Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2017 (54.0%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301553, for Vinotek Massen Luxembourg, 210 bottles, 170927)

Funny how things can go. When I posted the review of Caol Ila #301535 a month ago, I didn’t even have this #301553. I have posted two Tamdhu’s, and I already was well underway with the next tandem of Malts, why not write some reviews in pairs, adding the possibility of comparison one to the other? Nope no spoiler alert needed, you’ll just have to wait and see what comes next. I can only reveal that the next tandem will make for a very interesting comparison. Next, the sound of the doorbell ringing…twice…because the postman always rings twice*, and she brings me my latest auction winnings. One of which is the sister cask of #301535: #301553. So with some further ado, I present you the Caol Ila that went to Luxembourg. Thus, here’s the final ado: Just like the other one, we know the exact distillation date: 21-02-2005 (back label), which is the same day as this one, so the distillate is exactly the same, but, (spoiler alert), the outcome isn’t ! We also know the exact bottling date: 07-08-2017 (printed on the glass), so this Malt is almost 12.5 years old, and aged for almost 25% longer than the previous one. Onwards with the review now Quill, stop your ado-ing!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft peat. Very perfumy, distant hint of coffee and plastics (only when freshly poured, the plastics will be gone soon). Big. Wood, mocha and milk chocolate. Warm. Underneath quite fruity and on top a breath of fresh cold air (after the rain). Moderate fatty peat, crushed beetles and some really nice smoky characteristics, almost not Caol Ila-like and to me this smells like an exceptional cask. Everything is in its right place, and it hits all the right spots. It is really wonderful already, complex and already shows some nice development in my glass. Initially quite sharp. Wood, but not your usual oak, but more like wood lying in a forest. Mild yellow fruits with a promise of fruity sweetness. Apples, mint and meat. In this version of Caol Ila there is this soft layer of smoke that always hangs over it, like smoke or clouds in the sky. Well balanced Malt. Smells more adult than the aforementioned sister cask, and that one already had a stunning nose. Since this is exactly the same distillate, did the 2.5 years more make such a difference or is there more to it? As Gordon & MacPhail already tried to tell us earlier, does the wood make the Whisky? I’m smelling this for a while now, without tasting it, and this really develops in my glass big time! If this is as good to taste as the nose is right now, than we’re in for a real treat. I’m giving this one much time, since this is a freshly opened bottle. What a wonderful, well aged nose this is. One might expected this to be from a similar barrel as its sister cask, but it doesn’t have to be. If so, these must have been some well selected staves then. A cooper with a keen eye, knowing what to pick? This one really smells a lot better, it really is remarkable. More details, better defined and better development. Where #301535 dulled down when smelling for a while, and remember, it was a good one to boot, this #301553 just never stops performing. Amazing!

Taste: Wow, initially very soft on entry (the other one was softer and definitely soapier, here most, not all, of the soapy bit is replaced by a sweet fruity bit). Peppery and spicy smoke and strong going down, and then turning soft again, and again sweet. Sweet cardboard and paper notes. White pepper and yellow fruits. Sweetish and cold ashes from the fireplace come first. Nutty and fruity, but as I said, lots of ashes. I have to give it some more time, but it seems to me to be different from its sister cask, it is also a bit different than I expected considering the nose. Surely this must be from another line of Barrels? The middle part is fruity and accessible, but towards the finish more ashes, paper and a wood-bitter note. Although the finish is of medium length. It is warming, somewhat soapy (at times) and leaves for a nice, nutty and woody aftertaste. Much better balanced than its sister cask if you ask me. Benefits from the warmth of your hand when breathing, but never really lives up to the amazing level of the nose, but it is still better than its aforementioned sister cask. Especially if you warm this one up in your hands.

When this was sold in Luxembourg it was quite cheap especially considering the quality this Malt possesses. I paid a bit more than the initial price at auction, but still feel I got a good deal. Later I found out that the quality of this particular example is well known in circles of anoraks and aficionado’s and bids can be even (much) higher than my final bid. First of all, this Luxembourg edition surpasses the already good nose of the Belgium edition. It is quite amazing in fact, look how the nose changes and even unlocks another dimension after a few sips. In the taste Luxembourg seems a bit sharper and more complex, less soapy with even more ripe fruits. After #301535, I was not sure about getting a similar bottling, 84 points is good, but not that good. I read somewhere, this one was better and in the end I couldn’t help myself. If given the chance, I bid on two, and that way often securing just one or none even, because one or more of you often overbids me in the last minute, but this time no one did and I got both. In hindsight: Yey!

