Three Old Dusty Cadenhead Caol Ilas

Very much following in the footsteps of Ben Cops, here’s three old and delicious Caol Ila bottlings from WM Cadenhead.

I’ve been saving the 30 year old for my 30th birthday and now that the bottle’s open it’s time to revisit last year’s 29 year old and get stuck into a taster of this year’s 31 year old release (again, thank you to Mr Cops for this!).

All three are full term Bourbon cask matured and great examples of how lovely Caol Ila can be when well-aged.

Caol Ila 29

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 16.08.10Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 55.5%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Sweet smoke, cloudy apple juice, paprika, Easter Egg chocolate, damp wood, tangerine and fresh honeydew melon.

Palate: Very rich and oily. Bitter oranges, poached pears, more cloudy apple juice, with a gentle woody smoke rising through the fruit.

Finish: Becomes waxy and spicy, with a Brazil nut undertone. Extraordinarily long and satisfying. Like a deep-muscle massage for your mind. It unlocks something in the brain that leads to fits of grinning, like some kind of serene whisky Nirvana.

Verdict: I love this whisky so much. A really active cask (I think a first fill) has given this a lot of punchy flavour. The citrus smoke element of Caol Ila has moved from lemon notes in the younger bottlings to orange and melon flavours. Utterly glorious.

 

Caol Ila 30

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 16.08.24Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 56.2%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fragrant lime skin, earthy moss, sawdust, wood lacquer, sherbet, vanilla, orange pith, candy brittle.

Palate: Gloriously sweet shopp-y. Salty toffee, liqourice torpedos and sour zingy sherbet with a whole lot of fruit on the side – melon rind, guava, strawberries and tangerines. After the fruit there’s drying sweet tobacco leaf and a little Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons.

Finish: Oak and black pepper with wafts of soft wood smoke and black tea. That Brazil nut taste is there again, too.

Verdict: Different to the 29. Still fruity and smoky but there’s none of that cloudy apple juice or pickle juice character. Still wonderfully balanced between the fruit and zesty smoke. Elegant, juicy, delicious.

 

Caol Ila 31

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 08.55.02Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2015, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 54.3%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Spiced custard, wax crayons, marker pens, salty dust, marmalade, candied lemon and lime.

Palate: Zingy, sour and oaky with bitter pepper and more fresh citrus. Sherbet, chalky refresher sweets, green apples and redcurrants.

Finish: Mellows after the peppery bite of the palate leaving a long and lingering taste of ripe pears and smooth, buttery oak.

Verdict: I think this one’s got a lot more tanin from the wood but it settles down nicely to a lovely and unusual finish. The 29 and 30 had more going on in the middle but this is all about the long end.

Summary

Three fabulous whiskies here – really showing off both what Caol Ila can do over time, and what good cask selection you see from WM Cadenhead.

For me, the winner’s got to be the 29 – that juicy, punchy, fruity quality is rowdy compared to the more elegant dust of the 30 and 31 but it absolutely charms my palate.

The lesson? Taste old Caol Ila as often as you can – the chances are that you’ll be delighted.

Andy’s Pick ‘n’ Mix

Thanks to Andy for these samples. I drained these ages ago but I’ve finally typed up my tasting notes…!

Producer: Hamish Robertson & Co
ABV: 43%
Age: 5 years old
More Info: Master of Malt

These are always fun – a blended whisky from the 1960s. You can find bottles like this on a lot of auction sites and they tend to sell for a lot less than you might imagine, taking a backseat to all the high flying single malts.

Nose: Malty caramel, candle wax,  menthol, and pears. A gentle floral edge develops after a while.

Palate: Syrupy! Very rich and rounded malty flavour with more menthol and a little pepper mint.

Finish: Quite short with black pepper.

This, as with many blends, is all about the core malt flavour. It’s soft and sweet, like nectar with no hard edges or dominating notes. Very drinkable and smooth, much moreso than modern low-end blends where the malt content has dropped dramatically since the 1960s.

