Acquired: Birthday Gift, 7th August 2020
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2020
90/100 – Whisky in the 6 (his video review below)
86.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 174 member votes)
I was delighted to receive this Caol Ila 18yo as a birthday gift. Initially I thought it was the standard 18yo until I saw the 59.8% on the box. Some quick research later and I discovered it was the Diageo special release bottled from 2017. The further away we get from the last millennium the nicer it is to acquire whisky distilled before 2000. It’s pure sentimentality that Millennials and Generation Z wouldn’t understand. Hard to believe such a wonderful single malt from 2017 is still available new in 2020 but it was. No need for an auction site quite yet.
I haven’t added a Caol Ila to my collection for nearly 5 years. I love the distillery but it goes to show how much choice there is out there that it’s been neglected for so long. Of my previous 4 examples of Caol Ila none are unpeated like this 2017 18-year-old. Several reviews either say they detect a hint of peat or the smoke element gives a strong illusion of peat. It’s interesting that Caol Ila can’t shake off what people expect to taste but it’s great that the distillery isn’t scared to strip the peat away. It clearly works, and works well.
Jim Murray, author of the ‘Whisky Bible’, scores this Caol Ila 18yo a fantastic 96/100, which classifies it as a ‘superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live’. He scores the taste a near-perfect 24.5/25 with the remark “so, so beautiful” and finishes with “this is the way Caol Ila should be: so true to the distillery”. Other comments online include “intense arrival, it maintains a maritime character and has substantial oak to affirm its age”, “an extremely rewarding Islay malt, despite its lack of peat” and “just a superb whisky”. What a lovely birthday gift!
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: At the tasting we attended, “chocolate digestives” was met with universal agreement. Quite creamy with bourbon hints and sliced peaches too.
Palate: Fruitier now, fragrant and concentrated with a little furniture polish. This is complemented by the expected soft caramel and clean seashell character.
Finish: Cake-like with just a hint of smoke (even though this is ‘unpeated’).
Here’s Rob of ‘Whisky in the 6’ on YouTube giving us his thoughts about this special Caol Ila 18yo (Oct 2018):
Bought: World Duty Free, 22nd March 2016
82.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes) for 100cl version
84/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
The Johnnie Walker ‘Green Label’ first appeared in 2005 but by 2013 it was discontinued everywhere other than in Asia. In 2015 it returned (hurray!) with a limited edition to mark its 10-year anniversary. But rather than disappear again it has remained due to popular demand, and by having enough stock of the whisky that go into this blended malt. As it states on the box this is a vatting together of Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila, which all have to be a minimum of 15 years old. And with no grain whisky to interfere with the mix you get to play a guessing game as to which of these 4 classic single malts you can spot in the taste.
Even though it’s been 2 years since the Green Label (GL) returned I see that Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’ book still contains his review from many years ago (95/100) so I haven’t included that. 82.6/100 on Whiskybase is for my 100cl version but the 70cl scores higher with 83.4/100 from 76 votes (it’s the same stuff in both bottles). That’s a pretty good score. Comments include “no big challenge, no need of too much attention. Simple but decent”, “what it lacks is a bit of power, but then again, the balance between subtle smoke and sweetness is well-done” and “initial taste is very good and promising, but the body never delivers. And it’s just downhill from there, with an almost non existing finish.”
Although ratings appear to be good the new GL clearly has its faults, especially to those who tried the previous incarnation. When Ralfy did his first YouTube review of the GL in 2010 he scored it a fantastic 89/100 but in his re-review in 2016 (below) he’s downgraded it to 84/100. He felt it had been slightly sanitised since his last review. ‘Malts of Montreal’ says in his YouTube review of September 2015 (here) that the old version was more smoky and peaty whereas the new GL is sweeter. This could well upset the Coal Ila and Talisker fans and I certainly didn’t taste as much Talisker as I was hoping when I tried it. But overall, without comparison to the previous version, the Johnnie Walker Green Label is a good blended malt and an enjoyable experience on the palate.
Ralfy’s thoughts on YouTube (April 2016):
Posted in Johnnie Walker VM
Tagged 100cl, 15yo, 43%, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, Green Label, Johnnie Walker, Linkwood, Talisker, Vatted Malt, World Duty Free
Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd August 2016
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2011
8.5/100 – Jo from Whisky Wednesday (video below)
84.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)
Big Peat first appeared in the Whisky Bible in 2011 with a fantastic score of 96/100. In the latest edition batch 30 scores 92/100 and batch 31 scores 90.5/100, which means quality has slipped a little (according to the author) but not by much. Unfortunately my 20cl bottle doesn’t have a batch number on it but according to Whiskybase this quarter bottle first appeared in 2009. I’m hoping my version dates back to that time and the epic 96/100. The author concludes with “had the Caol Ila been reduces slightly, and with it the oils, this might well have been World Whisky of the Year”. Praise indeed.
Big Peat is a vatting together of Islay single malts. Douglas Laing who make Big Peat describe it as “Caol Ila spirit bringing sweetness, Bowmore the perfect balance, Ardbeg the medicinal, earthy quality and Port Ellen, a degree of elegance”. But as the price of Port Ellen rises you have to think there’s very little going into the Big Peat mix. I bet I won’t be able to identify it. Nevertheless Big Peat is a classic of its time and a dram that every whisky enthusiast should try eventually.
