...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Single Malt Report: Caol Ila 12 year old 1997 "Unpeated Style" (2010 Edition)

Every October, Diageo announces their annual special releases.  This announcement used to be anticipated with great excitement.  Then, two years ago the prices ballooned so abruptly that the releases were met with considerable consternation by many whisky geeks, and detailed defense from the usual industry apologists.  The next year the prices swelled further.  The uproar wasn't as loud, largely due to (disgusted or defeated?) acceptance.  This year the prices continued their steep rise.

I used to bitch about the "special release" prices, but now I view them with curiosity.  There are plenty of the 2014 releases still sitting on retailer shelves, right next to the 2013s.  Are these same retailers going to front the money for the 2015s now too?  Why?  Do they really want the $1100 single grain to sit next to the $400 21yo Oban and the $800 Convalmore and the $500 Strathmill?  The impressionable very wealthy are chasing after Pappy Van Winkle.  The somewhat-less-impressionable very wealthy are sweeping up the Port Ellens and Karuizawas.  Who exactly is going to hand over $500/bottle for a 30-hogshead outturn of Dalwhinnie?  If there was a market for this then I'd understand an attempt to corral some saps.  But......wuh?

Anyway, amongst the annual uber-expensive thingies, there are always a pair of whiskies for (cough) the rest of us: Lagavulin 12 CS and an "unpeated" Caol Ia.  Two teenage-or-younger non-single-cask whiskies running between $110-$150.  A super deal, right?  At least the Lag 12 is usually very good.  The "Unpeated Style" Caol Ila isn't as reliable and is usually not unpeated.

In November 2013, I reviewed the 2012 special edition of the Caol Ila "Unpeated Style".  While the whisky wasn't terribly special it did seem mostly unpeated.  That review was part of a small series of posts on Caol Ilas.  Today's review is of an even smaller series of (2) tangentially related Caol Ila reviews.  No this is not the 2015 release -- though at least that one will be a 17yo -- instead I'm reviewing the 2010 version which has gotten many (Florin, MAO, Serge, etc.) recommendations......and I actually have a sample of it.  Thanks Florin!

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 12 years
Distillation Year: 1997
Release Year: 2010
Maturation: 1st-fill bourbon casks
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 57.6%
PPM: ???
Chilfiltered? Probably not
Colored? Probably
Limited bottling: "fewer than 6000 bottles worldwide" per the official site

The color is a dark amber.  On the nose the peat is at a whisper.  But there are some big pretty floral notes and some fruits.  Melons, fresh lemons, a tiny bit of grapefruit.  Then rosewater syrup and honey.  Some mellow aromatic woody bourbon barrel notes.  Not much heat on the palate, considering the ABV.  It's very malty and the big floral esters show up here too.  There's a pip of pepper and a peep of peat.  Orange oil.  Limoncello, but the homemade kind, not the sugar bombs sold at Ralph's.  Some caramel sauce and toasty oak spices.  The finish has roses, malt, pepper, and wood smoke.  Hints of bitter chocolate and toasted almonds.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose gets thicker, if that makes sense.  More salt, some chocolate, a hint of sharp cheddar (really).  The floral element now bigger than the fruit.  Lots of malt in the palate.  Very creamy.  There's a slight green herbal note, but otherwise it's a solid malt hit.  No real change in the finish.  Malty, floral, a little citrus tang.

Good whisky this.  The oak notes are nice and the maltiness remains strong throughout.  There's some peat in there, but mostly as a seasoning.  Not super complex, but good fruit and good texture.  This all works best without added water.  And it's just pretty, the second prettiest Caol Ila I've had, and easily my favorite of the "Unpeateds" I've tried.

Next, on Thursday, the prettiest Caol Ila ever...

Availability - this edition is now pretty scarce
Pricing - this edition was $60-$70 when it came out, now it'll be over $100
Rating - 88


  1. It's pretty clear why unpeated Caol Ila is called 'Highland style' by blenders. However, that also means you can easily find something pretty similar that's not a 'special release' and thus not carrying the huge markup.

    1. Yep. One could freely dabble in single casks for that price, and longer matured whiskies as well.

      Also, there's A LOT of 2013's Stitchell Reserve unsold in the US. And 2012's Unpeated isn't hard to find. The question is, when will retailers start declining to carry these? Or are they required to carry some (like all of the unsold GlenMo special releases) via their deals with distributors?

    2. You can even still find some previous releases of unpeated Caol Ila in Europe, where special releases usually sell out even more quickly. It seems like they may have hit saturation with this particular 'special release'.

    3. Releasing an older one, like this year's 17yo, might be a better direction but it's still going to be $150+ here. A 17yo CS sherry cask Caol Ila release might be more interesting, if they had the casks.

  2. I recently opened the 2010 bottle I own. I don't know why but I've been rather slow on working my way through it. I completely agree that it's not super complex but it's still a nice change of pace from the standard Caol Ila.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I agree, it is a good change of pace from the regular Caol Ila 12. If this edition was still $70ish, I'd be happy to get a bottle. But at $100+, no thanks.

  3. I don't mind the prices for this series (up to $100 for the younger teenaged ones). I see it as being for the Caol Ila completist. It's at cask strength and is an unusual variant of the regular, and so paying the premium is justified to a point.

    1. I think you're seeing this, and the Lag 12, at better prices in MN. In CA we rarely see it for less than $120, except for the Stitchell Reserve which is widely available. For $100 or less I can see your point about it being for the CI completists. For the rest of us, there are still Highland "style" single casks at the same age for less money, though not as much as there used to be.