 

Royal Culross 8 year old Blended Malt 1972

Distillery: Glen Scotia
ABV: 43%
Distilled: 1972
Age: 8 years old
More Info: WhiskyBase

Don’t know a great deal about what’s in this, besides it being put together by the Glen Scotia distillery in Campbeltown in the seventies…

Nose: Orchard smells of ripe apples and pears, with desserty notes of custard. There’s a dessert-wine character to the aroma too – sweet juicy grapes.

Palate: Very appley. Tart and crisp cider, with cinnamon spice and ripe barley grain. Reminiscent of Irish whiskey, with a gristy, unmalted barley note.

Finish: Toasted nuts and warm oak with a lingering apple edge and a touch of pepper spice.

I wonder if there’s any Macallan in this… Very nice malt, and quite three dimensional for a blend.

 

Longmorn 20 Year Old Single Cask

Distillery: Longmorn
Bottler: Whisky Broker
Bottled: 2012, Distilled: 1992
ABV: 55%
Age: 20 years old
Cask: Sherry Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Good old Whiskybroker. You can get some very nice whiskies (by the cask, as well as by the bottle) at very reasonable prices indeed. This one’s a sherried Longmorn.

Nose: Orange candy, pine resin, pencils, barley mash, freshly ground hazelnuts and a pinch of ginger.

Palate: Crystalised white grape sugar, malty bread, and toasted oak with rising nutmeg and anise spices. Becomes drying and fruitier with water – a plummy note comes through.

Finish: Tingly and peppery.

Great nose on this, and the palate gets better with water. At 55% ABV it’s a little too fierce but maybe watered down to 45%-50% and it’s perfect.

 

Springbank 19 year old (Master of Malt)

Distillery: Springbank
Bottler: Master of Malt
Bottled: 2012, Distilled: 1993
ABV: 55.2%
Age: 19 years old
More Info: WhiskyBase

I love an indy bottling of Springbank! MoM’s single cask bottlings usually sell out quickly and have a good reputation for quality cask choice.

Nose: Sticking plasters, cough syrup, and leather with smoked caramel and pebble beach.

Palate: Oily, sweet, and salty with rich malt and cinder toffee. Cinnamon in custard, with a slow-rising, lip-tingling chilli oil burn.

Finish: Oak and smoke, with hazelnuts.

Balls to salted caramel latté – if you want an oily, malty, coastal zing then this is the whisky for you. My word, do they know how to do whisky at Springbank. Another cask well chosen, chaps!

 

Caol Ila G&M 2001 Cask Strength

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 2001
Bottler: Gordon & Macphail
ABV: 59.2%
Age: 12 years old
Cask: Refill sherry butts
More Info: WhiskyBase

Gordon & Macphail have a ridiculously large catalog of whiskies. One of Scotland’s oldest independent bottlers, they’re still owned and managed by the Urquhart Family. Well worth a look at their offerings, and the prices are usually very reasonable.

Nose: Beach bonfire, salty clifftops, sawdust, motor oil, buttery kippers.

Palate: Coal dust, cough drops, with custard creams and sweet milky fudge.

Finish: Salty black liquorice.

Yummy – great coastal peat notes here. No citrus, which is unusual for Caol Ila. Tasting blind I think I’d have pegged this as an Ardbeg – that coal dust flavour’s really full-on, like you’ve actually licked a coal scuttle.

 

All done! Thanks again, Andy – some cracking drams there.

Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster

Those folks at Douglas Laing sure can put together an interesting blend.

I’ve been a big fan of Big Peat for a few years now, especially the Xmas edition*. Their other regional blends, Timorous Beastie (for the Highlands), and Scallywag (for Speyside) are less to my taste, but very well put together all-the-same.

This one looks right up my street – the new blend, Rock Oyster, comprised purely of whisky from Scotland’s Islands region. I’m expecting maritime, salty, peaty goodness here. Let’s go!

Nose: Leathery, damp sand, mud, brine. Very mineral rich and salt-crusted, with a hint of icing sugar.

Palate: Quite savoury. Lemon, bitter grapefruit, thyme, cloves, olives and a crisp, tangy smoke. There’s a biscuity element in there too, among the tangier notes, which comes through later. A little bit of honey, vanilla and flowers once the smoke’s died down but only a bit.