Amazing how medicinal the empty glass smells the next day. Extreme. The empty glass of the other one smells different. Both seem to have some pine resin, which wasn’t there before. The empty Luxembourg one smells more like a sauna now. How’s that for complexity.

Points: 88 (the nose, if scored by itself, would score well into the 90’s)

* Final ado: I was lying earlier, from where I’m sitting, I can’t even hear the doorbell, the sound is too soft.

Caol Ila 10yo 2005/2015 (55.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel #301535,for Whisky Warehouse Belgium, 233 bottles, AE/JACE)

Another bottling for Belgium, what’s up, Belgium! Not all that long ago, not a lot of Caol Ila was available, and look at it now. With every turn of your head, if you are in the right place that is, there is a bottle of Caol Ila of some sorts available. Lots of OB’s to choose from, an even more IB’s. So when Caol Ila is this easy to get, with so much variation, and often fairly priced, and with nice quality, I made a deal with myself to always have a Caol Ila open on my lectern. When the “Milano” bottling was finished, I quickly replaced it with this “Belgium” one and opened it immediately. Both examples were bottled by Gordon & Macphail, but where the “Milano” was reduced, to keep the price down I guess, this “Belgium” is not. (Cask Strength hurray!) The last time I checked, Belgium is also a slightly bigger place than Milano…

Color: White wine, a bit pale though, for a first fill after 10 years.

Nose: More fruity than peaty. Lovely and elegant nose. Very fruity (initially more acidic than sweet), and fresh. Excellent. Mixed in with the fruit is a nice woody and light smoky note, but where is the peat? In a way, this is soapy and floral. Nothing bad though, there won’t be any foam to come out of your nose. Ripe yellow fruits and some smoke. Hints of vanilla from the American oak. Also a slightly spicy and this light woody note. Wonderful stuff. The smell carries a promise of a sweetish Malt. I did already mention ripe fruit, didn’t I, but there is also this note of overripe fruit, the kind that attracts insects, just before it turns bad and rots. Again, in this case, this is not a bad thing. More soft powdery vanilla from the oak. It exerts itself some more. Hidden away in the fruit and smoke, there is this floral type of peat. I recognize it now. In comes this meaty note as well. Nice development in the glass. Whiskies like this fly a bit under the radar, but are actually a lot of fun. Just a Bourbon barrel or hoggie, ten years of time, and there is a lot of beauty to behold in the details of such a Malt. It doesn’t always have to be a big Sherried Malt. Good stuff, this Caol Ila.

Taste: Sweet on entry, and here it starts out with peat. Go figure. It’s big, sweet, fruity and peaty. Warming and spicy going down. Spicy wood and dust. Cardboard and dry vanilla powder. Much peatier and smokier than the nose was. The nose and taste might differ, but work together well. Lets call it well balanced. Less balanced though is the rest of the body and the finish. The entry and the first half of the body are great, big bold, very aromatic. Second half is a bit less interesting. The balance starts suffering, and the initially well integrated aromas come undone. Turns a bit ashy, which also highlights the cardboard aroma mentioned earlier. When the finish starts, I feel this is the right time to take another sip. Something a bit off there. The wood starts to show some acidity (and more bitterness), that doesn’t fit the peaty fruit that is so wonderful in the start. It feels like the roof of my mouth contracts. So, first half of the Malt, excellent, second half, the “players” seem to lose their synergy a bit. Bugger.

The label states the distilling date to be 21/02/2005 yet only mentions a bottling month: February 2015. However, the glass bottle itself carries the bottling code AE/JACE, and, how convenient, a date: 23/02/2015, so yes, 10 years old (barely). Way less peaty then the previously reviewed Belgian offering though.

Points: 84

Caol Ila 10yo 1996/2006 (57%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cask #732-735)

Here is an old one from the dungeons of Master Quill’s castle. (Independent) Caol Ila #11, yes another Independently bottled Caol Ila. The eleventh already on these pages, and I have yet to review an official bottling of the stuff. It’s not as if there aren’t any around now, aren’t there. Although it is a sunny day today, the nights are still cold, so no problem whatsoever to pick me another peaty dram. This time we’ll have a look at a Caol Ila bottled by independent bottler Berry Brothers & Rudd. Although it was distilled back in 1996, it is a mere 10 years old. Young Islay Whisky with a healthy ABV. I expect a nice peaty Whisky. I remember a 1996, which was also 10yo, bottled by Cadenhead’s which I liked very much. I have one of those lying around, so if this Caol Ila turns out to be great, maybe I’ll break out that one as well. Or is it time for an OB? Only time will tell.

