Category Archives: Caol Ila

Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2011 Review

Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2011047

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100


Here’s one I’ve tasted on multiple occasions now, and have finally come to terms with.  To be honest, it was the slightly better 2012 edition that led me back to revisiting the last of this 2011 release that I had squirelled away in a wee sample bottle.  Recognizing that there was something kinda special about the 2012 left me thinking back to what it was that hadn’t ticked all the boxes for me with this expression from Islay’s most prolific distillery.

I’m happy to say  the whisky was much better than I recall.  I’m somewhat saddened to say, however, that my initial assessment still stands: Caol Ila 12, the flagship in the range, is a better whisky (and much cheaper).  If we want to get into the comparison game, let’s go one step further.  While somewhat maligned by many out there, the Caol Ila 18 is a sparkling example of a lovely mature Islay malt, and possibly my favorite in the core range.  If you can find it, I’d highly recommend that one as the cornerstone of any love affair you may opt to pursue with Caol Ila.

This Distiller’s Edition is a mature Caol Ila (12 years, I believe, that has been re-racked into ex-moscatel barrels for a final period of maturation (6 months or so, I’ve read).  Though the term itself is occasionally frowned upon by the industry, we call this ‘finishing’.  I think the assumption being, if one reads between the lines, that the whisky is not quite complete without this step.  Undoubtedly in some cases this is exactly the case, where a sweet cask finish can hide off-notes and immaturity, bringing the whisky up to a more easily-marketable finished product.  I have no real issues with the concept, but I’m also not 100% behind it either.  C’est la vie.  If the juice is good…I’ll drink it.

In the case of the Caol Ila DE, what we ultimately end up with is a malt that is surprisingly rich in smoked sweetness (think BBQ sauce), but by no means is it what we often refer to as an ‘Islay heavyweight’.  Easily approachable, this one, but do take heed…you gotta have a sweet tooth to fully appreciate its layers.  Decent, but not entirely successful in my eyes.  The following year’s edition strikes a more harmonious whole.   

Nose:  BBQ sauce, as mentioned above, and quite sweet.  Smoky, peaty and iodine-rich.  There is a hint of what the evenings smell like on Islay when you walk the streets of Bowmore.  Anyone who has been there will know what I mean.  Chocolate and fresh coffee beans.  Lemon zest and a bit of orange rind.  Toasted woods.  Smoke and char.  Slightly top-heavy actually.  

Palate:  Chocolate.  Oyster sauce.  Ju-jubes.  Smoke and dark earthy notes.  To be honest, the wine notes don’t really help here.  Think wine and perfume meets rubber and smoke.  As expected…apple skins on the finish.  Better palate than nose.  Also a better palate than the later 2012 edition, I think.

Under-powered, though I see the faintest hint of a Port Ellen-like promise here.  Left to mature longer, perhaps this would become what an older PE is.  Nice but too much wine-weighting for my liking, and certainly too little ‘oooomph’.  


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2012 Review

Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2012141

43% abv

Score:  88/100


Well, now.  This was a pleasant little surprise.  The 2012 edition of Diageo’s Distiller’s Edition Caol Ila came right out of left field for me.  Not that the whisky itself was unexpected, you understand (I believe these are annual releases), but the quality of the dram was a treat. 

Rightly or wrongly, I tend to look at the Distiller’s Edition range as sort of ‘surplus to requirements’ for the most part.  I’ve tried a couple that were quite decent, but I find more often than not the marriage of what Diageo dubs its ‘Classic Malts’ with a short period of quirky cask finishing (moscatel, amontadillo, amaroso, etc) feels somewhat contrived and not necessarily leading to an integrated whole.  To be blunt…a couple I’ve tried seem almost concocted by an amateur.  There is a disconnect in there somewhere that leaves me wanting.