Finish: It starts off oily in the mouth and progresses to a drying, lip-smacking finish of salt, cured meat, and white pepper.

I think the name here is bang on – it’s like sitting in a rock pool while you smoke seafood over a beach-fire.

It’s certainly one of the most savoury whiskies I’ve had in a while – not much in the way of fruity, malty notes. Thick bodied, too, with wide legs ending in big beads. Looks like a higher strength dram than 46.8%.

Sleuthing out the Components

The distilleries aren’t listed like they are with the Big Peat but it’s worth a bash all the same…

I’m thinking there’s a good dose of Highland Park in here – the way they peat their own barley on the island imparts that savoury smoke and the distinctive drying, grainy quality on the finish.

Since Jura and Arran only have a single distillery each, those are easy conclusions to come to! Though I don’t get any of the toffee or tangerine that I usually get from those whiskies (respectively), so that’s unexpected. I suspect their contribution to the whisky is relatively small compared to the others.

Which leaves the Islay component…

It’s a very maritime whisky, rather than an out-and-out peaty profile. Ardbeg is earthier, Laphroaig more medicinal, and I can’t see Lagavulin or Kilchoman being easily available.

The texture isn’t right for Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain is usually very sweet so the overall palate wouldn’t be this savoury…

Add the salty, lemony, olive-oil characteristics into the mix and… I’d have to say it’s a Caol Ila.

And Finally…

I like this one a lot. It doesn’t blow your head off like Big Peat (although that experience is not unpleasant) so it’s a bit more accessible – a weeknight dram for the coastal whisky fan, rather than a late-night mood whisky for a smoke-headed lunatic.

I’m not a huge advocate of food-pairing with spirits usually, but I can totally see this being nice with seafood. Maybe a bowl of prawns or mussels… I must buy a bottle and do some more research!

The important question now is, when will Master of Malt’s Sam add the Rock Oyster to the Douglas Laing Crimefighting Force…?

* In fact, one of the highlights of the London Whisky Show for me was being given a Big-Peat pen projector that casts the face of the windswept hero into the distance like Batman’s Bat Light.

You can pick up a sample or a bottle of Rock Oyster over at Master of Malt for £37.82.

Caol Ila 30 (2014 Special Release)

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1983
Age: 30 years old
ABV: 55.1%
Cask: Refill American and European Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

I’ve been looking forward to this one! In 2014, I tried Cadenhead’s Small Batch release of Caol Ila 29 and it totally blew me away.

Given that the indy bottling was £100 and Diageo’s official Caol Ila 30 year old goes for over £400, I think my mind’s already made up as to what the best deal is.

But what about the whisky itself?

Nose: Sweet clementines, but also that cloudy apple juice note, tangy sherbet, some milk chocolate.

Palate: Very oily, with more orange citrus notes, and some tropical fruits bordering on melon and pineapple. Woody notes, with soft peat smoke and a peppery tang. Some leathery, savoury flavours in there.

Finish: Quite peppery, with lingering smoke.

It has a lot of the same characteristics that the Cadenhead’s bottling has. Gentle smoke and citrus notes with some interesting fruit coming through as well as an oily, savoury influence from the wood that gives it that dusty, leathery quality.

It’s an interesting whisky, for sure. But it is quite peppery and woody on the finish and the flavour in comparison to the 29 seems quite subdued. Still good, of course; but, I didn’t enjoy it as much. There’s a difference between being subtle, and being faint.

The Caol Ila 30 is a vatting of 30-year-old whisky aged in American and European refill casks. I’d imagine Diageo have tried to engineer it to have similar qualities to a 30 year old Port Ellen – leather, soft smoke, maritime savoury notes etc. They have a lot more Caol Ila stock to play with, and the golden goose of Port Ellen will stop laying eggs eventually.

Sadly, I think the refill casks they used here were a little too tired to carry the spirit for 30 years and the vatting process between American and European oak has lost something in translation.

If I hadn’t tried such a sensational Caol Ila from Cadenhead beforehand then I may have been more impressed, but it’s not the way it panned out. Sorry, Diageo, this time you lose.