20cl tasting notes provided on Whiskybase:
Nose: Earthy, mossy and briney. That smoked kipper quality. Some ripe fruits lurk.
Taste: The smoke coats and fills the mouth. A decent oak roasted salmon oiliness. Leaves a little salt as well.
Finish: Long with plenty of smoke and sweet honey.
Here’s Jo from Whisky Wednesday with his review on You Tube (June 2015):
Posted in Big Peat
Tagged 20cl, 46%, Ardbeg, Big Peat, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Douglas Laing & Co Ltd, Islay, Master of Malt, NAS, Port Ellen, Port Ellen (closed 1983), Vatted Malt
Bought: SMWS, 30th October 2015
90/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
SMWS name: Jekyll & Hyde
Up until a few days ago there was no rating on Whiskybase for this Caol Ila but thankfully someone came to my rescue with a stunning 90/100. The tasting notes on the bottle read “honey glazed ham and boozy grilled pineapple. The taste is an explosion of peat smoke and brown sauce served with fish and chips. With water, smoked scallops and a peat smoked pineapple soufflé.” Sounds lovely!
Although Jim Murray doesn’t mention this exact Caol Ila 19yo in his Whisky Bible 2016 he does include 9 bottlings by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) including four 18-year-olds. This is a similar maturity to my 19yo sample and their scores range from 85.5/100 to 91/100, which is excellent news. Of the 9 bottles the lowest mark is 81/100, which is still “good whisky worth trying” according to the book’s score chart. This might not seem 100% relevant since every whisky is different but it lets me know that those within the SMWS that taste and select Caol Ila casks for bottling are consistently good in the eyes of Mr Murray.
I’ve yet to taste a bad Caol Ila and this sample isn’t likely to change that fact. Now, where’s my glass…..
Bought: Tesco, 10th September 2015
84.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 101 member votes)
In the Whisky Bible 2015 the previous ‘Distillers Edition’ 2000/12 scores an amazing 95/100. It also scores 86.13/100 on Whiskybase from 54 votes. 84.67/100 for my bottle is a bit of a slip but both are the same age, strength and double matured in Moscatel cask wood. You’d expect a lot of similarity between the two releases and clearly the quality is kept high for this delightful Islay single malt.
I was hoping to pick out some interesting comments from the reviews on Whiskybase but the majority are in German. English comments about the taste include “peat, chocolate, salt, liquorice, toffee, lime and peach” also “ashes, spices, some gun powder, liquorice and citrus – lemon”. Someone summarises with “nice Islay, to bad for that weak finish” although others say the finish is ‘medium’. Each to their own as usual but clearly this is a very pleasant dram.
Bought: Waitrose, 21st January 2015
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
83.66/100 – Whiskybase (average from 127 member votes)
82/100 – Ralfy – His YouTube review here (August 2012)
I’m beginning to think of Caol Ila as ‘the easy drinking Islay’. An Ardbeg is like Guinness, where a couple of glasses are delicious but very rich, deep and filling. Caol Ila on the other hand is like an easy-sipping beer. The whole night can slip by without you realising how many glasses you’ve had until you try and get up and your legs go to jelly.
87/100 in the Whisky Bible is excellent, and the author confirmed my view of Caol Ila by saying “Easy drinking Islay” then concluding with “though I think they mean “Mocha”.” Ralfy’s review gives an interesting summary of the flavours. If I manage to detect half of his list I’ll be happy! He thinks the Moch is mostly 7 to 8-year-old whisky.
Two reviewers on Whiskybase compare the Moch to the Caol Ila 12yo saying it’s “softer and sweeter” and “more complex and more fruity” than its older brother. Whiskybase scores the 12yo 83.86/100, so almost identical to the Moch, and the Whisky Bible has the 12yo two points ahead with 89/100. Comparisons aside, the Moch sounds like a very pleasant dram.
Bought – Demijohn, 4th September 2013
It was discovering this blend in the ‘Whisky Bible 2013’ that lead me to Demijohn. The company was founded in 2004, in Edinburgh, as the “World’s first liquid deli”. You choose the liquid you want and which Italian glass bottle you’d like to receive it in. Some of the bottles looked stunning, and I ended up tempted by their Bladnoch and Caol Ila malts too.
Here’s a quote from the Demijohn website about this blend: “Blended for us by Adelphi Distillery this delicious blend contains a little of our much loved Caol Ila Single Malt, balanced against a couple of Speyside Single Malts, including Linkwood Single Malt Whisky.”
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
Bought – Demijohn, 4th September 2013
81/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
Quote from Demijohn website about the whisky: “This particular single cask malt is from Cask No. 304640, filled in 2004 and limited originally to approximately 275 bulk litres. It took over a year to secure, so appreciate this single malt whisky while you still can!”
I’m delighted to find that someone has now added this independent bottling (IB) of Caol Ila on Whiskybase where they say “Young and feisty, with lots of peat on the nose and palate. Rather expensive compared to other young Caol Ila IBs.”
Bought – Whisky Exchange, 28th July 2013