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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Caol Ila 12yo Whisky Review!

Often over-looked in favour of it's 'flashier' southern-Islay cousins, Caol Ila Distillery is actually one of the largest producers on Islay by volume. Around 90% of their production goes into blended whiskies, adding that 'hint of smoke' to the likes of Johnnie Walker and Black Bottle, among others.

There are plenty of different expressions available, with the main expressions being the 12yo, 18yo, and distiller's edition, finished in moscatel wine casks. There is also a cask strength version, which unfortunately loses it's age statement, but is an excellent whisky, and is certainly worth looking out for.

Caol Ila's standard single malt, the 12yo, is a worthy competitor in the Islay arena, with many considering it to be lighter and more approachable than the 'beasties' from Laphroaig, Lagavulin or Ardbeg, for example. Caol Ila forms an essential part of owner Diageo's whisky line, although mainly for it's use in their blends, but the distilleries' single malts are excellent whiskies in their own right.

However, there does appear to be an imbalance in pricing compared to similar whiskies, for example in Australia the 12yo sells for around $100, similar to the older and highly-reputed Lagavulin 16yo, and considerably higher than the 10yo bottlings from Talisker and Ardbeg, both of which are bottled at higher strength (45.8 and 46%, over 43%). Perhaps this is one reason for Caol Ila to be flying under the radar in many cases?
Caol Ila 12yo, 43%, Port Askaig, Islay, Scotland. 
Chill filtered, added colouring (light), matured in ex-bourbon casks.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Light, herbal peat, grassy, gentle-yet-assertive sweet smoke, hints of seaweed and sea salt. 

Texture: Light and fresh, very slightly oily.

Taste: Bigger sweet smoke than on the nose, still grassy, some herbal peat and barbecued meats. Easy drinking. The smokiness is lovely, delicate and warming, and nicely balanced. 

Finish: A little burst of heat, then light peat and fading smoke. A light but quite long finish.

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: It's Islay for sure, but it's a smaller sibling to the big boys. A nice half-way point between an un-peated and a medicinal / heavier peated Islay, would make a nice introduction to Islay peat. This particular bottle of the 12yo has been open for over a year, so will have lost a bit of punch, but it made a very easy-drinking daily dram. 

I'd love to see Caol Ila lose the chill filtration, that would make such a massive difference to their bottlings. At the moment, one must go for an independent bottling to find out. Having said that, the cask strength Caol Ila is a fantastic whisky, despite losing it's age statement I would happily line it up against other cask strength Islay beasties.

The Caol Ila 12yo is a decent dram, but at the price point it is sold at in Australia, when lined up against the likes of Ardbeg 10, Lagavulin 16, and Laphroaig Quarter Cask, all at a similar price (actually the Ardbeg is 15-20% cheaper), I'm not sure if I'll be replacing this one when it's empty. Nonetheless, if you're not a fan of the bigger Islay's, but would still like a bit of peat & smoke, this is a very good option.