Color: White Wine, straw.

Nose: Peaty, but in a christmassy way. Dried orange skins with cloves. Spicy. Otherwise clean. Slightly sweet, aromatic, yet light. Soft wood, almost like cardboard. Definitely refill Bourbon, and the color shows for it. Hints of pepper and overall very friendly. I no way does this smell like a Whisky with lots of alcohol or peat. Appetizing. Next the usual suspects when reviewing Whisky aged in refill American oak. Soft wood, butter, creamy and vanilla. Hints of coal and dust. What’s especially nice is the peppery bit. It suits the nose well, pulling it more to the middle, away from too much creaminess or sweetness.

Taste: soft spices, hints of cannabis and crushed beetle. I only got cannabis in some Bunnahabhains up ’till now. Nice balance. Wow, very soft indeed. Creamy and ashy. Here the ashes replaces the pepper from the nose. Nice green notes as well. Even an Islay profile like this, seems to be already gone from modern peated Whiskies. It doesn’t smell like a high ABV. Whisky, but it also doesn’t taste like one. The profile is so soft and warming. The peat is soft as well, so no heavy hitting Islay here. Spicy, green, ashy and now also fruity. There is an acidic note and the fruit closes to the aroma I pick up on is apple. Green apple, but also cooked apple. Apple sauce. However, this Whisky has also a soapy trait, like cold dishwater at the end of the body, well into the finish. This brings the whole down a notch. There is this brief moment I have to “get through” before the finish picks itself up for the very rewarding and warming aftertaste. This Whisky has a summery feel to it. Countryside in the sun, with fruity and floral bits thrown in.

Amazingly soft and totally different from what I expected. No heavy peat, no heavy alcohol, and not big at all, but friendly stuff, with a kind heart. Smells great. This has a lot of nice and almost rare aroma’s to it. It seems like something distilled longer back than 1996. Yes I’ve got it, this is a melancholic Whisky, which is able to move you, when remembering the carefree good ol’ days…

Points: 85

Caol Ila 11yo 2004/2016 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for Milano Whisky Festival 2016 & Bar Metro, Refill American Hogshead #306662, 348 bottles)

Once nowhere to be found, now maybe one of the most bottled Islay Malts today. Caol Ila. For me at least, Caol Ila is always a nice Whisky which also ages well. This is a pretty young one, bottled less than four months shy of its 12th birthday. In fact, this Caol Ila has matured for precisely 4.275 days. It was bottled for the Milano Whisky Festival & Bar Metro in 2016, I picked this up at a well-known German auction and didn’t have to pay much, nor did I have a lot of competition for this bottle, so maybe there’s something I should have known? At the same auction I picked up its sister-bottling from Glen Elgin bottled for the same festival in 2016 and didn’t have to pay much for that one either. I bought these two, because I found out I had a lot of cask strength bottlings on my lectern, so I wanted to buy some bottles, to start an evening with. A bit reduced to work up an appetite. Gordon & MacPhail have (or had) lots of casks from the 3066XX-range, bottled in many different series; “Cask Strength”, “Reserve”, “Spirit of Scotland” and more “Exclusive’s” as well, so there is enough around for comparison. For instance, Refill American Hogshead #306664 was bottled for Maison du Whisky @ cask strength in the Exclusive range. By the way, some of the casks from this range are Sherry casks. Let’s find out now if this hoggie is any good.

Color: Straw.

Nose: Quite restrained. No big smoky peaty notes. Fresh, zesty but also a bit tame (at first), as in sweet barley with a wee bit of soft peat only. When the flow rate of air through the nose has been increased, lots more seems to be emerging. A prickly sensation awarded to a smoky note. Burning newspaper, and even more earthy peaty notes, still restrained though. Next more creamy notes of vanilla and pudding. Well balanced although I’m not sure yet about its complexity. Hints of sugared, or sweet, yellow fruits. Warming toffee and more soft barley, marzipan and almonds. Even a little bit of honey. All very restrained without it being closed. Dusty. All aroma’s work together nicely. Good balance. A cold and misty day with hardly any wind. As this Whisky picks up air, the good balance even gets better, definitely the forté of this Whisky, and it gets bigger, bolder and more aromatic as well. Quite a surprise. The longer it stays in my glass and I don’t hurry it, the better it gets. More of the fruity notes emerge and the marzipan, very nice. Some wood and ashes as well. So this needs a bit of air and patience. If you hurry this one, you’ll miss the reward of this Whisky.

