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Friday, 26 September 2014

Caol Ila 29yo Duncan Taylor 1983 Whisky Review & Independent Bottling's Explained!

My first review of an independent bottling, and a very special one, this bottle of glorious whisky was my 29th birthday present last year, from my parents no less, albeit with a few subtle pointers from myself! At 29 years of age, like I was at the time, this just felt so right! This is still the oldest whisky I've tasted to date, and one of the more expensive as well. 

Distilled in 1983 at Caol Ila distillery, and bottled in 2012 at 29 years of age, this whisky is part of Duncan Taylor's 'Dimensions' range, and is non-chill filtered, bottled at cask strength and has no added colouring. For the serious whisky obsessives this is cask 3624, and bottle 191 of 362 from that cask. 

But before we dive into the review, let's have a quick look into the what, why and how of independent bottling's of Scotch whisky. 

For the what, essentially an independent bottling company, such as Signatory, Gordon & MacPhail, or Duncan Taylor, is an independent company (duh) which buys casks of whisky from distilleries, to market & sell themselves, usually as a single malt or single cask bottling. 

For the why, they do this for a number of reasons, but the main one is to offer something which one cannot buy from the distillery. For example, if a distillery always chill filters their whisky before bottling, an independent bottler may buy a cask from the distillery and bottle it without chill filtration, to off the consumer something they can't get in an original bottling from the distillery. The same goes for things like adding colouring/caramel, bottling at below cask strength, different ages of whisky, and different casks used for maturation. Another reason why, is because they can usually sell their bottling at a lower cost than the distillery would charge for an equivalent whisky. It doesn't always work this way, but the 29yo Caol Ila I'm reviewing here cost around $100 less than a 25yo distillery bottling, which would have been watered down to 43%, and with some chill filtration. 

As for the how, these companies will either approach a distillery to buy any casks they don't want, and that may be because the whisky hasn't matured as the distiller expected, or the flavour profile is too far from the norm to be blended into their standard offerings, or because they need/want a bit of extra income. The independent bottler may mature this whisky further themselves, or bottle it straight away. It is important to note here that independent bottling's vary wildly in terms of quality and flavour, and can be quite a risk come buying time. For this reason, I recommend sticking with the major companies, and if possible try before you buy. Failing that, research the bottling as much as you can before taking the plunge. 

There are also a few independent bottlers which do not name the distillery their whisky came from, usually because they have an agreement with that distillery that they will not disclose that information. There are also many, many independent bottlers out there selling blended whisky, and also do not state which distilleries their whisky came from, but I'm focusing more on the single malt and single cask bottler's here. Now, on to the review!

Caol Ila 29yo, by Duncan Taylor, 'Dimensions' Independent Bottling.
Distilled 1983, bottled 2012, 53.8% cask strength, non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 

(tasted neat and with a drop of water)
Colour: Dark bronze

Texture: Clean and refined, lightly oily.

Nose: Salty, fruity and peaty. A little reminiscent of Lagavulin initially, with less peat and smoke. A little ethanol and soap, furniture polish, not a lot of smoke at all. Sweet grapes, dry grass and herbs. Water brings out more grassy, herbal notes and fruit.

Taste: Sweet peat and smoke, dark fruits. A little heat, and salted, stewed stone fruit in the background. Water brings out a nice malty sweetness and caramel/toffee.  

Finish: Long and peaty, smoky, slightly burnt caramel, warming and drying. Even longer with water and a little more burnt caramel. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: As expected, quite different from distillery versions of Caol Ila. Maybe a slight nod in the direction of their distiller's edition, but with more malt, less sweetness and more depth & body. A very interesting whisky, and pretty good value, compared to original bottling's. A little hard to find now, but SM Whisky still has a few samples, along with other independent bottling's, and there are a few bottles around in other online whisky shops. Happy hunting! Cheers.