...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Caol Ila 29 year old 1990 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 19/139

While Whisky Nerds, the bottler of Monday's Caol Ila, has been in the game for about five years, today's Caol Ila comes from a company that's been releasing single malts for over a century. Like so many early whisky companies, Gordon & MacPhail, got their start in the wine and grocery business in the 19th century. John Urquhart and his family later brought the company into the whisky business and have since kept G&M at the top. The last I'd checked, they were the only, or one of the only, independent bottlers that still had filling contracts with distilleries. Thus G&M's single malts are in their possession, their warehouses, from the start.

Though I have more respect for G&M than nearly all other indie bottlers, nary a single one of their contemporary releases has WOWed me. I'm not talking about their '70s and '80s bottlings, because whisky production before 1980 was so different than today's that the results were almost a different fluid. Instead I'm referring to G&M releases from the past two decades. The pre-2018 Connoisseur's Choice range was always so-so to decent, while their single casks had few duds, yet no titans. That changed this weekend.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 29 years old (1990 to 9 Sept 2019)
Maturation: refill American hogshead
Cask #: 13/139
Outturn: 148 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.8%
(from a bottle split)

The nose starts with a heavy, almost-Laphroaig, peat that gradually recedes into the rest of notes. Lots of fruits, think peach skins, lemon zest and plum juice. Iodine and shellfish. Dark chocolate and a crisp sauvignon blanc. I got lost in the palate for a bit, and I'm pretty sure I wrote some of these notes with my eyes closed. Roasted cashews and pumpkin seeds. Savory smoke, black walnuts, blue cheese and sea salt. Bonfire smoke, stones, lime juice, salty shellfish and hint of fresh stone fruit sweetness. The finish mirrors the palate, focusing on the savory notes, adding in some charred beef. A mix of minerals and peaches. And that morning-after-a-beach-bonfire note I've found in my favorite '90s Ardmores.

The devil on my shoulder told me not to post this review until I secured a bottle, but it's $400 and there are only 147 bottles other than the one which I'd already split with folks. So screw him. This is a brilliant whisky from a stellar, well-managed cask. It pulls the best elements of Allied Lyons-era distillery mates Laphroaig and Ardmore into a savory, coastal, grown-up Caol Ila affair that is difficult to surpass in 2020 or any other year. This is a big win for the indie grandpa.

Availability - It's out there
Pricing - €350-€400
Rating - 92