I’ve recently reviews Coal Ila Unpeated, and liked it a lot. It’s a decent dram, very complex and ultra strong when it comes to ABV. But, the bread and butter of Coal Ila distillery are the peated medicinal versions we all know and like. The 12 is a masterpiece, and I’ve sampled it before many times and loved it, But the other expressions (18 , CS) are rather hard to come by and , and I’ve been meaning to sample them for a long time now.
Enters the Caol Ila sampler pack. for around 33 Pounds (UK) you can get 3 little cute bottles (200 ml) in a super cool and beautiful case (inside you can find the 12yo, 18yo and the “Natural Cask Strength”). a great idea, and a great opportunity to sample one of the more interesting (but less known and less hyped) Islay distilleries. The CI 18 is rather expensive and not available in many places, same goes for the CS version, so this is a really good bargain for 33 quid.
Ok, Kids are asleep, and i am about to start my triple review, right? I’ve chosen to start with the 18 year old, since it’s surely to be more refined and less kicking than the 2 younger expressions, followed by the classic 12, and ending on the youngest of all the Cask strength expression, which is surely the naughtiest of all three (due to age, and ABV). All pouted into the same Glencairn glasses, and left to “breath” for about 15 minutes before nosing and tasting. So, let the games begin, as they say!
Caol Ila 18 , 43% ABV
Color : bright golden straw (the darkest of all three)
Nose : Peat hovering, some sweet fruit, honey?, oatmeal. the peat is not biting but it’s more powerful than one would expect from a 18 year old malt. Citrus is much lighter than the other 2 expressions. interesting. brine. smoke is there yet also not very powerful. Vanilla and some flower petals. (chamomile?) . Islay, but not shouting or kicking. more well behaved than the younger versions, and nicely so.
palate: smoky sweetness. very rounded . some pepper at the start then moving on with peat some oats, then back to the pepper on the finish. All very subtle compare to the ‘wham bam!’ if the CS and the 12…
Finish : smoky, long dry and some wood touches. rather long.
Overall Grade : 84.
Caol Ila 12, 43% ABV
nose: smoke,peat,lemon zest, tar, medicinal notes. The whole 9 yards… Islay big time. this is what i love! smoked bacon, wet leaves after the first rain. very very appetizing nose. some malty notes after some time are released , excellent!
palate: Thick, oily viscous body. smoke, warm smoke. the entire mouth is warm and delicious. peat paradiso, with some spice on the end. again, the bacon is here, smoked delicious bacony taste. yumm. pepper. pepper! this is Islay’s finest times. a true winning palate.
finish: Loooooooong smoky sweet finish ending on sweet peat and tar. delightful!
Overall Grade : 88.
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength , 59.3% ABV (oh mama!)
color : light straw , the lightest of all three.
nose: Lots and lots of lemon notes. reminds me of the CI unpeated, lemony theme, but with the added phenols, peat and smoke . very fresh, green grass, green apple peel. the ABV is evident.. a nose is different than both 12 and 18. i do think it’s really unique.
Palate: Obviously young and kicking! strong peat, with sweet middle and mouth coating. Oily. Salty notes appear after you chew on it a bit. yep! sea spray salty! what a nice touch!
Finish : heaps of peat. very warming and long.some bacon notes and spice. the longest of all three in terms of finish. Ace.
Overall Grade: 90
Summing it all up:
The big winner of the trio is the Natural Cask Strength. This one is definetly the best of all three. one could say it’s not a fair match because of the higher alcohol ABV, but again, the nosse and palate regardless of the OOMPH added by the alc % are far more interesting.
I was expecting a lot from the 18 yo expression, after reading reviews and speaking to fellow whisky aficionados, so i did feel some kind of disappointed when i sampled and rated that one. The 12 yo expression really deserves an honorary place in every Islay lover’s Bar , and even if you are not hooked on Peated malts, i do think it’s a great entry point peated expression, in one line with the Ardbeg 10. The CS expression is better, younger and more kicking than the two older versions. So if you are like me, enjoying younger muscular peated malts, i have only one word for you : Go Get!
If you enjoy Islay drams, but like the peat on a more subtle level, you should consider getting the 18 year old, but not as a first choice. I do think the Laphraoig 18 or the Ardbeg ANB are better expressions for older, milder peat monsters.
Well done Caol Ila. a really Smokin’ core range you’ve got there. A better marketing department, and i am sure sales will improve greatly. Ardbeg, look out!