After a rye, bourbon and highland, it was time to turn to something peaty – and what is a more classic expression than Caol Ila?
Caol Ila 8 Year Old – Provenance (Douglas Laing)
- Nose – Pure peat, wood smoke, cured meats, bacon, maple
- Palate – Full peat, cinnamon, a clear classic Caol Ila, nicely rolled around on the palate with a lovely peat
- Finish – Nice finish, cinnamon spice
While I can’t guarantee it, I think this is cask #13077, which was aged in a refill hogshead from February 2011 to February 2019. After its maturation, it was bottled at 46% ABV with an outturn of 392 bottles.
Here is what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say:
- Nose: Toasty at first, becomes increasingly coastal. Sweetness of honeycomb in the background.
- Palate: Flapjacks, oatcakes and plenty of smoky barley.
- Finish: Meaty malt and black pepper spiciness.
Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:
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Our original tasting club in Mumbai has a tradition of sampling blind. We also try to explore something new – which sometimes leads to amazing new discoveries and sometimes disappointments.
What this means is trying familiar distilleries but in new avatars. In this case, we explored an old favourite Caol Ila from Hunter Laing’s newer Distiller’s Art bottling line of Single Casks. Then to add an even further special twist, these particular bottles were picked up from a particular store at cask strength.
Caol Ila 8 year (2009 / 2018) 59.2%, Sherry Hogshead, Bottle 173 of 180
- Nose – Varnish, sharp, astringent, light banana, honey and caramel, vanilla, overall quite young
- Palate – A bit harsh, raw, salty, spice kick, very piquant, hint of bitter coffee, chocolate
- Finish – A warm burn, jaggery, spice, salty butter lingers… long and tingling
We suspected it was likely an ex-bourbon cask and definitely was high alcohol with an ‘in your face’ quality. Powerful and unbalanced… so we added water – a generous dollop. What a difference water made!
- On the nose, it brightened it up, revealing lemon, floral honey.
- Then on the palate, rounded it out, smoothing it into buttery leather, old wood and had much more depth
- Suddenly it had an insane long finish!
While there were clear hints of peat before adding water, there were just too many forward elements competing for attention. With the water, it was truly a different dram.
What else did we explore?
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Our final North Star Series 5 whisky was from the Islay region with a Caol Ila whisky. While it was the last, it was an entirely appropriate tasting order with this peaty robust dram coming after some lighter, flirtatious whiskies.
Here is what we discovered with the North Star Cask Series 005 Caol Ila…
Caol Ila 12 year (April 2006/May 2018) 54.6%
- Nose – Hello peat! Sweaty, yheasty, medicinal… quite ‘wintry’, pine nuts, spirit of “peat fun”, some salt, kept evolving with the peat much less pronounced, giving way to other aromas, green asparagus, young potato starch, burnt maple bacon, sweet citrus, lightly smoky sweet grass, burnt sugar, sour cherry
- Palate – Proper peat, some spice and everything nice. Crêpe Suzette with cherry liquor flambé, perhaps with a touch of citrus too
- Finish – Green chilli and wasabi, sweet grapes
For those of a peatier persuasion, quite enjoyed this one. The bottle shared a few more details – noting the Caol Ila was bottled from a refill hogshead, un-chill filtered and natural colour.
As for what Iain Croucher had to say about it in his North Star’s tasting notes?
- Nose: An Oligarch’s humidor… a big dusty one
- Palate: A peated Sherbet Lemon, doubled-dunted with a peated Soor Ploom
- Finish: Reminds me of well-seasoned hardwood burning near a new carpet… all subjective of course
Now I must share, we had the most hilarious response and commentary on this one – thoroughly enjoying the reading of the tasting notes… including having to look up what exactly is a “Soor Ploom.”
In case you are curious, a “Soor Ploom” according to Wikipedia is
a sharp flavoured, round, green boiled sweet originally associated with Galashiels, Scotland.
A “childhood favourite,” they are pale green and “slightly acid in flavour”.
Overall it was terrific having a chance to try such distinctive drams – well worth exploring.
For those curious about cost, this whisky was purchased online in July 2018 from Master of Malt for £76.36 / USD 100 / INR 7,215 and was opened in November 2018.
Don’t miss the other Whisky Ladies guest reviews of North Star Series 005 whiskies covering 5 Scottish regions:
Or check out the Original Group’s North Star Discovery:
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We shifted fully into peat mode with Caol Ila… part of the new La Maison du Whisky Artist # 8 series.
