So, an Unpeated Caol Ila? Really? Isn’t it an Oxymoron? Well, it is not, apparently.
This is the sort of question many people have been asking me in the last couple of days. Caol Ila is well known for its Peated malts, and as an Islay based distillery it’s no surprise. But it’s a less known fact that this distillery also produces small batches of Unpeated malts and releases them as “special” releases.
Coal Ila is one of the smaller Islay distilleries (when it comes to Single malt production for its own bottling), and in my opinion lies in the shadow of the 3 big giants: Ardbeg , Lagavulin and Laphroaig which get most of the publicity and are much more well known to whisky drinkers. “Caol Ila” (pronounced : “Kol Aila” ) originates in Gaelic and means “Sound Of Islay”. A very interesting Anecdote is that both Gaelic and Hebrew pronunciations mean the same (in Hebrew for those who understand it : קול איילה) , So I guess the Gaelic and the Hebrew people are somehow connected. Interesting… J
The distillery itself is located overlooking the straits between Islay and Jura (this is where the Gaelic name comes from: Sound of Islay in Norse stands for ‘Sund’ of Islay, which means “Straights of islay”).
Caol Ila has been producing Single malts (to be sold as such) only in the last 18 or so years, and is also (and was) a key ingredient Diagoe’s Johnny walker line (to which it gives its distinct smoky character) .
Unpeated versions of CI have been produced since 2006, and previously bottled at 8 years of age . This version has been released in 2009, and was aged 10 years in first fill Bourbon casks (filled in 1998) and bottled at a whopping 65.8 % !!! . Only 6,000 bottles are available worldwide.
By now you are probably asking yourselves: “So, do they know how to make a decent unpeated whisky on Islay?” , and I say, They sure do. Now let’s get started with our notes (this time I have strayed from my usual habit of not adding water even to CS malts but, considering the high abv% content, it’s indeed a good idea to dilute it a bit, as to overcome the initial “wham!” of the alcohol.
Caol Ila 10 “Unpeated Style” 2009, 65.8% abv
Color: Bright golden sunshine.
Nose: Without water: Lemon pie. Absolutely fresh, lemony and zesty. I love it! , On the side vanilla ice-cream, with those sweet notes. What a combination! Also some oaky notes, not too heavy but very surprising for a 10 year old malt.
Palate: with water, there is still an evident punch. Lemons tingle the tongue , green apples, some sweeter notes also (fudge?) and some Coacoa powder as well.
Finish : Medium length with Cocoa, spice and Oaky notes that come echoing back. Quite interesting, and totally unexpected.
What a different profile of malt this Unpeated version has. Had you given me two glasses, one with this nectar and the other one filled with the 12 Peated version, I would have never guessed they came from the same stills at Caol Ila. The lemon pie notes, oak and apples with the sweet fudge & cocoa are really a well organized party going on in your mouth and caressing those taste buds. A delight. And at a premium strength. A combo you can hardly go wrong with. As a Peat-head , I must sat this one cought me by surprise, and Kudos to the CI people. A well made, yet very different dram.
What also struck me was the change both in palate and in the nose that this malt has undergone when adding water. it was good sans aqua, but with a bit of water, it just got more and more brilliant.
Other opinions on the web:
- Jeff from the Scotch Hobbyist blog like this one quite a bit
- Our friend Matt from Whisky for Everyone has also reviewed this one as part of the special releases of 2009 by Diageo.
- The guys at CaskStrength.Net also think it’s a damn good one.
- Tim from the TWE blog , thinks it’s lovely.
Many thanks to Jeff (@scotchhobbyist) for this sample.