I think a lot of these cases this has to do with the decision to mutate a rather delicate spirit in the first place.  It’s kind of like throwing a heavy pack on a scrawny l’il guy and telling him to head for the summit.  The heft is simply too much in some cases.  I’ve tried at least three (and if I recall correctly, a fourth) of these Caol Ila DEs (2009, 2011 and this 2012), and can happily say that this one bears the burden of an extra weighting of sweetness the best of the bunch.  Maybe a shorter finishing time on this edition?  Dunno.  Either way…yep, we like.  Not quite as much as unadulterated Caol Ila, but a worthy addition to the rather slim range available from this distillery. 

Here we have an Islay malt that manages to retain the sweet, citric clarity of Caol Ila, but dresses it up with a little bit of spice, fruit and sweetness.  Good execution, even if I’m not entirely behind the concept.  Grab a bottle of this one if you can find it.

Nose:  Very sweet smokiness.  Peat, as to be expected.  A bit of BBQ sauce (likely via the meeting of smoke and tangy sweetness).  Rock candy.  Iodine.  Citrus zest and juice.  An odd out-of-character jammy note.  Nice balance struck between some very disparate individual notes.  Overall…a rather great nose. 

Palate:  Apple and just the faintest hint of banana candy.  Smoke.  A little barley and sweet wine notes.  Some wet rock (y’know…that flinty, dusty flavour).  Grilled seafood.  Some Granny Smith apple at the back end brings it full circle.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Caol Ila 22 y.o. A.D. Rattray Review

Caol Ila 22 y.o. A.D. Rattray

57.7% abv

Score:  92.5/100


Caol Ila, by nature, is a fairly delicate spirit.  To those that have been around the block a time or two, this may seem almost counterintuitive.  To those that have been around the block more than just a couple of times, you likely know exactly what I mean by ‘delicate’.

So how does a whisky that peats its malt to about 30ppm (maybe a little higher?), much like its sister distillery Lagavulin, retain a ‘delicate’ character?  Really not sure, to be honest, but it is true that despite all of the billows of smoke and peaty underpinnings, the whisky somehow manages to exhibit a rather surprisingly light and brittle citrus character.

Again somewhat contrary to what most might expect in a ‘delicate’ malt, Caol Ila is one of the more oily-bodied drams you’re likely to encounter.  I think it is this latter characteristic that allows the spirit to be so malleable in its various releases.  Independent bottlings, in particular, are very subject to enormous variation.  Most, of course, also boast high enough alcohol content to not require chill-filtration, allowing the fats and oils to remain.  Flavor coagulates, then clings to all nooks, crooks and crannies of the mouth.  When you have a spirit that retains viscous pockets of flavor in this manner, you’re bound to have an end product that can adapt to many a nuance and deliver it in strength and confidence.

This 22 year old Caol Ila is from a barrel that was selected and bottled exclusively for Calgary’s Willow Park Wines And Spirits.  Great cask selection, I should add, as this is one of the best Caol Ila’s I’ve yet tasted.  The flavors herein are absolutely not typical of Caol Ila OBs (original bottlings from the distillery), but are bold, balanced and beautiful.  I love this whisky.

Nose:  Wow what a nose.  Lovely tightrope walk between white fruits and aged mellow peat.  Some eucalyptus and a little pepper.  Smoke and nice rich chocolate.  Some nice baking spices too.  Somehow still mellow and showing very restrained peat.

Palate:  Love the way the sweet and tangy notes arrive and spread across the tongue.  Smooth and a little waxy.  Chocolatey and fruity.  Some orange-y notes.  Sweettarts candies.  Oak at just the right age.  Delicious and holding the perfect linger.  Typical Islay green apple ebb and fruit skins on the back end of this one.

Go see Dave Michiels down at Calgary’s Willow Park Wines And Spirits for this one before it’s gone.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

Caol Ila 10 y.o. Unpeated Review

Caol Ila 10 y.o. Unpeated

65.8% abv

Score:  87.5/100


Check the label.  What the hell am I drinking?  Caol Ila?  Malt whisky?  Nah…I don’t buy it.

This is simply a mindf*ck.  I dare anyone to stick their nose in this glass and not believe they were dealing with an aged grain whisky.

