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Monday, 14 December 2015

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Whisky Review!

This was always one Caol Ila expression I wasn't particularly interested in. Why? Because it's un-peated! But let's not judge this book by it's cover just yet.

There have been quite a few official releases of un-peated Caol Ila in the past, usually as part of Diageo's annual 'special releases' (along with Lagavulin 12 yo, and Port Ellen etc.) . Along with the Lagavulin, this is one of the more reasonably priced of the yearly releases. The 2013 release I'm reviewing here was named 'Stitchell Reserve' in honour of the impending retirement of Distillery Manager Billy Stitchell, after nearly 40 years at the distillery. 

I'm not sure why they chose this whisky to commemorate Stitchell's career, seeing as it's a departure from the 'house style', it's perhaps a little unusual and seems like a strange move to me. Would KFC name a beef burger the Colonel Sanders!?! But I could be being a little harsh, and I don't know the back story there.

It also seems to be quite young, or at least the majority of the contents seem to be. I'm only guessing here due to the lack of age statement, but there's quite a lot of alcohol and quite a bite in this one. It drinks far younger than even the youngest peated Caol Ila's I've had, including the brilliant Cask Strength, which is also NAS. This un-peated Islay probably could've used some added water, but I haven't done that in any of my more recent reviews, and didn't want to start now.

I basically knew before-hand that I wouldn't love this one as much as I do the 'normal' peated Caol Ila's, but I kept an open mind, and was interested to see how it would compare to other un-peated Islay's like Bunnahabhain 12 yo or one of Bruichladdich's brilliant 'Laddie' expressions. Although neither of those are bottled at cask strength, and both are non-chill filtered, while there's no mention of chill filtration on the Caol Ila, as is usually the case from Diageo. Regardless, let's have a crack at it!
Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve, NAS, 59.6%. Islay, Scotland. 
Un-peated, cask strength. Matured in American & European oak (original contents unknown).

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Sweet & fruity, and a bit of bite (heat)! Honey, sweet malted barley, slightly under-ripe apples, some pineapple and under-ripe banana. A little spice and vanilla as well. 

Texture: Strong, hot & intense. Not quite rough, but certainly hot.

Taste: Fresh sweet malt, a big whack of hot chilli, plus some black pepper & hot cinnamon. Some vanilla and a little oak, more crisp apple and sweet under-ripe bananas. Hint of something coastal as well, a little salty air or brine.

Finish: Short. The chilli and bite are still there, and they wipe almost everything else out. A little fruit & malt are left behind, but not for long. 

Score: 2 out of 5.

Notes: It's semi-decent, but I think Caol Ila minus peat, equals not for me! When their peated whisky is so good, why mess with it? It's just too hot as well, probably because of that lack of calming & compensating peaty-ness. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience to try it, although I'm glad it was only a sample rather than a bottle. 

If there had been more older stock in the mix, I suspect it would've been a slightly different story. This may not be grounds to judge the other un-peated Caol Ila releases though, there are eight other versions, and I can't say I've tried any of them. The other versions have all had age statements as well, so chances are they'll be quite different to this one. 

Again, I'm puzzled as to why they would choose to commemorate their long-serving distillery manager with a complete departure from the successful house style, not only by cutting out the peat, but also by dropping the age statement. Every peated cask strength Caol Ila I've tried, both from the distillery and from independent bottler's, has been truly brilliant. But like I said above, I don't know the full story there. 

One strong indicator that this one wasn't a great success, would be the fact that it's still quite readily available, at least in Australia, and that the pricing hasn't changed significantly after two years on the shelves. A quick google search gives three Australian stores with it available, with this one being the cheapest by far, and well under the original RRP. But as always, this is only my opinion on this particular whisky, so others may feel differently. The only way to be 100% sure, is to find out for yourself! 

Cheers!