Whisky Review #25: Caol Ila 31 Years Old (Silver Seal bottling)

And so here we are, the 25th whisky review I’ve written for this blog to date. It’s also nice to note that I’ve been blogging for 9 months now and the progress since the start has been rather satisfying to see to be honest. I have never previously been a prolific blogger and it heartens me to see that I’m committed to this endeavour just as much and perhaps even more so than I was when I first started this blog back in late January.

As it stands, the 25th review may not be the greatest of milestones, but we should celebrate the little things in life sometimes. Therefore, I have saved a particularly good bottling for this review and I reckon that it would be rather fitting considering the occasion. This review takes us back to Islay (as it usually does considering my particular affinity for Islay and the peated offerings from the various distilleries).

The whisky in the spotlight today is a Caol Ila 31 Years Old expression which was bottled at a cask strength abv of 58.7%. It was distilled in 1983 at the distillery (a period well known for a multitude of distillery closures across Scotland due to chronic oversupply and a sharp decline in demand for whisky) and bottled in 2014 by Italian independent bottlers Silver Seal.

Funnily enough, I came across this bottling by sheer happenstance. I was at the Auld Alliance back in mid August with a mate and his girlfriend and we were looking to sample different expressions. While they went with a tasting set which comprised the Auchentoshan 18 Years Old, Bowmore 18 Years Old, Glendronach 21 Years Old Parliament and Glenfarclas 25 Years Old, I decided to peruse the menu and order singular glasses of whisky from it.

Some of the whiskies that I sampled on the night have not been reviewed on the blog as yet and so I shall not say much about them, but I can tell you that the Caol Ila was not part of my order. It just so happened that one of the bartenders at The Auld Alliance who is also a buddy of mine, Arun, was on duty on the night and we were chatting about various expressions and the nuances that one would be able to discern from them.

We arrived at the bar at around 9.30pm and were pretty much done and ready to leave 3 hours later (having paid out bills) when Arun approached us from behind the bar and put two glasses in front of us. He told me that one was a 9 year old independent bottling of Bunnhabhain and that the other was a Caol Ila (although he refused to reveal the provenance or the age to me until I had nosed and tasted it).

It was only after I had done so that he mentioned that it was as such as I was floored by it. I am not going to lie: It was and still is the best Caol Ila that I have ever tasted and I highly doubt that it will be beaten anytime soon.

I reached for my wallet to pay for them but Arun stopped me and said that both were on the house. I was very grateful to him and so were my mates. It’s not everyday that you get to taste a whisky that is above 30 years old and the fact that it was on the house made it an even more amazing prospect.

So without further delay, let’s get stuck in!

Caol Ila 31 Years Old (58.7% abv, Bottled by Silver Seal)

Caol Ila 31 Years Old, bottled by Silver Seal.
Caol Ila 31 Years Old, bottled by Silver Seal.

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Initial entry brings with it coastal peat and some briny maritime notes along with a nice heap of cracked black pepper. Typical Caol Ila nose but somewhat smoother and more sophisticated, probably brought on by the extra long maturation regime imposed by the master blender at Silver Seal.

The nose is robust and lively, with the cask strength nature of this dram playing a big role in amplifying the various characteristics within. Camphor, aniseed and some earthy notes intermingle beautifully with the savoury bacon and Danish blue cheese notes. There’s just a hint of barley sugar sweetness at the very end, which ties everything together rather well.

Palate: Spicy, salty, smoky and savoury in equal measure! The cask strength nature shines through and takes a leaf from the nose by amplifying the various nuances within this dram. After the palate is initially inundated by the spiciness brought on by the high abv of this dram, it then recedes to allow the nuances to shine.

The aniseed, cracked black pepper and bacon from the nose transfer onto the palate, combining very well with the sea salt, coastal briny notes as well as sweet peat. With time, elements of iodine and ham hock emerge along with the sweetness brought on by the barley sugar from the nose, which once again serves to tie everything together beautifully. The complexity of this dram is of an amazingly high level!

Finish: Long and lingering finish which goes on for hours. The sweet peat, sea salt and bacon are ever present from the nose all the way to the finish and combine very well with the barley sugar to give this dram the trifecta of sweet-salty-savoury goodness.

The mouthfeel is oily and sophisticated for the most part with some drying elements at the very end. This is a dram that coats the mouth very well and leaves a very long lasting impression. Unbelievably good stuff!

Rating: 96/100

To say that this is an amazing whisky would probably be a gross understatement. I am a huge fan of Caol Ila and this is without a doubt the best expression that I have tasted from the distillery. Even though this is an independent bottling, the quality shines right through and the well balanced nature of this dram is a testament to the phenomenal work done by both the distillery and the master blender with regard to deciding when exactly to bottle this.

Independent bottlings tend to be hit and miss due to the potential for a rather large amount of batch variation occurring between one cask and another, but in this case this is a bonafide hit which allows the spirit to shine through while also showcasing the quality of the cask used in the maturation process. I am not sure as to the type of cask used in the maturation process for this whisky, but I will endeavour to find out more in due time.

I would definitely recommend this whisky to all peat lovers and it can be found at The Auld Alliance. However, if you are intending to purchase a bottle, more information can be found at the following link: http://www.wine-searcher.com/wine-397503-0001-silver-seal-caol-ila-special-bottling-31-year-old-single-malt-scotch-whisky-islay-scotland

Until the next time, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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