For curiousity, if no other reason, I’d suggest snapping one of these up if opportunity presents.  Last word from the distillery is that there are no plans to produce anything else unpeated in the future.  Demand for the standard peated Caol Ila (5% of production being for single malt…95% for blending fodder) is simply too great right now.  Shame really…this was a fun little experiment.

Nose:  Big and rich in sweet barley notes, this has much more in common with an old grain whisky or mature rye than with a whisky from one of the most polarizing Scotch producing regions in the world.  The malt notes you’d expect from a single MALT are sparse and almost seem to be lacking.  In good conscience I have to say…bloody hell, is this sharp!  Clean toasted sugar notes and a lovely coconut aroma up front (hmmm…ever had a Malibu and pineapple juice?).  Smooth chocolate.  A bit of lemon, very typical of Caol Ila.  Lightly floral and a fair infusion of menthol/eucalyptus.

Hot and biting on delivery.  Lemon sharp and anesthetizing (nearly lobotomizing, to be honest!).  Shimmering grains and sweet vanilla pulled young and lively from the oak.  Finishes surpringly rich in balance, and absolutely altogether pleasant.

Did I love it?  Nah.  Did I appreciate it?  Hell yes.  Surprising and enamoring.  And I gotta ask…have you ever bought an abv this high?!  Gawdamn, but this is ENORMOUS!


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

Caol Ila 18 y.o. Review

Caol Ila 18 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  90/100


Long days I’ve waited for this one.  I held off and held off.  Some reviews spoke of mediocrity and of this malt not adding much to the range that can’t be pipped with the flagship 12 y.o.  Hmmmm.  What the f*ck were they drinking?

Sadly, this expression is few and far between in Canadian stores.  In fact, I believe that what is still around today is simply the dusty ol’ dregs of previous allocations that for whatever reason never sold.  In one l’il neighborhood ma and pa shop I managed to find this one.

Caol Ila, by nature, is a fairly delicate spirit from Islay.  It may seem counter to intuition to refer to a heavily peated Islay malt as ‘delicate’, but think of it as a ‘Notre Dame’.  Beautiful and seemingly fragile, all buttressed and decked out in ornate gothic accoutrements…but still made of stone.  Not much different here.

I gotta say too…18 is a damn sexy age for Caol Ila.  There is a beautiful balance between vibrancy and maturity.

The nose boasts notes of something slightly ‘green’ (but frustratingly intangible and metaphorically elusive).  Some aloe and honeydew melon are well met by mild citrus and a brininess typical of Islay.  Fruits start to emerge at this age and the mild feintiness that accompanies the 12 y.o. has faded by this point.  Of course the smoke has also done the slow fade as well (though not a full retreat).

Delivery is great green fruit with a hint of smoke that wasn’t so prevalent on the nose.  Veers into green apple and peat from here before a vanilla oaky finale.  Light and satisfying.

As to those other reviews…

All I can say is…what were they thinking?  18 is a great age for Caol Ila.  Do not turn your back on this one if you can find it.


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

Would You Rather Spend The Night With A Bunch Of 18 Year Olds Or One 32 Year old?

Awkward is having your wife catch you with a sassy 18 year old.  Domestic nuclear winter is having her come home and find you messing around with nine 18 year olds at the same time.  Not that anyone would want to be in that situation.  Errr…ummm…

Ok, ok…listen up, boys.  They may be pretty…they may smell good…they may taste good…and they may not even be ‘out of your league’…but no 18 year old will ever give you what a stunning 32 year old can.  I promise.

Though usually I’d give you a few paragraphs of preamble before jumping in to the nitty gritty, this time let’s leave it up to the imagination…

Let me tell you a little about how this one goes.  First there was a fair-haired lass from Speyside…


Glenfiddich 18

43% abv

Nose:  Heather and gooey honey.  Big ol’ baskets of fruit and armfuls of flowers.  Creamy vanilla ice cream, drizzled in creme caramel.  Red apple.  Berries in cream.  Pancakes and syrup.  Oaky, but young and vibrant for 18 years.

