Caol Ila 12 y.o. Review

Caol Ila 12 y.o.

Caol Ila 12 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  88/100


This whisky is a showstopper.  It has truly left me struggling for a proper review.  In some senses it is a typical Islay whisky…big, bold, peaty and full of that big seaside salt and brine we’re used to.  In other ways it is much different.  It comes across almost like a well-behaved, slightly mellowed, older brother to the more obnoxious big three Islay siblings (Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig).

The more I look into blended whiskies, attend tastings and read reviews, the more I’m noticing the Caol Ila name cropping up.  It seems to be a blender’s staple in providing a little peat to many bottlings.  Caol Ila is apparently the single largest distillery on Islay, and with its whiskies having a certain softness lacking in some of the other big peats, it is simple logic as to why it would be a blender’s choice.  …Of course the absolute top notch quality may have something to do with that as well, no?

On the nose…certainly peat…smoke…sea side salt and freshness…some fruit…a little spice.  It reminds me of campfires by the water’s edge.  Like most ‘peatheads’, I find myself sticking my nose in the glass between sips.  It is actually quite a light and fresh smell.

The arrival doesn’t overpower with smoke.  Instead it envelops you and then develops into a nice marriage of flavors.  The smokiness is almost like a hazy curtain, slightly masking the other notes.  Occasionally you’ll be able to pick out something through it, such as hints of grass or sea salt.  It also reminds me of a sauvignon blanc, as it has all of the same light herbal, grassy notes and refreshing character.  The finish is long and leaves you with a bit of oak and peat as final flavors.

This 12 y.o. has a rather nice mouthfeel.  A little thin for my liking  perhaps, but pleasant nonetheless.  Our favorite liquor store (Willow Park) has the cask strength version available as well for an additional $30 or so.  I will certainly try that, as I anticipate a little more viscosity and that wonderful ‘coat-your-mouth’ feel.  I also imagine (or hope) it will have a bit more of that raw edge often found in the higher abv whiskies, which is a characteristic I also look for.

In trying to not re-invent the wheel here, I will close with the words of our good friend, and all ‘round whisky aficionado, Ralfy, who described it as having a “delicate intensity”.  I couldn’t have possibly said it better.

Absolutely stunning.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Image:  Pat at

2 thoughts on “Caol Ila 12 y.o. Review

  1. David

    Good stuff I tried this for the first time 2 days ago. I’m a fan of higher ABVs, but at 43% this one packs a lot of flavour. I’m looking forward to trying it again soon.

    1. Robert

      It’s a very good drink that I use when I don’t feel like getting slapped around by the three SE distilleries. “Delicate” is a good word for it. I used “sophisticated”, as it is not as industrial as the 10’s of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, which I also love, but have a totally different profile. Enjoy!


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