Just as you would imagine from the swirl of smoke from Jérémie Lenoir’s photographs, this was no shy retiring whisky…
Caol Ila 15 year (2003/2018) Hogshead Cask #302465 54.2% (282 bottles)
- Nose – Sweet peat, light hickory, bay leaves and sweet basil
- Palate – Surprisingly soft and smooth yet no mistaking it was powerful too
- Finish – An absolutely terrific finish – incredibly long and strong
The smoke remained… so pungent that I needed to change glasses before continuing with the rest of the series!
As for what it would set you back? SGD 388.
And what do the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say? No detailed tasting notes…. just a few thoughts.
Particularly suggestive, this absolutely beautiful version transports us in the proper sense of the word. Continuously traversed by swirls of smoke and a sea wind of exquisite sweetness, the aromatic palette is a succession of hectic sequences and moments imbued with tranquility and serenity.
—-From LMdW website with an imperfect google translation from French.
La Maison du Whisky Artist #8 sans Sherry
Clearly we’ve had other flirtations with Caol Ila:
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At Whisky Live Singapore 2018, there were a few choice Gordon & MacPhail whiskies available in the VIP section. It provided a great opportunity to sample fine whiskies – particularly aged drams one could ordinarily not afford.
We spotted this when we first perused what was available and knew we must try it. We were fortunate there were still a few drops left!
Caol Ila 33 year (1989/ 3 July 2018) Cask 181062 52.8% 216 bottles
- Nose – Smoke and fire and yet with beautiful balance, nutty, salted toffee, smoked meats, light herbal sweet grass and tobacco
- Palate – Buttery, apricot plum, pastry, remarkably well-balanced peat, vanilla
- Finish – Long and smoky
It is such a treat to try something aged and beautifully peated. While it was only a small snifter, it was more than enough to know we were lucky to have such an opportunity.
And what would this set you back? While the 33 year was not on sale, the 34 year old was retailing for SGD 1,100. Yikes!
Other whiskies sampled at the Gordon & MacPhail booth, Whisky Live 2018:
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Every once and a while a rare whisky comes my way… something special shared with pride.
Such was the case one fine evening in Mumbai many months ago where this 31 year Caol Ila graced our sipping, conversing and collective appreciation of whisky…
Caol Ila 31 years (2 May 1979 / March 2011) 46% Bottle 150 (Mackillop’s Choice)
I remember thinking of an apple orchard that has gone sour – but in a rather tasty way. Lots of smoke but old style not hit over the head. More of that fabulous fruitiness…
I remember rolling this around and just taking pleasure in its full flavour, throwing some salty nuts in with the sweet peat and fruits. No off notes, instead a delicious blanket enveloping in smokey goodness.
The finish had a bit of liquorice… long and sweet
It really was quite stupendous.
You will have to forgive my scant recollections as I didn’t take my normal notes. It was instead just a special evening with friends and exceedingly good drams. And one I was very grateful to be able to join and enjoy.
This particular single cask release was specially selected for World of Whiskies – yes duty free! And last seen auctioned for £150.
What about other Caol Ila experiences? Read on…
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Last in our North Star trio was a whisky from its 2nd series simply named “Islay”. We sampled it blind and were floored by the reveal with an introduction to a new independent bottler who certainly seems to be bringing quality and value to his selections.
Islay 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles
- Nose – A sour peat… dare I say it… almost headache inducing? Certainly highly medicinal. Which then slipped into ham, pineapple, mellow with a very different character than how it began, lemon tart, musk melon, some spice… shifted again this time into smoked sweet grass, green coffee beans, cut hay, quite vegetal, dry forrest
- Palate – Starts exceedingly smooth then SPICE. Had a phenolic Islay style sweet peat not the palate with smoked pepper ham, with more fruits like grilled pineapple and apricot
- Finish – Sweet, slightly briney and ends with something we couldn’t quite name… after going on and on and on…..
- Water – Wow! What a difference! It really brought out the best qualities – the nose took on a peak smoke with dark chocolate and cherries, the palate augmented the sweet peat with a berry dimension and the finish then revealed beneath the salty sweet ash a light citrus sweet
As the last of our trio, we joked that perhaps the theme of the evening was spice, sweet and slow things down as each whisky took its time to fully reveal its character.
Our talk turned to speculate the origins of this dram. For all it was sufficiently distinctively Islay to fall in that camp. But which one? We veered towards Caol Ila which, though not actually stated by the bottler, may very well be the case.
The extra fruitiness that emerged behind the peat made sense once I learned the whisky was finished in a pair of ex-sherry octave casks.