Palate:  Smooth and unchallengingly sweet.  Creamy vanillins dance with dried fruit and crunchy apple.  Lovely really.  Almost refreshing.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s familiar and you can’t help but sneak a second peek.  Cute and red-apple-rosy-cheeked.  Probably dated the quarterback.  Do you have a chance?  Maybe.  Is she worth it?  Hmmmm…time will tell.


GlenDronach 18

46% abv 

Nose:  Heavy sherry, rich and sweet…could only be Oloroso.  Cherry and cocoa.  Cinnamon and gingerbread.  Vanilla.  Slight yeastiness.  Fruitcake, mild cigar leaf and deep plumminess.

Palate:  Slight bitterness, almost tannic.  Heavy raisin bread and rummy fruitcake.  Drying.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Bubbly and fresh, but…there’s a little more of a dark side here.  This is not vanilla sex.  This is jeans and cardigans by day…handcuffs by night.  There’s a sensibility and maturity here that tells you no one will ever know about this dark side but you.



Macallan 18

43% abv

Nose:  Rich and chewy sherry…but very soft.  Nutmeg and cream.  Muted cherry.  Toffee.  Heather.  Nearly faultless nose.

Palate:  Mildest of dried fruit.  Caramel.  Warm melted chocolate.  Oak.  Lasts none too long, but a beautiful top note and denouement.  Man…what exceptional balance.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This one is a princess.  She’s not in your bed ‘cause she wants to be.  She’s there ‘cause she’s slumming and looking for an experience.  Don’t get too settled…don’t fall in love.  You can’t afford the upkeep on this one.


Highland Park 18

43% abv

Nose:  Creamy honey and rich peat smoke.  Dusty, spicy vanilla.  Mild cigar.  Rich sweet butter.  A bouquet of soft fruit and barely seen floral notes.  Hint of dill.

Palate:  The delivery is unbelievably smooth and calculated. Rich wood smoke teases, then mellows out with sweet caramel notes

Thoughts & Impressions:  Messy-haired and ready for a pillow fight.  She’s not leaving till sun-up.  And that’s not ‘cause she wants to sleep.



Bunnahabhain 18

46.3% abv 

Nose:  Smoke and sherry.  Ashy peat.  Pear and sweet banana cream.  Some sort of orchard fruit.  Honey and vanilla.  Stunning interplay at work here.

Palate:  Gooey, chewy malt full of smoke.  Sherried honey oak and a complex tapestry of spritely fruits.   This is maturity and youthful zest in perfect harmony.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Just a down-home small town girl that everyone underestimates.  The thing is…she’s bloody brilliant at everything she does and no one who meets her can resist her.  This is a keeper, if only you were looking to settle down.


Talisker 18

45.8% abv 

Nose:  Yeah, baby…there’s the Talisker pepper!  Salt.  A peaty backbone.  Cinnamon and ginger.  Some kinda soft orange fruit.  Toblerone.  Warm leather.  An absolute classic on the nose alone.

Palate:  Pepper.  Surprisingly sweet and fruity.  Swirling ribbons of smoke.  Peat.  Faint notes of old sherry.  Such a phenomenal linger smoked green apple.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Yow!  She’s a spicy one.  Blonde and bold.  Fiery-tempered.  Full of personality.  Highly possible she’s also the love of your life.



Longrow 18

46% abv

Nose:  Prickly and peppery.  Hint o’ mint maybe.  Smoke and caramel.  Licorice.  Some salt and thick cream over blueberries.  Wee bit o’ peat, but not near what I’d generally expect from a Longrow.

Palate:  There’s the peat I expected on the nose.  Comes through with some spiced apples and smoke.  Lindt chocolate with chili.  Long, long finish.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The dark-haired younger sister of your girlfriend.  Sassier and miles more charming.  No, you’re not wrong…she is trying to seduce you.


Caol Ila 18

43% abv 

Nose:  Slightly ‘green’.  Honeydew melon.  Aloe.  Mild citrus.  Fruits are starting to come forward.  Salt.  Very light smoke.

Palate:  A little more smoke than on the nose.  Great green fruit delivery.  Lovely and uplifting.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She comes from the biggest house on the street.  Her parents have lots of money and drive brilliant cars. She’s the one everyone wants but are afraid to approach.  Shame, really.  She’s also a sweetheart, and easy to love.



