Good whiskies are found everywhere. We know this because we’re constantly hunting them down and sharing the word via forums such as this. Truly spectacular whiskies, however, are unquestionably much more scarce. And even more elusive are truly spectacular people. Here’s a little story of how these two things came together for me in a serendipitous little meeting.
A while back I saw a message on Twitter that showed a dram of Caol Ila. Not just any Caol Ila, but one so deep and dark I was simply blown away by the depth of brown and red in the glass. The colour was stunning – not that we form our opinions based on colour, mind you – and obviously spoke of a massive sherry influence on the spirit. To date there have only been a couple of uber-sherried Caol Ila expressions that have crossed my lips. I recall one being incredibly industrial and almost unapproachable, while another was quite spectacular. Even that oddball industrial mash-up was singular enough to make me come back to it time and again out of sheer ‘can’t-wrap-my-head-around-it-ness’.
I started asking questions and was informed that this Caol Ila was an 18 year old independent bottling from A.D. Rattray, bottled exclusively for Wine & Beyond, and was being used by my dear friend Val Bradshaw for a whisky tasting event. She and I discussed a bit and I walked away with an assurance that she would try to let me taste this one at some point. Whew! Mission accomplished. Little did I know, though…
A long while later Val came by for a wonderful evening of friends, drams and discussion. She didn’t bring me a sample of that Caol Ila that night, however. She brought me an entire bottle. A beautiful gesture from a woman with a heart of gold and an infinite understanding of both the spirit itself and the spirit inside that drives my passions. These are the things that make a whisky unforgettable and help us cement memories and friendships that last a lifetime. Not the gift itself, of course, but the thought behind it and the place it comes from. Amazing.
And the malt itself? As wonderful and unique as I’d hoped. Deeply rich sherry and earthy peat in a perfectly matched tug-of-war. No winner. Just a contest for the ages. And the best part? This one takes me right back to Islay; sipping whisky in the warehouse, right from the barrel. Nothing like it.
I should note: The bottle is marked as a partial cask. Wine & Beyond took a chunk of the outturn, but where the rest wound up? Who knows.
Nose: Bucketloads of sweet jammy fruits and bold clouds of smoke. Caol Ila? Really? I’d guess Bowmore if tasted blind. Flint, ash and iodine. Some rubber and tarry notes. Menthol drops and cherry cough syrup. Cask char. Dark syrupy notes and strong vanilla. Spicy tea, cold coffee and dark chocolate. A savoury, meaty note too. All of these descriptors are accurate (in my humble opinion anyway), but they don’t work to describe the cohesive whole. Man, what a nose.
Palate: Huge arrival. Bigger than huge, actually. Like plums and berries that have been rubbed in a tangy Asian sauce and roasted over a smoky-as-hell bonfire. More oceanic here. Grapeskins and good chocolate. Ginger and cinnamon. Dark, moist tobacco. Again…very jammy. Earthy, peaty and farmy. Great juicy dram.
Thoughts: Unforgettable, not simply due to the backstory, but because of its intrinsic nature. Deep and contemplative.
*Sincere thanks to Val Bradshaw for the hook up on this gem. Love ya, babe.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt