A comment left by a reader on Facebook lead me to discover Caol Ila 12. Not available in Quebec, unless you are willing to shell out handsomely for the Distiller’s Edition. I picked up this bottle of 12 year old Caol Ila in one of New Hampshire’s fine liquor outlets.
The box says that Caol Ila is pronounced ‘Cull EE-la’, which is good enough for me. Apparently, it is Gaelic for “sound of Islay’. The distillery has been operation for over 160 years, but the whole thing was demolished in 1972 to built a modern facility and produce in large quantities for blenders. Fortunately, the distillery also releases its own signature line of single malts. Hard to find and rare on the market, I was intrigued enough by the recommendation and apparent scarcity of supply to taste this product for my readers. How selfless of me indeed.
Caol Ila’s distillery appears to be in a remote location somewhere on the Eastern coast of Islay. The other East coast distillery happens to be the maker of one of my best reviewed whiskies, Bunnahabhain. The bottle indicates the distillery is situated in a remote cove near Port Askaig. Loch nam Bam provides the fresh water necessary for the mash. The bottle indicates that this is a well balanced whisky, peated but not as pungent as others from the island. We’re about to find out.
In appearance, this is a very light coloured whisky. One of the palest gold whiskies I have seen to date and quite transparent. Ex-bourbon casks are used in the aging process.
On the nose, it’s peaty. However, this 43% alcohol by volume whisky is quite understated in its peat, but unmistakeably peated. A delightfully sweet aroma mixes in with the peat, providing a most pleasant sensation. It reminds me of lemon drops and honey. This is one whisky that could be kept on the nose for quite some time before actually drinking.
On the palate, there’s a bit of the peat, some hints of smoke, and the sweetness that mixes in to balance the whole thing. The lemon drops fade into what I can only explain as the taste of red liquorice. Some fruitiness in there too, apple or pear. None of these flavours are overwhelming in and of themselves, but combine to give an expression that I cannot compare directly to anything else I have tasted so far. I’m thinking a comparison consisting of back to back tastings of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Bowmore 12, Highland Park 12, and the Bunnahabhain are in order. A smooth and light whisky, this could easily become an “every day dram”.
The finish is long and sweet. Hints of smoke help dry it out. Well balanced indeed.
Adding water brings out some more of the smoke, but only very little. The most significant impact is the additional sweetness and saltiness it brings out in the flavour and finish. I recommend only a few drops.
Overall, this is a fantastic whisky for anyone’s collection, bringing out the characteristics of Islay malts but toning down the peat for those who are not fans of heavily peated whiskies. Highly recommended, I will seek out others in the line for comparison to the base 12 year old.