Taste: Sweet, fruity and smoky, with a funky red fruit acidity on top (it may could do without). Yes, peat as well. Slightly too watery (at first), but as I wanted a “starting Whisky” this does the job quite well. Very nice fruity sweetness, the sweetness of ripe fruits rather than plain old sugar. Very balanced again. Milk chocolate, chocolate mousse, mocha and a tiny hint of coffee with lots of milk. Mint. Just like the nose, the sweetness moves into the territory of vanilla and pudding retaining the minty note. More toffee, caramel and mocha. Chocolate cake, custard, crème brûlée even, with the added bonus of peat, charcoal and ashes. Finally a green, leafy note. Earthy.

The finish is warming yet falls a bit short and I can’t say the wonderful balance reaches the aftertaste. A slightly acidic note peels of from the rest of the Whisky. Where the finish was somewhat short, the aftertaste recovers winning it a bit back for the team. Nevertheless a very nice Caol Ila again, and this probably its sisters as well, deserve your money. I for one, will try to find a G&M 2004 cask strength version from such a hogshead again.

Points: 86

Caol Ila 1991/2000 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)

This Caol Ila is one I just cracked open, literally. It is an oldie I bought some 15 years ago. Sure it is a reduced independent bottling, and it didn’t cost much, but its a Caol Ila and its bottled by Wilson & Morgan, who have bottled a lot of good Caol Ila’s, just have a look at this 24yo expression distilled in 1975, to name but one. The cork broke on this one. This time it didn’t only just break off, it seemed to disintegrate completely. Vaporized into thin air, so to speak. Luckily most of the crumbs were easy to fish out of the bottle and hardly anything sank to the bottom. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an ode to the screw cap, now you know why… Karma strikes again.

Caol Ila 1991/2000 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Ahhh, right after pouring the room filled with the smell of beautiful peat. Nothing harsh and rough, but smooth and refined. Nice, clean and soft and aromatic peat. Helped along with a citrussy fruitiness. Well-balanced and much nicer to smell than the Kilchoman Spring I reviewed (much) earlier. Smells quite sweet. Leafy and chewy. Dry vanilla powder, maybe even some powdered coffee-creamer. Some hidden tar, but also an expansion on the fruits. We have hints of sweet, ripe pineapple, mango and banana, mixed with vanilla from the wood, and the wood itself somehow didn’t make it. Crushed beetle and some distant dried basil in the background. Remarkable. Ohhh yes, and some bonfire smoke. I nearly forgot to write that down! I have to say it again, well-balanced stuff and remember, this isn’t even ten years old, which today has become standard.

Taste: Quite sweet on entry. Sugar water. Syrup. Very fruity and a little hoppy bitterness. Big and chewy. Sweet, funky and nutty peat. Not at all earthy. Nice touch of smoke, but not much. It’s like all the aromas are fighting over front row seats. As mentioned, there is a lot of sweetness, that exerts itself right from the start, but these is a lot of fruitiness as well. The Whisky is also nuts. I mean, full of nuttiness. All big and all upfront. I always get some coffee in good Caol Ila’s, and this time is no exception. Sweet coffee, with a tad of toffee in the coffee. It’s not stong black coffee but rather a sweet Cappuccino or Latte Macchiato. Underneath a nice, herbal and lightly bitter undertone (from oak). Long finish and similar aftertaste. Leaves me behind with salty lips. Good Whisky! I hope todays young Caol Ila’s are just as good and affordable.

