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Friday, April 20, 2018

Caol Ila 20 year old 1996 Montgomerie's, cask 3076

Hey, it's Not-Bowmore Day. And, also Simulreview-with-MAO Day. And, also Friday. Huzzah.

If I've said it once, I've said it (at most) eleven times: There aren't enough Caol Ila reviews on this site. You can count me amongst those who say "Cry not over Port Ellen, for there is still Caol Ila." Long-aged CI is very comparable to PE. (It used to be much cheaper too, but word got out.) I've tried a pair of young PEs and found them uninspiring, but young CI is often quite good. Here's a comparison of a pair. Caol Ila single casks have also been widely available from indies, as Diageo seems to let more of these barrels escape than with any of their other distilleries.

I've grown to enjoy Caol Ila's single malts because the good bourbon cask CIs seem like cousins to good bourbon cask Ardmores. It's the beach or BBQ or bonfire or beach BBQ bonfire peat smoke drifting above a foundation of fresh citrus. That's my jam.

Today's CI is from Angus Dundee's Montgomerie's line, just like last Friday's Glen Ord. Like that Ord, this was part of a bottle split with famed lawn bowling blogger, My Annoying Opinions. I'll link to his review as soon as I can today. (Here it is!) For now, you may follow my notes below.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 20 years old (1996-2016)
Maturation: probably an ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 3076
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose mixes soft oceanic peat with Good & Plenty candies. Then a note somewhere between orange blossoms and orange oil. Moments of mint chip ice cream, menthol, dried herbs and caramel sauce. With time, the peat gets rootier. The palate comes across more rugged. Wood smoke, Robitussin, charred bell pepper skins. Charred beef, tangy lemons, tobacco smoke and bitter herbs. It gets bitterer with time in glass. Bitter smoke on the finish. Tobacco smoke. A tiny bit of sweetness.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or less than 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Much less peat on the nose, but more fruit. Think oranges, limeade and dried apricots. Beachy. Mild sweet peat on the palate. Hot oregano, bitter chocolate and vanilla simple syrup. The finish mirrors the palate.

Recently, I've had a string of peated single cask whiskies with rich complex noses and narrower, less exciting palates. This one joins that parade. In fact, this one's palate took me by surprise. It was a slap in the mouth compared to the nose's cuddle. It tastes rawer than what I'd expect from a 20 year old Caol Ila. The finish neither offends nor excites, it just finishes. These aren't huge complaints, but when the nose sets one up so well...

Availability - Total Wine & More (and maybe a few other retailers in Minnesota)
Pricing - $125
Rating - 83


  1. I was in on this split, and here are my notes. It seems like a rare unanimous decision...

    Nice and clear color, oily consistency, both very inviting!
    Nose: Warm and inviting, with all the Caol Ila signature notes: oily black olives in brine, sweet meyer lemons, salty ozone, iodine. Maybe fruitier than expected. Also, grape seeds, betraying a young-tasting whisky. Very savory and mouth-watering! In the background, the smoke is closer to a campfire in a dry forest, like in a young, well crafted whisky (Kilchoman Machir Bay, Port Charlotte, or Balcones Brimstone). The wood is present – first fill cask? The age is not very evident.
    Palate: similar flavors as those suggested by the nose, but disjointed and undifferentiated, with some sharp and bitter notes that are not very pleasant. Again, the age is not evident, and the wood and spirit are not in harmony here.
    Finish: long, but not really satisfying.
    Overall: This is a strange one! It is not a harmonious whisky, and it falls apart on the palate. It’s almost as if it aged in a neutral cask for most of its life, but then it was moved into a first-fill cask for a year or so, to bring it to life. It is saved by all the Caol Ila goodies delivered by the nose.

    1. All three of us agreed! Haven't there been enough signs of the End Times?