And what about the official tasting notes?
- Nose: Medicinal, peat smoke & dark chocolate
- Palate: Sweet peat, delicate sherry notes
- Finish: Subtle ash, citrus & peppery peat smoke
Interestingly our findings were most aligned with the official tasting notes with water. And certainly we would highly recommend adding some generous drops to bring out the best in this whisky.
What were we fortunate to sample in our introductory North Star Trilogy?
Before it sold out, you could find it through Master of Malt for approximately £75.
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There is something so fabulous about being truly surprised.
Which is why our original Mumbai tasting group keeps to its habit of tasting blind. Sometimes we reveal each whisky immediately after tasting, other times we wait until we have sampled all three whiskies.
In this case, it was after tasting all three drams and what a reveal! Why?
As it introduced North Star Spirits, a new independent bottler based in Glasgow. Starting in just 2016, we understand it is a “one man” operation by Iain Croucher, earlier part of A.D. Ratraay group.
Interestingly, he has a distribution relationship in Germany with Sansibar – which is another independent bottler that caught my attention recently for its ability to spot good casks for relatively reasonable rates.
My photos do not do justice to their packaging which is eye catching and filled with details about the cask type and inventive tasting notes too!
What did we sample?
All are cask strength, from a single cask, with natural colour and no chill filtration.
As North Star bottles have already captivated attention, we understand it is best to pre-order online as they seem to be snapped up quickly!
I’m now on the hunt to find more North Star whiskies to share with our other whisky tasting groups in Mumbai.
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Whisky Live’s Collector’s Room was such a terrific experience at the Singapore 2016 event. I couldn’t wait to see what treasures would be available to purchase a small dram…
However it was quite the scaled back version… no delightful fully separate “Collector’s Room“. Instead it was a simple bar area with a row of whiskies on offer. Those we considered started at SGD80 a glass… we decided to try two and share… it was not an easy decision.
My companion settled on:
Yamazaki 12 year (1996/2009) Cask No AX70012 Sherry Butt 60% (Whisky Live Japan 10 year anniversary edition)
- Nose – Sherry explosion… one even said headache inducing
- Palate – Almost overwhelming, woody, spice, all the dark fruits, black cherry, phenomenal
- Finish – What a fabulous finish!
- Water – Opens it up further, bringing balance
It was truly intense, dense, rich and almost on the edge of being too… everything! Remarkable, unforgettable and worth trying… once.
Whereas I leaned towards a certain sentimentality – a whisky from the same year I was born! It was a rare 1980s Caol Ila bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.
Caol Ila 16 year (1969) 40%
- Nose – Peat, sour, overripe fruit, a bit of varnish, old and musty, then these darker qualities dissipated to be replace instead by vanilla, bananas, an almost briney quality that then became quite sweet
- Palate – Spice, peat, sweet and much softer than anticipated from the nose
- Finish – Long peat, sweet and spicy finish
We remarked on how very different it was from the Caol Ila style of today.
It was last seen on auction for approx £510.00.
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Next up in our peaty minis evening after the Wemyss Peat Chimney, we explored a blend from Douglas Laing.
Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)
- Nose – Began with quite a sharp peat that then disappeared quickly. Baked banana or a banoffee cream pie then also settled into a surprisingly restrained fermented apple, quite sweet.
- Palate – A delicious peat heat, black pepper, green peppercorns, liquorice root, quite fresh
- Finish – Peat spice, sweet liquorice, changes to red chilli, cinnamon spice
What we enjoyed most about this whisky was how it kept changing. While consistently accessible – in a good way. There was overall a fresh lightness to its approach – unquestionably peat but one with a delightful ‘freshness’ and spirit.
Here’s what the folks over at Douglas Laing have to say:
Douglas Laing’s Big Peat is a feisty Islay character with a sweet side. This is a small batch bottling, without colouring or chill-filtration and only contains Islay Malt Whiskies, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and (even the now closed) Port Ellen to name but a few!
And their tasting notes?
Opens fresh, salty and clean on the nose, developing to sweet malt dried over peat. On the palate, detect ashes, sweet tar, beaches and smoking chimneys. The finish is long and lingering, replicating the palate with salty, tangy liquorice, smoke, bonfire ashes and a phenolic quality.
We sampled from a closed mini bottle in October 2017. While I can’t recall the exact price, think it was around £5 or so… a full bottle will set you back approximately $55. An exceedingly reasonable price for a most enjoyable dram.
And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?
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