Exclusive ! First Photo of 4/5ths of Caol Ila Tasting at The Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala

We’ve managed to get our hands on the first photo of 4/5ths of the Caol ila tasting at this years Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala (The other 1/5th is currently residing in Ontario ) .


As you can see there are going to be some great drams on offer , i’m sure Billy Stitchell would have been proud to offer such wonderful drams and Colin Dunn would have his Loudhailer out shouting from the roof tops ! We got a quote off Colin about this tasting….. “Gordon Who?” 

So looking forward to trying these drams !!!

The Sound of Islay……. A Caolilathon !

With the forthcoming Caol ila tasting at the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala looming large on the horizon , i decided to revisit my Caol ila bottlings to re-acquaint myself with the distillery , had more than i thought !

Caol Ila 12yo O.b. 43%

The Entry level dram from Diageo , this one is actually from a bottle from the mid-00’s , I was never a huge fan of this when it first appeared (in the ‘Hidden Gems’ Range ?) but it has grown on me recently .Quite medicinal on the nose at first with a strong citrus suggestion , Strong hint of malt and a nice little fruitiness to it . A very nice medicinalness to the palate along with a gentle smokiness , not over powering on the palate but the finish has a bit more of a kick to it , long and a lingering  peatiness to it .

Not a bad wee dram for the entry level ! 

Caol Ila 18yo O.b. 43%

The next level up from the 12 , this one again is from a mid-00’s bottling (the 20cl from The Classic Islay Collection ) , this one is more subdued on the nose , smoky and seashore like a recent bonfire on a beach , eventually the nose does open up a bit to reveal a slight dental surgery feel to it (Cloves?) . On the palate it has more of an iodine taste to it , very coastal , again a slight smokiness , the finish isn’t as long and is a bit more relaxed than the 12 .

The 12’s more elder and relaxed brother ?  

Caol Ila Cask Strength O.b. 55%

There are times when you just want your Caol ila’s just to hit you as if a big malt shovel has just smacked you across the face , Cue Malt Shovel ! After the 43%ers this was a blessing for any reputable peet-heed , ok it’s a NAS but WE DON’T CARE ! It smells young (see previous comment) , it smells peaty , it’s not complex , it actually has a fruity and peppery note . On the palate it’s Peaty , Smoky and peppery , what more can you ask for ? The finish is long and peaty .

It doesn’t stand on parade , it’s quite a rough Caol ila compared to the previous O.b.’s  but it is a wonderful dram and pleases this particular Islay Peat Freak !  

Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength O.b. 59.3%

This one is the next logical progression from the previous NAS Cask Strength , sort of turning the Amp up to 11 ! Bottled at ‘Natural Cask Strength’ (Still waiting for the ‘Un-Natural Cask Strength’ bottling…..) , there’s lots of lemon on the nose to start with , then the familiar ‘Seashore’ , peat and smoke . At first the palate seems remarkably relaxed but that doesn’t hang around , this is strong across the whole mouth , Iodine , peat , a bonfire in the gob ! The finish is long and warming , like a bonfire on an Islay beach when the nights are fair drawing  in……

Warms the cockles of your heart this dram , Nice !  

Caol Ila 25yo O.b. 1979 -2005 58.4%

If you are going to do a 25yo and charge a penny or two i always find it better to do it at CS than 43% , that’s what Caol Ila used to do….. I first tried a 25yo O.b. on a tasting during the Feis Ile with the legend that is Billy Stitchell , to say i was over the moon when he said it was CS was an under statement ! This is pretty pungent for it’s age on the nose and still makes the hairs tingle , it’s standing on the shore on the Sound of Islay with the strong currents wiping up the waves and  seaweed , it is actually quite sweet and buttery . The palate is really iodiney , a waft of smoke and incredibly chewy ! This is a big boys Caol Ila , Amazing ! The finish is long , iodine and really lemony , this is the closest you’ll get to a single cask bottling from the Owners taste wise , trust me i’ve had a few Single Cask 25yo Indys !

A pretty amazing dram just a shame Diageo thought it was a good idea to go back to 43% on the 25yo , D’OH !

