bought it in 1927.  From 1970 to 1974, during the distillery's shutdown and new construction, DCL needed to make up for the missing peated malt for the their blend brands.  They addressed this by upping Brora's peat levels during those years.  So when you see the plaudits for Brora single malt from that era, know that the nature of Brora's whisky did actually change for a short period of time due to Caol Ila's rebuild.  Once the Islay distillery was up and running again, Brora's peat levels were lowered and their mash-house was rebuilt.

But enough about Brora.  Let's get back to Caol Ila and its 18 year old offspring.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon American oak casks (I think)
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
PPM: 30-35
Chilfiltered? Yup.
Colored? It is decidedly so.

Many thanks to Florin for providing a sample of this increasingly scarce whisky.

The color is of a darker amber than the 12, but not reaching the Johnnie-Walker-Gold-Hue(TM).  So I'm thinking/hoping they went easy on the colorant.  So many more ripe fruits on the nose when compared the younger CI: apricots, peach skin, orange peel, and lots of pears.  But these fruit notes are very reserved at first, taking their time to eventually revealling themselves.  But after twenty to thirty minutes, it's a summer fruit salad.  Secondary notes include a soft muskiness and a whisper of smoke.  The palate is very toasty, like toast in fact.  Smoked vanilla beans float in a creamy peach custard.  More ripe stone fruits, probably apricot.  There's also a slight veg note from the peat, like celery meets moss.  The fruits still linger in the finish, along with subtle mossy peat.  Some sweet clementines and a wee bit of salt.  The smoke is tongue-coating.

On the nose: Lots of perfectly ripe pears, which are a near mystery to me because I have little luck ripening them at home.  Elderflower liqueur and green grass.  The peating actually shows up more on the palate now, along with vanilla custard and white fruits.  It's soft as a pillow.  The finish is all distant smoke and vanilla creme filling.

This is the style I really enjoy.  The fruits, the cream, the moss, the salt.  It's probably even better at 46% ABV, but there's no way we're going to see that happen in this decade from CI's ownership.  Hell, it's not even easy to find a bottle of this as it is.  Sort of like Talisker 18, it's an irregular release.  When Diageo decides it's time, they bottle it again and raise the price 30-50%.  Good times.

But back to the positives.  This is graceful, classy, slightly raspy, and well delivered.  It's Tony Bennett's voice.  Old guy Tony Bennett, not young guy Tony Bennett.

Those fruit notes are very prominent, something I've tended to find in even older whisky that hasn't collapsed under too much oak.  The peat and smoke notes are quiet but persistent, showing up more on the palate than the nose.  It's not going to fight you like the young versions of the Kildalton malts, instead it's going to sing to you and keep you company in the evenings as you write about whisky things.

Availability - Increasingly difficult to find in US, look to Europe
Pricing - $110 to $150 (ex-VAT, with int'l shipping)
Rating - 91