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