Caol Ila Distillery Only O.b. 58.4% 

Another NAS (Woo-hoo !) bottled in 2007 , and even though it says ‘ Available only at the Distillery’ I bought this at the Bridgend Spar Shop ! (huh?) The nose is like standing beside a burnt out bonfire on the Big Strand , the ashes mixing in with the sea air and kelp from the nearby rocks , then the wind turns and you get the peat from the nearby beds . There is also a waft of peat smoke from the Maltings in Port Ellen . The palate is thick and peaty , there is lemon there as well and a nice sweetness , The finish brings back the smokiness and lingers for a very long time .

Another  Cracking Caol Ila that just proves this distillery provides quality as well as quantity , two things that rarely go together .

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2013 O.b.56.5%

Distilled in 1998 , this was triple matured in Refill Butts, Hogsheads and Barrels (not necessarily in that order….)  , Sweet peat on the nose followed by the smoke from dying embers there is a slight hint of them sherry butts but not much , another hint , this time of Apples and butter . The palate is slightly relaxed at first then a huge dollop of peat , again quite sweet but thoroughly enjoyable , the finish is long and peaty .

A very much under-rated Caol ila by others , really enjoyable !

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2014 O.b. 55.5%

Distilled in 2002 and from  ex-bourbon Hogsheads , this could be the 12yo on Steroids ! I prefer it when distilleries do this rather than mess about with fancy casks , back to basics ! On the Nose we’ve returned to the dental surgery , Cloves , then we’ve got the sweet peat , smoke …. aah that’s more like it ! there’s also pepper . The palate is also more of the traditional Caol Ila  , Sweet peat , medicinal , seashore , pepper and smoke . Lovely ! The finish is long , sweet peat , smoke , lemon and pepper .

If someone said what is the ‘Classic’ Caol Ila bottling i would say this , a belter put together by Mr Woods !   

Caol Ila 10yo “Unpeated Style” O.b. 65.8% 

The first time i ever saw mention of an Unpeated Caol ila was in 2002 when during a Feis Ile tour of the Port Ellen Maltings and when viewing the control panel for the malt bins it was noted that there was a one marked ‘Caol Ila Highland Style’ , the guide wouldn’t say what it was….. Apparently they’ve been doing this style since 1999, the first time i ever tried it was at the 2005 Feis Ile (Monday 30th May….) during Billy Stitchells Masterclass as a 4yo , i wasn’t impressed , by the malt not the Masterclass !  Bottled in 2009 at a humongous 65.8% , the nose is , at first , very unassuming , then it springs in to life , it is very fruity ! I would say tropical fruits , banana , pineapple , there’s also a hint of creamy coffee and lemon . The nose is just sniffable at full strength….. Wow , the palate is huge and strong at FS , again it incredibly fruity but it also has a very big hint of Lemon throat lozenges ! The finish is long , chewy and very warming . It’s not often i add water but i’ll try it with this one , it actually makes it more fruity on the nose and calms down the palate a little bit .

A cracking dram that definitely blows the cobwebs away ! 

Caol Ila 12yo “Unpeated Style” O.b. 57.6% 

Bottled in 2010 , this one again starts of quite fruity on the nose but then there is a mysterious waft of smoke ! It has a nice maltiness to it with a hint of lemon and digestive biscuits . On the palate it is deceptively peated , it is slightly medicinal , throat lozenges , pepper and that hint of peat , quite sweet but not the full Islay peat . The finish is long , sweet , fruity , citrus and spicy .

Another good Caol ila , more sensible than the previous 10yo , it keeps up the distilleries good record of quality spirit production .    

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve “Unpeated Style” O.b. 59.6% 

The one thing i have noticed about all these unpeated Caol ila’s is how oily they are when poured , Bottled in 2013 this one is a NAS so going off it’s name it must be the best of the former vintages that were put aside by the former manager Billy . Once again it’s the Lemon that first grabs your attention on the nose , followed by digestive biscuits and malt , it actually has a hint of a lowlander , grassy meadows . On the palate is quite sweet and quite fruity , ooh Banoffee pie with custard ! Touch of spices as well , a lovely long fruity finish ensues with lots of spiciness and lemon .

Carries on the good work of the previous releases , quality product that probably isn’t appreciated by a lot of people !  

