Caol Ila 18 Year: 43% abv
Background: Caol Ila, pronounced “Cull Eala”, is probably the most overlooked Single Malt from Islay, even with some of the new comers. Founded in 1846 new Port Askaig, Caol Ila sends most of their whisky to be unnoticed in bottles of Johnnie Walker and Black Bottle, partial due to its light, soft peat balance. Caol Ila generally has only a few bottlings, and it isn’t going to be in your standard supermarket. You might assume that Caol Ila doesn’t bottle a lot of their own whisky because it isn’t worth drinking on its own. Well, here is the very reasonably priced 18 Year Caol Ila, and we’re about to tell you whether or not that’s a safe assumption.
Nose: A beautiful smooth graininess comes off of the nose right off the bat. There is a slight maltiness, but more significant to note is the blend of different grain flavors that come through in the aroma. There is a slight peatiness to the whisky, but it is a wet, mossy peat smell, not the dark, rich smoky smell you might recognize off of a Laphroaig. There is also a toasty wood smell complemented with floral, rose aromas. Unlike many other Islay malts, there is a very pleasant blend of soft fruitiness, with smells of peaches and tangerines coating over the nose. There is a slight nuttiness that also comes through on the nose as well. To add to the complexity of this malt, there is mild salt, and clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon spiciness that play a subtle role in this Scotch. There is even a little bit of sugary flavor It is artfully balanced.
Arrival: The arrival starts off unusually calm for a Islay Scotch, displaying an array of malty flavors. It doesn’t take much to realize this isn’t your average peaty beast. There is sweet apple and vanilla notes on the arrival, with a slight clove and allspice flavor following close behind. A little bit of peat and saltiness is found in the arrival, but it stays dormant until the body. There is a bit of sugary sweetness as well, and it adds another dimension to the beginning of this malt.
Body: The body takes a role of integrating some peat and malt tones with the intimate, soft spiciness that is so characteristic of this malt. There is a very unique root beer/cola type flavor that comes through in the body and carries into the finish. It is also filled with a large blanket of vanilla flavor.
Finish: There is a beautiful collaboration between the spice notes here, still being predominantly clove and allspice, and the salty peat flavor that is innate in most Islay malts. There is also some ginger spice to be tasted, but it gets lost under the peat after just a few seconds. There is a cool, refreshing note at the end of this malt that is very similar to other peaty Scotches. A bitter, but quiet cameo from the oak cask comes into the finish, just barely introducing itself and then exiting again. Even hints of smoky tobacco trace through the finish, but it is just light, fleeting instances of this that are noticeable.
Nose: Adding a small amount of water brings out a little more peat flavor. The brutish smokiness of peat starts to become a little more dominant, and the smooth malt grain begins to fade back.
Arrival: The arrival, reflective of the changes in the nose, is more salty and peaty now than before. It is very much similar to a peat presence that Lagavulin might have. The brininess is surprisingly bigger here. There is still a zestiness to the whisky, and the spice comes through noticeably enough, but it simply is becoming less prevalent with the peat flavor.
Body: The body here is relatively unchanged, still holding the balance between spicy character and peatiness in the whisky. And it is still a really enjoyable experience.
Finish: The finish becomes fairly floral and peaty with water, with a slight likeness to gin botanicals just hiding in the background. There is also some black peppercorn present in the finish as well.
Final Comments: Referring back to the beginning of the review, there was a question of whether or not this whisky is of lesser quality because of its significant gap in popularity in comparison to some of the other peat beasts in the Islay category. I believe the only reason this whisky struggles against the others is because it struggles to find a niche. Every aspect of this whisky is exceptional, and without a doubt, it is a bargain as an 18 Year old Scotch. For the people looking for big peat, this might not be on the top of the list, but it is well worth a try. This is a personal favorite.
Why you’d buy it: You aren’t afraid to look less manly than the guy drinking Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Why you wouldn’t: You judge masculinity by the peatiness of the whisky you drink (weirdo).