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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Birthday Booze: Caol Ila 25 year old 1978, Special Release 2004

Much to my surprise, samples of vintage 1978 whisky still exist in the stash! Happy birthday to me! This year, I'm pouring an official Caol Ila '78, aged in refill casks and bottled at full strength.

Sometimes my palate registers Caol Ila as Ardmore's slightly brawnier cousin, which is a good thing, in fact I'd like to meet their entire family. Anyway, CI is the lone peated Islay malt I enjoy drinking in the late summer. The rest of those heaters don't taste as good until November. So there are my zillion reasons for drinking cask strength peated whisky on a humid evening. Sláinte!

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Age: at least 25 years old (1978-2004)
Maturation: refill casks 💚
Outturn: 6000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 59.4%
(from a bottle split)


The nose brings fruit first, peat second. Pineapples and citrons. Kelp and beach bonfire. Ah, there's the mango juice! Candied yuzu peels and a pretty floral note arise after 30 minutes. The palate starts off full of salty seaweed, with lemon bars and a hint of mango in the background. It stays quite lemony while gaining more smoke and baking spice with time. It finishes with salty savory smoke up front and touches of tart and bitter citrus in the back.

Pretty good, but what if I hydrate it to my favorite ABV?

DILUTED to 48%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Smoke stacks and toasted seaweed mingle with peach pie and pineapple cake in the nose, with some citrons and roses in the background. The palate gets a little more savory while picking up all sorts of new notes like wasabi, grapefruit, pineapple and toasted sunflower seeds. The finish keeps its good length, while gaining sweet fruit and reducing the smoke.


Yep, that little bit of water did what it needed to, pushing this into 90-point territory. And if my opinion ain't enough for you, there's a certain other person's opinion you may want to review. Part of me wishes Diageo dropped a cask strength 25yo Caol Ila each year, mirroring Talisker's old approach, but the other part of me knows how peckish the ravenous secondary market would have become for each bottle. So I'm just going to enjoy what I have here and finish off the rest of this fruity creature after I click "Publish". On to 44!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - It was £150 in 2004, it is not £150 now
Rating - 90 (with water)