Caol ila ‘53.50’ SMWS 1993 7yo 62.1%

This was the Caol ila that ignited my love for this distillery , i’d only had a couple from the distillery by this time and the 15yo Flora and Fauna had done nothing for me , then in one of my first SMWS tastings i was given this…… Incredibly medicinal on the nose , the full germolene , bags of peat and a touch of malt . Not a lot else happening on the nose but it doesn’t need to . The palate is one enormous hit of wet Islay peat bog , there is also a touch of lemon and an incredible spiciness , a wonderful mouth of Islay malt whisky , if this doesn’t satisfy your average Islay Peat Freak nothing will ! The finish is not as long as expected after the palate but it is warming , medicinal and peaty .

This one still amazes me as much today as it did back in the early 00’s when i tried it , Wonderful stuff !

Caol ila ‘53.83’ SMWS 1993 11yo 61.4%

“Head-expanding in the Mouth”  , again the full medicinal (germolene) on the nose , a little bit more relaxed than the 53.50, just…. once again lemon and a hint of grass (meadows , not the smoking type!) , peat smoke and farm yard . Wow very strong on the palate , minty , medicinal , very sea shore , the finish is very long and peaty at FS , think i’ll try this one with water…. Water definitely cools it down , doesn’t bring out much more on the nose/taste front , after all we want the trade mark medicinal/peat/smoke/citrus of Caol ila don’t we ?

A cracking young Caol ila , shame the distillery doesn’t do a young 12yo at CS it would be a cracker ! ….And yes it does what it says on the bottle!

Gordon and MacPhail Cask Caol ila 1991 12yo 57.4%

Bit of a rarity this one , a Caol ila from Refill Sherry Butts (#13696 #13698) distilled 30/9/1991 bottled 2/3/2004 . This is a lovely amber colour in the glass , pure Christmas cake on the nose (cake dough , dried fruits , glace cherries ) along with a lovely medicinalness , a delight , there’s lemon and a beach bonfire wafting through there as well ! On the palate there’s a wonderful sherried peatiness only an Islay can provide , starts off peaty but progresses though to medicinal , this is class in the glass ! The finish is long with a lingering sherry , peat and bonfire smoke . 

As Mr Takei would say “Oh Myyy….” ! Bottles like this just reinforce a question i asked G&M a while ago , why release bottles at 40/43% in the Connoisseurs Choice range ? Enough said….. 

Caol ila ‘53.112’ SMWS 1991 15yo 54.8%

 “Sluggable-gluggable” , Quite a reduction in strength from the previous two , these three from the SMWS have been extremely pale in colour compared to the O.b.’s but the quality has been consistent . The nose is just as pungent , loads of smoke , wood spices , a quiet hint of lemon and peat . Not so medicinal . The palate is citrus , honey sweetness and peat , the finish has the Lemon throat lozenges and spices .

Still a good Caol ila but seems to lack the excitement of the previous two for some reason…. Less active cask ?  

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1991 15yo 58.8%

From Hogshead 3870 distilled 11th March 1991 , bottled July 19th 2006 , this one was bottled for the Forum at Bladnoch when Raymond was in residence and it will have been very reasonably priced . The nose is menthol cigarette smoke , mint ,  peat and the familiar Caol ila lemon , the nose is really relaxed after the SMWS offerings . The palate is more lively than the 53.112 , again we have the lemon throat lozenges (medicinal) , oak spices , a touch of peat and a chewy . The finish is long and spicy with a squeeze of lemon .

A highly drinkable Caol ila (aren’t they all?) that delights all the way through , Lovely !!!

Port Askaig 17yo 45.8%

Ok so it doesn’t say Caol ila on the label but we know different 😉 The nose screams Caol ila Medicinal ! It has the Lemon Citrus , slight sweetness , touch of smoke and peat but not much . The palate is very soft to start with , again the lemon stands out , touch of peat and smoke with a honey sweetness . The finish is medium with the old favourite of Lemon throat lozenges…..

Not quite the kick of some of the previous Caol ilas but this would be a great session malt !

Caol ila ‘53.64’ SMWS 1983 20yo 55.4%

“Smoky Boiled Sweets” quite sweet on the nose (icing sugar) , carbolic soap , smoking embers and quite maritimey , possibly the most laid back nose of the SMWS bottlings so far . The palate bites back with avengence , really peppery , loads of iodine and germolene , touch of lemon throat lozenges , The finish is long and iodine .

Not your average Caol ila , very relaxed on the nose , luckily the palate is another stunning one . 

