Caol Ila is Diageo's workhorse distillery for making peated whisky. While not as highly regarded as their other distilleries on Islay, Lagavulin or the dearly-departed Port Ellen, there are those who think it's just as good with the right amount of age. Previously I had only tried their basic 12 Year, which was tasty but not a stand-out. This, however, was another matter entirely.
I was lucky enough to attend the PDXWhisky tasting last April where this was served and take a sample home for more thorough evaluation later. It's not every day that you get to taste something that was distilled only a few months before you were born.
Duncan Taylor Dimensions Caol Ila 29 Year 1983/2012
Nose: gentle earthy peat, wood ash, toasted oak, dirty lemon, caramel, apples/pears, berries/wine, creamy, herbal, a touch of bacon. After adding a few drops of water, the peat and oak merge, more malt and lemon come out, the caramel becomes very creamy.
Taste: sweetness, pepper, berries, and citric tang hit with piercing intensity immediately and stay throughout, followed by vinegar, polished oak and robust peat, which are joined by sweet malt, salt, and caramel going into the finish. After dilution, the palate becomes even more lemony and malty, some vanilla and cacao come out, with oak, pepper, and peat taking a bit of a back seat, while the peat becomes more industrial.
Finish: citric, light peat and malt, caramel, polished oak, salt, berry residue, a touch of bacon.
This whisky was, to put it mildly, a stunner. While I can't nail down any info, I have a feeling it was aged in either a first- or second-fill bourbon barrel. The caramel notes are almost off the charts, though there is less vanilla than you might expect. Most importantly, everything felt perfectly in balance, despite the intensity of the flavors. Secondly, even though this was bottled at a fairly hefty 53.8%, the alcohol barely makes itself known. Smoothness has never been a trait I've been particularly interested in when it comes to whisk(e)y, but this one has it in spades.
Really, the only downside to this whisky is that it's more or less all gone. While older Caol Ilas are more abundant than some other distilleries due to their volume, it's still not the easiest thing to find (especially at a reasonable price). I could happily drink this whisky for a long, long time, especially when the weather is cool. But that also makes me very thankful to have been able to try as much as I did.
Lagavulin 21 year old 1991 (thank you, Brett!)
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