Caol Ila might be the powerhouse industrial distillery on Islay but it is one which I find hugely enjoyable. Having visited twice and toured once the actual production facility is more focused on quality than you might be forgiven to expect with some of the blog articles out there.
The distillery might not be much of a looker but the whisky is mostly well made, well priced and widely available. What more could you really want from an islay whisky if you are really honest with yourself?
The Caol Ila was founded in 1846 and is located at the north end of the island near the ferry terminal of Port Askaig. The location was perfect when deliveries on and off the island were via the pier on the island. Today, it is less practical but at least it isn’t as bad as the Bunnhabhain road which is being widened in places with the new Ardnahoe distillery currently being built on the same road.
The distillery there today dates from 1974 with the original warehousing still to be seen on the sight. I have toured the distillery and inside the 1970’s building it completely reminds me of the high school I went to from the same via. The office parts at least, I wasn’t educated in an alcohol production site you understand (sadly).
Many people will probably tell you Caol Ila tours are the most forgettable and uninspired which may or may not have been true in the past. I visited in 2017 and Jackie was outstanding and bursting with knowledge and passion for the place and the island. Her partner is the current distillery manager Pierrick Guillaume and they seem to bring a fresh air to the place.
Also of interest might be the cat!
The 12 year old is the youngest age stated official bottling. It has been around since 2002 and is bottled at 43%ABV. In the last couple of years a new Moch expression has been released which is “all about the taste” which is marketing speak for contains some whisky which is so youthful we aren’t comfortable to tell you. However, in a lot of markets that bottle is more expensive than the 12. I haven’t tried it so cannot say why that is the case. You should expect to pay somewhere around £35-£40 in the UK and it is widely available in supermarkets.
The bottle contains a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels with more than half being ex-bourbon. It is coloured and filtered although the bottle doesn’t actually say one way or the other. A nice touch with all the Caol Ila bottles is they have the same scene on each cardboard box but the colour is different for each age statement which makes a nice display on a shelf.
Colour – Barley Yellow
Nose – Quite a fruity nose with dark plums and stewed fruit for a pie. Lemon and lime juice complete the fruit aspects. On a more vegetal note we have some brewed tea and a heathery subtle peat smoke. Lastly there is a saline note of sea spray with is pretty prominent.
Palate – A gentle arrival of more fruits gives way to a touch of toffee then lots of pepper and finally some tobacco and ash.
Finish – The peppery finish is longer than you might have expected given the ABV and the quite subtle palate flavours. It has a real sweet and sour dimension with spirity fruity notes to start before tightening up in bitter wooden notes.
A potential entry into peated Islay whisky this is a gentle peated whisky similar to Bowmore but less harsh and not quite so salty. One thing to note though is for the same price you can get a G&M 12 year old Caol Ila which is 46% rather than 43% and natural presented. Tune in next time to see if it’s actually any better though whisky fans!