Ohhh these were the days, where young Whisky seemed better than it is these days, or maybe I’m biased.  This is a very tasty Caol Ila, not overly complex and one I’ll come back to again and again. This will not take years to empty, which it usually takes me, since there are lots of open bottles around the place…

Today there is much ado about young Whiskies, especially NAS Whiskies. It seems NAS isn’t really accepted by everybody. It sometimes is viewed as a devilish plan selling us inferior and immature Whisky (sometimes at a premium price). On the other hand, when distilleries and independent bottlers alike, just mention an age statement of a young whisky there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore, since you know what you’re getting. Just look at the recently released Lagavulin 8yo and compare that to the plethora of NAS Taliskers (also owned by Diageo) and NAS Laphroaigs (not owned by Diageo), which seem to be under par and the fantasy names do not help the acceptance process of the (educated) public, or those who have seen different times buying Single Malt Whiskies.

For the fun of it, let’s compare this “9yo” Caol Ila to the NAS Talisker ‘Neist Point’. Smelling the Talisker after the Caol Ila, it is remarkable how much the Talisker smells of grainy immature Whisky and even shows some whiffs of new make! Much more than when smelled by itself alone. Although having new make in the mix is illegal, since Whisky must be at least 3 years old, there must be a big component of very young Whisky in the Talisker. The Caol Ila behaves like a 9yo, nice, well made, good cask, but lacking some of the complexity often brought to a Whisky by extensive maturation. In the taste it is noticeable that the Talisker has some more happening than just the new make, and young Whisky, alone. Thank God almighty. The Talisker needs some air to get the new make out, after that it is not bad, not bad at all. Sweet as well and buttery. The taste of the Talisker grows on you, even though the new make never really leaves the scene. A draw, or is it? Considering the amount of money Diageo wants for the Talisker (in some markets), the jury made a unanimous decision in favour of the Caol Ila. [sound of judge’s hammer on wood]

Points: 85

Caol Ila 11yo 1994/2005 (58.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, First Fill Sherry Butts #12423 & #12424)

I actually picked the 1990 Caol Ila and this 1994 Caol Ila, to compare Bourbon cask matured and Sherry cask matured young Caol Ila’s. However I don’t think the 1990 was aged in a Bourbon cask, but rather in a Fino or similar type of Sherry cask. However, American oak is probably the wood of choice for the 1990, and maybe the comparison with the two types of Sherry is maybe even a more interesting one. I’m a bit on thin ice here, since nowhere it is said in what kind of cask the 1990 has matured, nor is there any mention for both of what type of Sherry previously inhabited the casks.

Caol Ila 11yo 1994/2005 (58.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, First Fill Sherry Butts #12423 & #12424)Color: Slightly orangey gold.

Nose: Fatty and funky Sherry. Raisins and wax. Stale rainwater and some muddy peat. Peaty clay, not very fatty or round, as some might say. The raisins do remind me a bit of a Highland Park bottled by Gordon & MacPhail as well. Although that one is much, much darker, it is the same raisiny aroma. Probably the same kind of Sherry. Wood spice and salty smoke. Nice creamy wood, smoky licorice. Perfumy sandalwood and a buttery acidity. Creamy and slightly meaty. Burning candles. Enough happening in this one. Vanilla comes late, it is just overpowered by so many other elements in the nose. A nose from an old house at christmas.

Taste: Initial sweetness with some toffee. Lots of wood, slightly dry, but it is soothing and not harsh nor sour. Some sweet licorice again, with some dusty spice and Cappuccino. After the dusty part comes a woody and slightly acidic wine-note. A fruity acidity that doesn’t fit this Whisky. It makes all the tastes up ’till now, fight each other, instead of becoming a band of brothers. It is obvious that this Sherry didn’t integrate that well. Dries the lips. Finish has only a medium length and quite bit of an unbalanced aftertaste, an apply acidity, which is not entirely tasty if you ask me. The aftertaste ruins it a bit for me. I definitely prefer the previous Caol Ila.

It almost seems as if you can’t go wrong with Caol Ila. Let’s say this is from a Oloroso Sherry or even a PX, both are considered somewhat “normal” Sherries, by wine-people, and considered of a lesser quality then a Sherry that has matured under flor, a “hat” of fungus that grows on the surface of the Sherry. The hat prevents contact with air. The G&M Caol Ila I reviewed the day before yesterday, I believe came form such a Sherry. For me that is the superior one of the two. I do usually prefer Oloroso ageing, especially when it is a Whisky that was aged a while back. Good Oloroso Sherry matured in European oak, instead of the American oak preferred by the Sherry industry these days. Vanilla, people, Sherry drinkers prefer a more creamy Sherry these days. European oak also seems to need longer ageing, to deal with the tannins, and that is time we don’t seem to have…

