Caol Ila is a distillery which is generally well received by whisky connoisseurs due to its relatively lightly peated style when compared to the whiskies produced by the heavyweights located on the Kildalton coast of Islay.
It is also the largest distillery on Islay and is capable of producing upwards of 7 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis, with most of it ending up in the various blends of parent company, Diageo.
However, the distillery has been producing single malt whiskies for commercial sale over the last 2 decades and this has allowed for a greater appreciation of the distillery’s house style.
This inevitably means that some casks end up in the hands of independent bottlers, who then proceed with showcasing their own interpretation of the distillery’s style by bottling casks at various age statements and alcohol strengths.
More information on the distillery’s history, production capabilities and house style can be found here: Caol Ila
One such expression is the focus of this week’s review and it is a rather enticing expression which was distilled in 2003 and bottled at a cask strength abv of 59.6% after 10 years of maturation in a first fill bourbon barrel by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail for La Maison du Whisky (LMdW).
So, let’s dive right into the review!
Caol Ila 2003 10 Years Old (Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, 59.6% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents smouldering peat, sea salt, menthol, herbal hints and asphalt. So far somewhat typical of a cask strength Caol Ila. Creosote, cigar ash, white pepper, pine resin and furniture polish make an appearance a little later on, augmenting the initial elements.
With time though, the heavy notes recede and allow for the lighter elements to emerge. Lemon and lime juice, honey, fresh green ferns after the rain, honeydew and tarragon emerge and provide this expression with a different side altogether. Quite an incredible transformation! (23/25)
Palate: Initial entry is typical of a cask strength Caol Ila, with all the notes initially detected on the nose following through onto the palate. The difference here is that this expression is rather sweet and that sweetness only grows with time with more of the lemon and lime juice hints becoming apparent.
The lighter notes which were detected on the nose after some time also emerge on the palate and are complemented by sea salt and dusky peat which has lost that smouldering edge and has become somewhat elegant. The transformation on the palate is just as startling as that of the nose! (23/25)
Finish: Ah. Medium on the finish, with the herbs and oak being the most dominant aspects and with the citrus fruits and peat receding into the background. The floral hints at the very end are reminiscent of lavender and brings things to a nice and also somewhat muted close. (19/25)
Balance: A rather well-balanced dram which displays two distinct aspects: the typical Caol Ila house style and a gentler and more citrus and honey-driven style which is more approachable.
The cask strength nature of this expression does not obscure the nuances and instead allows for them to be revealed over time. The mouthfeel was initially quite oily but became rather drying towards the end. (22/25)
I found this to be one of the most surprising and impressive expressions of Caol Ila that I have ever sampled thus far and the change in character over time is startling to say the least.
Even though this expression was bottled at close to 60% abv, it does not need water if given enough time to aerate on its own. While water would somewhat speed up the process, I would recommend that one afford this enough time in order to reveal its hidden depths.
This expression is available for sampling and purchase at La Maison du Whisky and is rather limited, so I would recommend that it be done so as soon as possible.
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
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