Caol Ila 14 years “Unpeated Style” (2012)

Review 2017-047 «Specifics» Single malt • Unpeated style • Vintage 1997 • Bottled in 2012  • Matured for 14 years in first-fill sherry European oak casks • 59.3% Alcohol • Chill filtered • Caramel coloured • Caol Ila • Port Askaig • Islay • Scotland • Limited availability (5958 bottles) • Hard to find (price €89-130) • Whiskybase #35082

STORY. Thinking about Caol Ila, peat and smoke are probably the first words that come to mind. But we also know that the spirit is much deeper than that (Reminisce the beautiful notes of citrus fruits). That is why I was eager to discover the undercurrent of Caol Ila by trying an unpeated version of their spirit. Once a year the mash tuns at Caol Ila distillery are filled with unpeated malt that is dried by using just hot air. The results from these temporary distillations are usually released as part of Diageo’s yearly special releases. Starting at 8-years in 2006, we have here the 14-year-old from 2012, while we will see the release of an 18-year-old unpeated version in the fall of 2017. It seems that these releases have instigated dividing opinions amongst fans, either you find it excellent and refreshing, or you do not see the point of releasing a “simple” Highland-like version of Caol Ila. Well, this makes me even more curious.

TASTING NOTES

 

APPEARANCE. Classic and simple design, colour of the contents is like reddish gold and seems (only) slightly coloured.

NOSE. Yeah, citrus fruits as expected. Acidity of lemon juice, bitterness of grapefruit, some lemon peel, lime juice, oranges, and a slight sweetness of scrapes of lime skin. Pungent (it is a high strength one), but there is a complexity lurking underneath. Develops soon into earthy and muddy notes, together with some oaky bitterness. When you give it time, the sherry cask influence comes slowly alive, albeit not very prominent. Tobacco leaves, bitter dark chocolate scrapings, and strong coffee. Hint of vanilla and custard, but it never gets overly sweet. (water) It makes it more smoky!? Cigarettes and the smell of gas, both integrate nicely with the spicy oak. Could they have used casks that previously contained some peated whisky? I can also find some sweet liquorice, vanilla, lemon popsicles, and a sherry fruitiness in the back (raisins, plums). The citrus fruits, the smoked wood, and the sherry-infused tobacco leaves come together beautifully. At that point I realise that I am already nosing this for at least 10 minutes, such an interesting nose. Gets sweeter over time with citrus sweets, also some smoked custard, barbecued pulled pork with sweet and sour sauce, cappuccino, and milk chocolate.

TASTE. Appears much more like its peated siblings. Loads of salt and I can clearly find some peat. Furthermore, liquorice roots and salty Dutch liquorice, bags of them, aniseeds, a splash of sea water, lemon peel, and lime juice. Very strong. (water) It takes a few spoons of water to tame it, but then the citrus fruits take over and intertwines with earthy notes of liquorice roots, tobacco leaves, and mud (which is great, really). Again the cigarettes, smouldering bonfires in the distance, and slightly smoked lemon skin. Whole grain mustard (a speciality from my home town), aniseeds, lemon ice with lime juice and vanilla sauce, caramelised brown sugar (slightly burned), and a pinch of nutmeg. The cask influence is there, although I can not really find any clear sherry in the palate, and it is nicely integrated.

VERDICT. Because of the mixed opinions of others I must say I was cautious, however, I am impressed by this piece of artwork. And no it is not completely peat-free, but the other components of the Caol Ila spirit  really get their chance to shine. According to Ralfy, the hint of peat could be due to residues of peated spirit in the production stills, the bottling plant, or from repeatedly used casks. Quite probably so. Anyway, if I was not convinced yet by Caol Ila, then I am now. I just love the intrinsic subtle complexity in the spirits that the people at Caol Ila distillery produce. Moreover, they manage to mature and blend it quite excellently as well. Many cheers to them! Although, I might miss the peat a little bit.

Recommended for

Many thanks to Norbert for the sample!

«What others say»

  • @Whiskybase: Mean score of 85.18 (117 votes)
  • @Ralfy: “Really a quite rewarding, interesting and engaging single malt” Score 91/100
  • @Drinkhacker: “Ultimately it’s a rich whisky but not overwhelming in its complexity, a surprising look at the versatility of Islay” Score: B+
  • @Myannoyingopinions: “This was in undistinguished blend territory” Score: 81/100
  • @Whiskyfun: “Resembles a lightish/youngish Speysider of good quality” Score: 84/100
MY SCORE
Nose
87 %
Taste
87 %
Balance
87 %
Depth
89 %
Price
86 %