Caol ila ‘53.84’ SMWS 1983 21yo 60.2%

“A peat cutters jacket” Straight away the germolene gets you on the nose , very medicinal , a little bit of fruit and i just caught a nice bit of chocolate and shortbread , yummy ! WOW , very farm yard , iodine , seashore and peat ! This could almost be a Laphroaig in disguise . The finish is long , peaty and iodine .

Found the price of this on one of my records , £50 ! An amazing dram with a slight twist ! We like slight twists ! 

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1983 25yo 53.2%

From Hogshead 4807 Distilled 12th October 1983 bottled 18th October 2008 , straight in to the fruit with this one , green apples , then highland toffee , takes a wee bit to settle then the smoke and iodine mix with the toffee , a very relaxed nose for the CI . Lots of oak spices on the palate , vanilla , then the toffee again with a nice peatiness and farm yard and iodine . The finish is long , sweet , iodine and cloves .

This one is is a gentle caress of the taste buds rather than a whack with a peat shovel , it’s actually a rather nice session dram !

OMC Caol ila 1979 25yo 50%

Distilled Feb 1979 bottled Sept 2004 from Cask DL Ref 1357 . This one is taking a little bit to open…. Once again we have green apples , oak spices , cloves , a slight waft of peat smoke and a toffee sweetness . The palate is uber relaxed , lemon , apples , toffee , lots of smoke and a hint of iodine , the finish is disappointingly short with lemon menthol .

A different one compared to the others but we are moving into the territory where a lot of peated drams loose the ‘kick’ after a long time maturing but gain a lot of elegance along the way (try a 10yo Ardbeg against  a 25yo+) . Still worthy !  

Caol ila ‘53.93’ SMWS 1980 25yo 55.4%

“Free Spirit” This one is remarkably chocolatey on the nose initially , then it progresses to Farm yard , iodine and seashore (though iodine and seashore could be the same thing , Seaweed on the seashore….) , can’t believe the chocolate , never got that before….. The palate confuses me more , farm yard again and nettles ! Only ever get nettles on Laphroaig ! Luckily we have the lemon , smoke and peat eventually along with a lovely medicinalness and a few spices . The finish is medium with a lovely lemon medicinal .

A lovely relaxed 25yo (as the best are….) , love the chocolate mixing in with the Islay spirit !  

Caol ila ‘53.96’ SMWS 1980 25yo 59.7%

“Heavenly and heart warming” It’s amazing what the difference a few percent makes in the strength of a whisky  , straight away you get the medicinal element on the nose , loads of iodine and germolene , again the farm yard , the lemon and the chocolate . The palate has a bit more of a kick to it than the 93 , the usual suspects pop in , Caol ila definitely has a uniqueness to it compared to the peaty giants of the South Shore and i , for one , are glad it does . The finish on this one is long , lemony , spicy and medicinal .

I can honestly say because of expressions like this (and most of the above ) that if Ardbeg wasn’t about , Caol Ila would probably be my favourite Peated Islay ! The quality is outstanding , keep it coming !!!

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1980 25yo 53.3% 

From Hogshead 4684 , Distilled 15th May 1980 bottled 1st June 2010 . Raymond actually bottled 3 casks from the same batch in a short period of time , i think i took this one to Toronto last year and it was received really well . Still quite pungent for a 30yo on the nose , incredibly smoky and medicinal , spicy and grassy ! Also a wee hint of Chocolate…. Very thick and oily on the palate , quite peaty for it’s age , medicinal and very spicy ! A touch of mint humbugs . Incredibly long , dry , spicy finish . Really , really , really long !

A fantastic dram given it’s age (could be woody!) that was really cheap ( £50 a bottle?) compared to the current 30yo offering from the owners .   

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1980 25yo 54.2% 

From Hogshead 4686 , Distilled 15th May 1980 bottled 15th May 2010 . Bottled nearly a week earlier than the above , this one is more medicinal on the nose , still has a hint of Chocolate , in fact more than a hint , chocolate digestives ! A bit of vanilla on this one , the nose is very sniffable , farm yard is there and a touch of smoke . The palate is a lot smoother and not as thick as 4684 , Really medicinal , farm yardie and nettles , lovely spices ! The finish is shorter than the 4684 but still long , medicinal and pepper .

Another cracking 30yo and Caol Ila !  Probably a bit more how you’d expect a 30yo to be , but it’s still lively !

Johanna asked me for a comment about Caol ila for the site publicity , the consistent quality first sprung to mind , as i said “How often do you find a bad Caol Ila?”  See above…..