Whisky Review #9: Caol Ila 12 Years Old (Revisited)

My 9th review focuses once again on Caol Ila, specifically on the 12 Years Old expression which forms the bedrock of the core offerings from the distillery.

The 12 Year Old expression is the bedrock of the distillery's offerings.
The 12 Year Old expression is the bedrock of the distillery’s offerings.

I have to admit that the 12 Year Old is one of my favourite purchases whenever I pass through Duty Free at the airport, primarily due to its affordable price (SG$60-65, depending on stock), fairly complex palate and the fact that I absolutely adore it.

However, my most recent purchase 2 months ago left me scratching my head as I noticed that the 2015 version was somewhat different in some aspects from those of earlier years, primarily in the sweetness department.

The 2015 version does not have as sweet a palate to it as compared to previous expressions and there is also a more pronounced phenolic note to it. One of my assumptions for this would be due to Diageo having tweaked the recipes for both the Johnnie Walker Black Label and Double Black in order to replace the likes of Lagavulin in the flavour profile.

This is particularly apparent in the newer bottlings of Double Black, which does not have as enticing an aroma as before and does seem to have a strong maritime scent to it which reminds me of the Caol Ila. Nevertheless, I have decided to revisit the 12 Years Old expression so as to provide a means of compare and contrast.

I have included the review which was taken from my visit to the distillery in January below as a reference point.

Caol Ila 12 Years Old (Peated, 43% abv) – Reviewed in January 2015 during distillery visit

Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Herbal with a maritime character. Fresh and yet somewhat spicy. Hints of cured meat with just a touch of mint. Restrained smoke.

Palate: Coats the palate well, oily mouthfeel with hints of seaweed, tar and just a touch of citrus. Spice. Smoke is restrained but definitely present.

Finish: Lingering. Spice finally gives way to sophisticated smokiness. Quite satisfying.

Rating: 90/100

The reviews of Caol Ila Moch and Caol Ila 15 Years Unpeated can be found at the following link: https://whiskymate.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/whisky-review-1-caol-ila/

Caol Ila 12 Years Old (Peated, 43% abv) – Re-reviewed in June 2015

Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Briny, maritime notes followed by chewy peat, citrus fruits, hints of tobacco pouch and orange peel. Seaweed and sea salt make an appearance, with some aniseed and nutmeg also present. Barley sugar and mint up next before some iodine brings things to a close. Quite a complex nose.

Palate: Restrained sweetness with coastal, vegetal peat and sea salt. Spicy on the palate with hints of nutmeg and aniseed from the nose followed by some orange peel and marmalade. Allspice brings some warmth towards the end. Overall the mouthfeel is rather oily.

Finish: Medium to long finish with a bouquet of spices and some honey. Slightly sweeter towards the end now. Gentle peat smoke intermingled with some sea salt lingering at the very end.

Rating: 82/100

Caol Ila 12 Years Old (Peated, 43% abv, with water added)

Colour: Same as above

Nose: More of a honeyed sweetness, with hints of gentle peat, sea salt, orange peel and brine. The herbal, grassy notes are more pronounced with the addition of some water. Hints of cherries surprisingly before giving way to some TCP notes.

Palate: Barley sugar, restrained peat smoke, white pepper and more of the cherries from the nose. A touch of sea salt followed by some aniseed and orange juice to give a spicy-sweet kick. The oily mouthfeel is still present, albeit slightly drying now with the addition of the water.

Finish: Lingering and sweeter now. Barley sugar, white pepper and nutmeg trading punches before giving way to just a hint of peat smoke.

Rating: 85/100

While I do prefer the previous version of the 12 Years Old, I can get used to this new alternative which does seem somewhat more complex than the original. The addition of water certainly helps with the overall experience and is highly recommended, even if the whisky is only at 43% abv.

Seeing as how the distillery is Diageo’s primary source of peated whisky and is capable of producing up to 7 million litres of spirit annually, it would make sense for them to alter their flavour profile in order to cater to the blending needs of Diageo and their range of blended whiskies.

That being said, I would like to reiterate that I prefer the old version of the 12 Years Old to the new one.

Slainte!

Brendan

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