Love the packaging, though. It’ll look lovely in display cabinets across the world.

Samples and bottles available from the Chaps at Master of Malt for £32.34 and £425 respectively.

Caol Ila Moch

Distillery: Caol Ila
Age: No Age Statement
ABV: 43%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Moch is a no-age-statement release where the barley isn’t as heavily peated as the standard 12-year-old. It’s a very similar price to the standard bottling, and the cut-back on PPM reveals some very appealing flavours.

Nose: Sea air, brine, soft smoke, sea-shells and sand. This is a walk on the Atlantic coast.

Palate: Oily but delicate coastal notes allow some soft fruit to come through with a hint of that lemon candy and sherbet. Very soft in the mouth.

Finish: Salt and pepper.

I actually like this more than the standard release. And that’s saying something because I really like the standard release. If you’re looking for an easy-sipping, interesting, and affordable Islay malt then look no further.

No doubt, it was intentionally engineered to be all of those things – but in their objectives, I think Diageo have done well with this one.

Available on Master of Malt for £42.75.

Caol Ila 1998 Unpeated (2014 special release)

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1998
Age: 15 years old
ABV: 60.3%
Cask: First-fill bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s a curve ball – a Caol Ila without even a trace of peat. Will it be recognisable as the gentle, smoky, maritime malt that we know and love? Let’s see……

Nose: Milk, pear syrup, honeysuckle, acetone, vanilla, citrus and sherbet.

Palate: Lemon candy, and more sherbet. Herby, floral notes – lavender and thyme. Sweet malt and cereal, with a little more milk – whole milk, too, quite creamy. Viscous mouthfeel, but not actually creamy.

Finish: Some citrus tang remains, a touch of salt and toasted oak at the very end.

I never would have guessed the ABV is so high. There’s no burn at all, the spirit feels very soft in the mouth with delicate notes to the flavour.

Caol Ila usually gets lemon candy and salt in the tasting notes, and those are most definitely still in evidence. Even the sherbet quality on the nose, which I always assumed to be the peat talking.

I tried the Stitchell’s Reserve unpeated Caol Ila last year and wasn’t especially impressed. This bottling’s head and shoulders above it and maintains what we knew all along – the Caol Ila distillery produces some fantastic distillate, which can clearly stand on its feet without peated barley to zest it up.

No samples currently, but the chaps at Master of Malt have bottles available for £73.96. That’s pretty good for a 15-year-old spirit at such a high cask strength – throw in the intrigue of an unpeated Caol Ila and the limited bottling run of 10,668 and you have a real bargain.

Caol Ila 5 (Old Malt Cask)

caol_ila_fiveDistillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 2008
Age: 5 years old
ABV: 50%
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Cask: Refill bourbon

Here’s an unruly youth, an Old Malt Cask advance sample of Caol Ila bottled at five years old.

Nose: Oily maritime notes. Brine, tar, engine oil, and dirty, sooty, peat smoke.

Palate: Intense smoke dissolves into aromatic fruit. Pear-drops and lemon candy, with more waves of zesty peat. Very smooth and thick – almost chewy.

Finish: There’s those maritime notes we expect. Very mineral rich notes of sea salt, beaches and shells.

I’m a huge fan of this style of whisky. Cask strength, maritime, smoky whisky that hits you in the face like a stiff January breeze on the coast of Scotland.

In fact, this reminds me massively of the core flavour you get in Douglas Laing’s Big Peat, a really delicious vatted malt of Caol Ila, Arbeg, Bowmore and a splash of Port Ellen. If I had to guess the make-up of that vatting, I’d put my money on young Caol Ila making up the bulk of it.

And why not? It’s plentiful, cheap, and bloody delicious.

This was given to me as a Christmas gift, and try as I might I can’t find any  information about it online. There’s quite a few other bottlings of five year old Caol Ila available though, so I recommend you give them a try if you can. Diageo recently stopped indy bottlings of Caol Ila, so I expect the only chance you have to try a five-year-old will soon be at the distillery on a premium tasting.