Caol Ila – 12 Year Old – Single Malt Scotch Whisky | 43% (86 Proof)
Color/Appearance: A very light rosé wine. Pale gold. Shimmers nicely in the glass. Very natural looking, which is a little unusual for a Diageo product. Certainly chill-filtered and there may be some colorant added as well. Wish they did not do this sort of thing, but it is what it is. At forty-three percent chill-filtration is pretty much a necessity. Probably only bourbon casks at play here. This is one of the major cornerstone malts of Islay but it gets little to no fanefare. Caol Ila is also the largest of the Islay distilleries in terms of volume and yet most of it is buried in blends. The official Caol Ila single malt range is rather limited with only a few offerings, some of which are only released every few years. The bottle is cleanly designed and nicely understated. Onward we go.
Nose: Fragrant lemons, salt, earthy peat, early morning mist coming in off the ocean, seaweed and dried apricots. A few branches smoldering in a yard down the road. I love the nose here, where gentle coastal elements are allowed to shine and nothing feels forced.
Palate: Very soft entry with a feeling reminiscent of sugar water, then smoky lemon and salt step on the scene. A grind of black pepper, tar, and dry old ropes. Here the pushover entry and general softness could be due to the very low proof or from this distilleries quiet style. I like the flavor but I do long for a lot more oomph.
Finish: Long and clean. Fresh. Mossy boggy peat revealed in the softest way possible. Dry but just a little bit. You are making a crossing on the ferry in early spring. The seasons warmth is only slightly exhibiting itself and out here on the ocean it is but a fleeting memory. You run into an old friend and inside the boat’s café you share a few drams. The whisky warming you spurs the conversation further, but never seems to get in the way.
Overall: This is some really elegant peat. A great coastal dram with all the Islay flavors you crave but done with such a deft touch that feels effortless. It doesn’t seem like peat and sweet are fighting it out, they are just working together. It never really feels sweet but you know it is there backing things up. This allows the soft coastal elements to come to the forefront and lets the whisky seem more complex without being overbearing. I am really liking this distilleries whisky but I feel this expression just scratches the surface, my main gripe other than the strength. I have heard great things about independent bottling of Caol Ila and plan on grabbing one when the opportunity arises. Cask-strength here we come. Many thanks to the elusive, illustrious, infamous, and all around rapscallion Florin for this sample.