Points: 80

Caol Ila 13yo 1990/2003 (55.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, Cask #1114, 283 bottles, JC/GF)

I got up this morning seeing that it is a nice and sunny day, just with a chill in the air. Ice on the windscreen, and couldn’t be bothered de-icing the car, so I did the school run on foot. Luckily no wind so it wasn’t so bad. Walking towards the winder I did pick up the inspiration to review some Islay Whisky. Yeah! Rummaging a bit in the sample bank I dug up two Islay babies, that will together well, or make for interesting comparison. Once not so readily available, today impossible to miss. Caol Ila is the name and peat is the game. I love Caol Ila because it ages really well. So lets educate myself and have a look at a younger example of Caol Ila. This 1990 Caol Ila was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in 2003. The outturn was 283 bottles at cask strength, and considering the color and wood management policies at G&M, I would be surprised if this wasn’t matured in a remade Bourbon Hogshead although a Fino or Manzanilla Sherry hogshead is also possible. Two of its sister casks were also bottled in 2003: #1115 (JC/AEG) and # 1116 (JC/CEB). More sister casks exist. In 2011/2012 at least three more were bottled: #1120 (for La Maison Du Whisky, France), #1121 and #1122 (both for Van Wees, The Netherlands).

Caol Ila 13yo 1990/2003 (55.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, Cask #1114, 283 bottles)Color: White wine.

Nose: Dry and smoky peat, with an underlying sweetness. So it’s not the fatty peat you sometimes get. This is drier and a wee bit more spicy. Cow organics in cold weather. With hints of hay and quite some buttery and lemony notes as well as hints of shiny aromatic apple skin (not acidic). Some flowery elements were present in the peat, lavender as well as there is some crushed beetle (sounds strange doesn’t it?). Vanilla and more creamy, fresh buttery notes. The wood smells a bit meaty and well aged, so not young and sappy. Hints of cured meat. Smells a bit toned down and maybe older than it actually is. Very well-balanced. More about fresh and fruity notes than heavy peat. Accessible. Garden bonfire burning off old branches combined with powdered vanilla and powdered coffee creamer. It’s not really a big Whisky, but a well constructed one. Wonderful nose, especially by the wonderful vanilla and floral nose. I would say Fino Sherry hogshead. made from American oak.

Taste: More peat and quite sweet, which works quite well this time. There is enough going around to balance the sugary sweetness out. Burned leaves and a lot of vanilla and clotted cream, custard, pudding. These notes are quite big and it takes a while for those to pass, to let a more paper and (spicy) wood note through. Distinct hints of soap. It breaks down a bit in the finish, with a creamy note that goes down my throat, but in the same time a more acidic wood note stays behind in the roof of my mouth, the soap also has some staying power under my tongue. These flaws are easily forgivable, looking at the whole. Good Caol Ila.

This went under the radar a bit when it came out, as well as its sister casks, but what a treat this is. Definitely American oak and probably Sherry that aged under flor instead of Bourbon. All aroma’s work together well. I wish I had more of this, but at least I had the experience of a whole bottle of this. Worth seeking out at auctions, but a lot of it was probably drunk back then.

Points: 87

Caol Ila 21yo 1981/2002 (58.2%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #465, 364 bottles)

Just recently I reviewed a 21yo Caol Ila from Signatory Vintage Cask #467. When rummaging through some sample bottles I collected over the years one of its sister casks popped up. This time it is Cask #465. How’s that for luck. And as luck would have it, I still have a wee bit of cask #467 left, so a comparison can’t be avoided. Again no picture available for this particular cask, seems to me this is very obscure stuff. I’ll use the ol’ picture of cask #470 again. So without further ado…

Caol Ila 22yo 1981/2004 (59.0%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #470, 281 bottles)Color: Light gold. The color of this one is ever so slightly lighter than cask #467.

Nose: Grassy and vegetal. Citrussy. Fresh and actually young smelling. Even the wood smells sappy. Powdery. Hints of soft, fatty, and creamy smoke. Appetizing. Milk chocolate (with sugared citrus in it) and a tiny hint of latte. All very friendly smelling, and although this is not a heavily peated Caol Ila it is very attractive. Good balance.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. prickly smoke with some late development in the licorice department. Light licorice. also a tiny hint of cannabis, so probably a lot was allocated to the Netherlands. Alcohol and again a small hint of coffee and fern. Milk chocolate again. Small amount of woody bitterness starts the finish and lingers on the back of my tongue. Not the most expressive of Caol Ila’s but quite nice in its own way. Not a very long finish. The high strength is obvious on the tongue, but not a lot of aroma is left in my throat. It’s not what you would expect from a Caol Ila like this, but when you let that go, it’s pretty rewarding.