Laphroaig 18

48% abv 

Nose:  Orange and chocolate.  Cedar.  Fruity.  Heavy vanilla and black licorice flavored jujubes.  Pear drops.  Sambuca and fruit bowl with dominant bananas.

Palate:  Poached and caramelized white fruits.  Floral smoke.  Some dark chocolate and Werther’s Originals.  Drying with tobacco and clean smoke.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This is a mysterious one.  Redolent of exotic and foreign perfumes.  Dark and alluring.  This is the Dashiel Hammett heroine seen through a haze in a dark and smoky bar.  You love her.  But can you handle her?




After a romp like that I promise you you’ll still be left wondering ‘what if?’  And further, that empty feeling won’t be sated until you finally spend a little time with the one that should have had your attention all along…


Springbank 32

46% abv

Nose:  Smoke and wax.  Coconut milk and soft pineapple juice.  Marmalade.  Vanilla and oak.  Some tame spices.  Becomes fruitier and fruitier over time.

Palate:  There’s the maturity.  Waxy…smoky and oaky.  Dried fruit…apricot maybe.  Creosote.  Gorgeous, gorgeous oak.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s what you’ve waited for.  Vibrant and sweet.  The older she gets, the more you love her.  Age has taken all of her best and given it just a little more brilliance by imparting a mature knowing.


barry's place pics 014

How can you possibly top her?  Simple…you can’t.  I’ll take my beautiful 32 year old over any 18 year old…any day.

Happy birthday, babe.  Love you.  Always have.


– Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt (except Caol Ila, courtesy of Pat)

Caol Ila 25 y.o. Review

Caol Ila 25 y.o.

58.4% abv

Score:  91/100


A nose to melt your heart and buckle your knees.  A palate to pucker your face and wait…what?  This is like falling asleep in the comfort of your own bed and waking up in a scuzzy brothel.  Both great, but for different reasons.  😉

I simply can’t wrap my thoughts around the unnerving disconnect between nose and palate on this one.  A truly great olfactory experience leads you to a slightly bitter and hoppy ride on the palate.  IPA meets malt whisky.  F*ck me, I’m stumped.

Ok…if you’re as unseated as I was, let me clarify.  This is a really good dram.  Well…quite good anyway.  Peat ages well.  Men bulge and women sag, but peat often mellows with grace.  One need look no further than the adoration heaped in buckets on our beloved Port Ellen (may she rest in peace).  The biting aggression and astringent notes of iodine and tar don’t necessarily shove off, but they do know when to back up a bit and allow some of the fruits to come forth again.

A couple dozen miles from the afore-mentioned Port Ellen we find Caol Ila; one of many thoroughbreds in the stables of Drinkmonster, Diageo.   In terms of pure volume, if not the number of expressions it produces, Caol Ila is Islay’s most prolific distillery.  Even so, official bottlings of Caol Ila with an age statement of anything beyond a dozen years are tough to find in these parts.

When the opportunity arose to cobble together a few OBs* of Caol Ila and assemble the troops for a range tasting, I was nearly salivating at the opportunity to taste this vintage.  Approaching a whisky with expectations this high is almost never a good idea.

The nose is smooth chocolate and vanilla, sweet melons and aged wood.  A bit of cherry, some mild pepper and very distant smoke.  In hindsight, I’m almost willing to go up a point or two based on the nose alone.  I’m a bit of a slow-go’er with whisky (well…until the alcohol sinks its teeth in and winds the gears a little tighter), so the nosing process alone can take quite some time before first sips.  This is a whisky that absolutely demands this dedicated time.

Then we get to the juice splashing across the tastebuds.  Hmm…tart and hoppy.  Not dissimilar to some of the milder India Pale Ales I’ve tried.  This is compounded by the absolutely teeth-smashing arrival (almost 60% at 25 years?!  Bloody hell!).  Skunky and weedy notes are very, very prevalent.  It is highly possible this was magnified by being tasted just behind the rather stunning 18 year old, in all it’s understated glory, but I rather think it is simply the nature of the beast.

