Time for another whisky showdown! This time, I have chosen two very interesting peated whiskies, the Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona and the Caol Ila 12. Both are great whiskies, but enjoying them back to back may reveal some strengths and weaknesses that are not easily perceived on their own. For those of you who missed my initial reviews of each, it may benefit you to read my related blog entries before continuing.
The colour of the Cruach Mhona is very pale and I had also considered the same to be true of the Caol Ila in my initial review. However, the Bunnahabhain is much more pale. It appears almost colourless when viewed next to the Caol Ila. Don’t get me wrong though, the Caol Ila is a pale gold that, when compared to almost any sherry cask aged whisky would appear nearly clear as well.
On the nose, the Cruach Mhona comes on strong with the peat and smoke, but the smoke is less prevalent than with the Caol Ila. The lakeside is strong and memories of seaweed prevail whereas the Caol Ila has little if any of these characteristics. On the other hand, the Caol Ila gives off more sweet odours in the form of lemon, some citrus, and hints orange peel. The Cruach Mhona is less sweet and whatever comes through is in the form of dried fruits and impressions of berries.
On the palate, the two really distinguish themselves from one another. The Cruach Mhona is more peaty, stong and bold. The sweet notes are less apparent than with the Caol Ila. The Caol Ila on the other hand, with its softer peat but stronger smoke, balances the experience with the lemony sweetness, less chewy texture, stronger honey and fruit tones, and fewer wood and nut elements.
The finish is quite distinct on each as well. The Cruach Mhona finishes longer, more woody and nutty. Pepper characterises the Cruach Mhona as opposed to the saltiness of the Caol Ila. Both are smoky, but only the Caol Ila can be described as mouth watering in the finish. The Caol Ila’s finish may not be as long, but what it does in the time it lasts is impressive. The sweet background and softer tones combine with just the right amount of smoke to delicately fade into something memorable.
On the whole, the two are great whiskies. Both offer something peaty and smokey in two very different ways. The casual whisky drinker would be better served with the Caol Ila 12. The avid fan of peat will want more of the Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona. I was quite surprised at the stark contrast between the two and took more to the Caol Ila 12 as the tasting went on. For an everyday dram and continuous drinking, I will recommend the Caol Ila. That’s not to say the Cruach Mhona does not have its time and place however.
So there you have it, two great whiskies but another tough decision in which is better. Please don’t take my word for it though, make sure you try each for yourself and let me know what you think!