Comparing the two, the noses of the two are obviously pretty similar. Cask #465 has the better nose, more balance to it. Aroma’s seem to fit together better and has more depth and complexity. Still the difference is not great. The taste is very similar too. Cask #467 seems to be somewhat more raw at first, and less balanced.After a while it is also softer and sweeter in the finish. Cask #465 is for me the better pick of the two, with even a slightly better finish, so overall it performs better. Still they are really twins and the differences are in the details and easier to pick up on when doing a H2H.

Points: 86

Thanks go out to my mate Michel for providing this sample (a long time ago).

Caol Ila 21yo 1981/2002 (58.2%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #467, 361 bottles)

Ahhh, a dumpy Signatory Vintage bottle, nice! Maybe not thát long ago that this was bottled, but an oldy in today’s market nevertheless. This is Whisky I grew up with. Can you imagine, shops full of bottles like this. Today a fairly rare site. I couldn’t find a picture though of the reviewed bottle (cask #467). Pictured here is a similar bottle drawn from cask #470. The right bottle should look similar, maybe the box had a different colour.

Caol Ila 22yo 1981/2004 (59.0%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #470, 281 bottles)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fatty old peat. Toned down, laid back and elegant. Quite light. Notes of fern and dry grass. This doesn’t leap out of the glass as your regular Sauvignon Blanc. One to savor right from the start though. Typical Caol Ila coffee I always tend to smell in late 70’s early 80’s Caol Ila distillates. No heavy peat, no heavy smoke. Quite an a-typical Islay Whisky.

Taste: Sweet, herbal and grassy. Short fresh attack, clean at first but not for long. After a few seconds a wave of licorice root and primarily loads of ashes. Crushed beetle. Not so much peaty yet. Extremely warming. This is what you want in your hip flask standing on the beach in a storm. (Apart from a young and feisty Islay Whisky that is).

For a 1981 Caol Ila it ís lacking a bit of complexity. I know examples which had some more fatty and funky peat in them. Good but not as good as Caol Ila from these days can be.

Points: 85

Thanks go out to my mate André for providing this sample.

Caol Ila 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 294 bottles)

Next up is this Douglas Laing bottling of a 1974 Caol Ila and most probably from a Hogshead, but you never know. 1974 is a pretty special year for Caol Ila because from 1972 through 1974 the whole of the distillery was rebuilt, completely! Everything, apart from the warehouses, was demolished and completely rebuilt. In 1974 six new stills were installed, so here we can have a taste of the first whisky that ran off the stills in 1974. This is the first of the “modern” Caol Ila as we know it today. Is it new and improved?

Color: Gold

Nose: A very refined yet fatty peat, quite sweet and floral. Fantastic organics! Grassy, lemongrass actually, in perfect harmony with excellent (fishy) peat. Do I detect some tarred rope? Pretty light for a Caol Ila, but so elegant and fresh, it does have some sea breeze to it. Oil spill on water. Beautiful bonfire smoke and leafy. Nice elegant wood. Bushes in summer in the rain. Nothing oomph or in your face, this a very refined Islay Whisky. I already like this very much, but the nose just keeps developing…

Taste: Again quite sweet, light peat and clay. A little bite from the smoke, than the wood and the smoke again (in that order), after that slightly sweet and a thin palate of yellow fruits. Very balanced. Lemonade fruitiness combined with fatty elegant peat (again) and nice smoke. The saltiness these old Caol Ila’s often have is absent from this 1974. medium finish that gets thinner, which underlines the brittleness of this malt. Old age. Still it is so good, the initial taste and the body are that nice, that I don’t care about the weaker, but not short finish. This is a lovely dram.

What a fantastic Caol Ila this is. Sure Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Laphroaig and Lagavulin all have fantastic old drams, and are big names, but those seventies and early eighties Caol Ila’s are right up there with them. How nice Douglas Laing had a 1974 Caol Ila, a shame only that it was only one cask… I would have wanted more.

Points: 91

Thanks Andries for the sample!