Though far from divine, still an excellent malt.

* OB: Original Bottling


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

Caol Ila vs. The Collective – A True David and Goliath Tale*

(*In honour of Maltmonster and his ongoing crusade against the Empire.)

Caol Ila

Everyone wants to knock down the big guy.

With this mentality, and armed with metaphorical slingshot and an overly curious palate, the B-Team (part of the Collective) drew together in an attempt to bring down the mighty Goliath (Diageo).  This was not because we necessarily believed we could do it (let’s face it…Caol Ila is a damn fine drink, and we were tackling a damn fine lineup of OBs*), but we had to take a shot at laying out the big beast with a few well chosen words of disparagement if we could.

At this point I’ll take creative license and once more borrow a turn of phrase from revolutionary extraordinaire, Commandante Guevara:  “Little Davids strike hard and deep”.  On this night we were little Davids.  We went toe-to-toe with Goliath.  We held strong under the enormous might of the malt.  And fell.

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that though.

I take small comfort in knowing that:

a) As far as Goliaths go, there are none bigger than Diageo.

b) I already knew and loved Caol Ila.  (This was like getting beaten by your hero.  No real shame.)


c) We had a bloody great night of mates and drinks.

Sadly though, for those keeping score…

Goliath one…little Davids…zip.


One final sad bit of irony (kind of like an exoneration after the execution):  To ice this evening’s delicious little peat cake, we finished with a dram of Port Ellen 6th Release.  Yep…the distillery that DCL (Diageo) closed in order to keep Caol Ila flowing for use in blending purposes.  Hands down the winner of the night.  Sigh.  RIP Port Ellen.  RIP.


*(Original Bottlings)



Caol Ila Unpeated 10 y.o.

65.8% abv

Nose:  Completely unlike a single malt.  All thought this could have been a grain whisky.  Heavy rye notes.  Creamy.  Coconut and chocolate.  Slightly floral.  Hint of eucalyptus.

Palate:  Hot and biting (what did you expect at nearly 66%?).  Shimmering grains and a little fruit to tease.  Oaky.  Surprisingly rich and pleasant.

Finish:  Long and blazing.  Grapey.

Thoughts:  Decent balance.  Seems older than its years.


Caol Ila 12 y.o.

43% abv

Nose:  Wow.  What the hell?!  I love this dram, but holy feints, Batman!  Malty and iodine heavy.  Band-aids.  Peat and wet smoke.  Citrus.  Rubbery.  Smoked oysters.

Palate:  Subdued.  Peaty and sweet.  Smoked wood chips.

Finish:  Billows of smoke and young peat.  Tingly green apple skin and anise.  Looooooooooooong.

Thoughts:  In ordinary circumstances an exceptional malt for daily doses of smoke and peat, but in this line-up…left in the dust.  (But don’t worry, baby…I still love you!)


Caol Ila 18 y.o.

43% abv

Nose:  Some pleasant ‘green’ notes (not sure…just clean and pleasant).  Honeydew melon.  Mild citrus.  Aloe.  Fruity.  Salty.  The smoke has faded immensely by this age and the feintiness of the 12 y.o. is gone.

Palate:  Green fruit delivery.  Hint of smoke that was not prevalent on the nose.

Finish:  Light, fresh…and sadly…fleeting.  Not a long one, but dynamic and sweet.

Thoughts:  Absolutely the most pleasant surprise of the night.  Great dram.  If I was told it was 25 years old, I’d believe it.



Caol Ila 1996 Distiller’s Edition

43% abv

Nose:  BBQ sauce!  Chocolate and dark roast coffee bean.  Lemon and toasted woods.  Sweet and kinda winey.

Palate:  Smoke and iodine. Char.  Wine notes at first, but soon obliterated by smoke and tar.

Finish:  Tangy and lively.  Smoke…apple skins…sweetness.

Thoughts:  Tasty….closer to recent Ardbegs than Caol Ilas (Think Alligator).  Seems a wee bit bigger than 43% too.


Caol Ila 25 y.o.

