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

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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!

Caol Ila 16yo 1977/1993 (58.6%, Cadenhead)

Almost a month ago I reviewed one of those beautiful tall green glass Cadenheads bottles. A Dufftown to be precise. But there were more of those on these pages. I remember a Tormore and a Pulteney. In the dungeons I found another one of those! So today it is time to do another one from the same series. I guess I have a soft spot for them. This time a Caol Ila from 1977 that they already decided to bottle in 1993.

Color: Gold

Nose: Ahhhh, nice creamy peat. Very vegetal and coastal and slightly fishy. Salty fish. It is sea spray in heavy winds. Very clean and warming. Not very animalesk as they (and I) tend to say. It does have a lot of peat but still I wouldn’t say that it is in your face peat. Tar, not so much, but I do get some rubber. Some cold dry smoked tea leaves (Lapsang Souchong). Lots of smoke actually and extremely nice salty driftwood that finishes off in toned down Coleman’s mustard powder. Classic Islay.

Taste: Very smoky attack and half sweet (perfect sweetness). Meaty, roasted pork maybe. It comes across as powdery and slightly soapy. Fruity, hints of peach and banana. Here the sweetness seems to me to be a little wild, animalesk. The taste is very typical for a Caol Ila. This was recognizable blind. This has a nice full body with a perfect sweetness (slightly acidic) that matches the toned down peat a lot, combined with the smoke…a winner. Macaroons (made with almonds) and a slightly bitter finish (from the wood) and overall a tad too simple for a score into the 90’s.

Well if you like your Islay Whisky smoky, that this is for you. It may look like something different but actually this is very smoky, very very smoky. The smoke is able to push the peat to the background. Last piece of advice, give it some time to breathe…

Points: 88