Cadenhead Caol Ila 33-year-old

Thursday, April 06, 2017


I’ve actually run out of things to say about Caol Ila, it’s a difficult distillery after being levelled by a forerunner to Diageo in the 1970’s. In its place is the massive whisky factory that we know today. Even the warehouse is redundant with most of the spirit being shipped off Islay in tankers, destined to mature on the mainland of Scotland. The distillery tour is pretty mundane as well, but at least you have that lovely view from the still room across the Sound of Islay.

Thankfully, the whisky is anything but dull. Caol Ila is everywhere due to its abundant production, whether it’s as an official single malt, independent bottling or in blended Scotch whisky. Chances are you’ve had Caol Ila whether you know it or not; it’s probably in the water supply as well! It’s a steadfast Islay whisky and full of the characteristics that many enthusiasts love. Very reliable, and an important component of many a blend, it’s rarely seen in terms of advanced maturation with only the occasional special release. These official bottlings are overpriced with a 30-year-old in 2014 retailing around £400 and folk were easily parted with their cash.

Compare this to Cadenheads who seem to have more aged stock of Caol Ila than even Diageo themselves. This 33-year-old, bottled at 50.2% vol comes in at £170 which is a very fair price in today’s environment. Sadly, it also makes it the prime target for auction flippers with only 198 bottles coming out of the cask; it’s not a huge amount to go around but that’s the nature of a single cask bottling. Folk will miss out in the scramble and recently I’ve had a discussion with at least one person who failed to pick up this release. I was very fortunate, but I’m also putting the whisky love out there by splitting the bottle with fellow enthusiasts at cost price. So a 10cl of this release set me back about £24.29 and ensured that 6 others actually got to experience the whisky that they would have otherwise missed out on. Actually, make that at least 7 people, as I’ll be giving a wee sample to a friend to hopefully enjoy from my remnants of the bottle.

This bottling forms part of the onslaught of monthly Cadenhead releases to celebrate their 175th Anniversary. I’m sure it’ll be a marvellous celebration down in Campbeltown later this year but I’ll keep my distance and try to pick up these releases as and when. Time for this Caol Ila then…

Colour: rapaseed
Nose: an earthy arrival with a slight petrol residue before the abundant pears and peaches appear. Then more sweetness is triggered with barley sugars, syrup, a touch of menthol and a floral note. A buttery oily presence, spent charcoal, vanilla custard and a twist of lemon. This is a delightful nose that continues to reveal new delights. 
Taste: jeez unbelievable! At first its the peat aspect that washes in, followed by the coastal salt and toasted driftwood. Then the peat goes all sugary sweet with added fruits before the sharpness of burnt lemons then more depth with cinder toffee, aniseed and fired crackling. The finish is a light salted caramel with the emphasis on smoked sea salt.

Overall: I felt this didn't even need water, it's stunning enough straight from the bottle. Tremendous balance, depth and a real whisky journey. It's Caol Ila at its most refined, definitive and seductive. My god, she's an ugly distillery, but within there's greatness.

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