58.4% abv

Nose:  Smooth chocolate and vanilla.  Melon and cherry.  Mature oak.  Mild pepper.  Distant smoke.

Palate:  Tart and almost hoppy.  Smoky and weedy.  Strong dark chocolate in the background.  And the arrival…absolutely teeth-smashing!

Finish:  Heat and sharpness all the way through, and even at the back end, despite its 25 runs through the seasons.  A long, long eve with this one.

Thoughts:  Huge disconnect between nose and palate.  Makes for a ruddy unbalanced go.  Still a great drink however.  The nose though…wow.



Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength

61.6% abv

Nose:  Smooooooooooth.  Buttery.  Smoky as the fires of hell.  Farmy and iodone heavy.  Citric.  Chocolate.  Cola with lime.  Wet leaves.

Palate:  Cocoa.  Mesquite.

Finish:  From here to eternity.  Peat and smoke this massive don’t vacate the premises until the morning after.  Thankfully.

Thoughts:  F*cking brilliant, and exactly as young peat should be dished up:  strong and bold.  Not unlike a natural Octomore (though slightly less muscle-y).


Caol Ila (A.D. Rattray) 22 y.o.

Willow Park Exclusive

57.7% abv

Nose:  Oh, yes!  Wow what a nose.  Eucalyptus and fruit.  Smoky and chocolate-rich.  Some nice baking spices too.  Somehow still mellow and showing very restrained peat.

Palate:  Smooth.  Waxy.  Choco and fruity.  Oak at just the right age.  Delicious and spectacular.  The perfect linger.  A date that stays through all the good bits but doesn’t overstay the welcome.

Finish:  All good.  Drying.  Typical Islay green apple ebb on this one.

Thoughts:  Best nose of the night.  Islay with age is nearing heaven.


So….weighing in:  A tie between 22 and 18.  25 just behind.  An honourable mention to the 10 y.o. Unpeated.



Thanks to all for your contributions, be they malts, pics, laughs or insight.  This is why we do this.  One of the most enjoyable (and surprising) tastings I can remember.  Cheers to ya!



(Tasting Notes:  Curt…with a line or two from The Collective)

(Photos:  Pat at

Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength Review

Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength

61.6% abv

Score:  91/100


On the windswept and storm battered shores of Islay a small peat fire smolders near the treeline.  The Sound of Islay smashes the rocky coasts of Islay and Jura, yet neither rain nor salty sea spray can douse this flame.  A quaich is passed around the fire from person to person.  The warming uisge beatha being sipped from the vessel, named for the rushing torrent which passes between the islands, is ‘Caol Ila’.
Are we on the same page now?
This whisky is quite simply one of the truest expressions of the Islay malt I have ever come across.  Intricate…delicate…immediately identifiable and ferociously intense.  The most challenging thing about this whisky is that even at cask strength of 61.6% abv, it retains that signature Caol Ila delicacy.

My initial impressions on the nose were how subtle this was.  On first pour I honestly could not believe this was over 60%.  The complex delivery of pepper and coffee, malted toffee and chocolate, iodine, salt and citrus is sallied forth on a bed of gorgeous peat smoke.  Discerning these notes takes time and patience in allowing the whisky to breathe.  The intensity slowly builds in the glass until finally it runs over, allowing hints as to just how immense this is.

Slow olfactory development aside, it absolutely explodes on the palate.  Now this is more along the lines of what I expected from an Islay malt at full volume.  This is like gargling diamonds; the utmost beauty but sharp enough to cut glass.  The flavors arrive in tendrils that tickle at the back of your throat before tickling your mind, all the while working to foil attempts at dissection.  Hints of smoked and salted beef…lemon pepper cedar-smoked fish…chocolate with chili pepper…iodine and peat smoke.  There’s a slightly malty edge too.

The finish is stunning, really.  Like nothing I’ve tried.  There are notes that make me think of a dawn fire, lingering with a beautiful burn and fading in a cherry citric barley denouement.

The sheer immensity of this one is mindblowing.  Something akin to pouring salt water over a peat fire to extinguish the flames.


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

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