With Feis Ile 2019 only a month away, I continue my look back at Feis Ile 2018.
In contrast to Bruichladdich [blog], comes Caol Ila. Their 10yo festival bottling – reported to be a staggering £130 – was [only] a mere £100 on the day, not that anyone could try it. Ridiculous! The weather again was a standout.
The Foz & I both had tickets to the Blenders’ Masterclass [hosted by Keith Law], whilst I also had a ticket to the [new] Managers’ Masterclass. There was a time clash but I kind of managed to do both.
With time to kill, we were told we couldn’t see the distillery at this time. It’s the second time I’ve been to the distillery and not been inside it. It’s unlikely I’ll be trying again.
The atmosphere around the distillery complex was as good as the weather. Despite my grumpiness, there’s a super band playing, I forget their name. They will appear again on another open day.
I get handed a whisky.
- N: I’m pleased to report the 12yo still has that notable oily brininess [on the nose at least], with a touch of smokey bacon.
- T: Decidedly lacklustre after the initial stages. Though the smoke >> vegetal character is likeable, it’s not as oily rich as I’ve remembered it in the past.
- F: Evaporates to a mild something-ness.
- C: I used to regard the Caol Ila 12yo as a go-to, though admittedly, some years have past.
Scores 81 points
Also on pour in the courtyard:
- C: Sweeter than the 12yo with a mild-yet-determined citrus note. Also, this has more body than the 12yo and a longer form also.
Scores 82 points
Caol Ila Moch and the 12yo mixed together:
- There’s your next years Feis Ile bottling!
Whilst wandering the grounds in preparation for our masterclasses, we get offered a Laphroaig offering from an SMWS representative in matching red shoes.
With life constraints, I noted:
- N: Salty & sweaty fresh pine wood nose,…
- T: ,… with a buttery oily vegetal briny palate mouthfeel.
- F: Bitter-ish cask-influenced vegetal action, bonfire ash [more with water], and a touch bitter, chocolate vanilla choc ice to finish.
- C: Pretty fine juice with youthful form from a very good cask, exclusively bottled by the SMWS for the Islay Feis Ile 2018.
[Provisionally scores 85 points]
Back to Caol Ila and to the Managers’ Masterclass.
At £40 per head [middle ground], the Managers’ Masterclass was hosted by Caol Ila’s recently appointed manager Pierrick Guillaume. I expect some surprises, beyond the standard range. Oh, and it’s a food pairing – my favourite !
Caol Ila 12yo [See info above]
- N: Wtf, really? Core range juice on free pour in the courtyard! “Seaweed and iodine”, says the manager. Good, let’s move on.
- T: Light dry smoke, no body. With respect to the already sacrificed in my name, I eat my first and possibly last oyster. It’s of the sea for sure, accompanied by actual gravel in iodine. The oyster is of more interest in the moment,….
- F: ,… and dominates my palate completely. Food pairing, honestly !
- C: Oysters, what’s that all about? The taste of the sea/fish farm, literally.
The whisky scores 81 points again.
Caol Ila 2004/2016 Ob. Distillers Edition [C-si: 2-476] 43% WB84.85
Using ex-bourbon and moscatel casks, some or all with charred ends apparently.
- N: Ok, this is more like it. Sweet funky fruits, cake-makers dried fruits, vanilla paint, subtle & sweet coal notes, some bacon, smoked ham,….
- T: This is weird after that oyster, like most food after brushing one’s teeth for example. With a slight putrid, fizzy-ish and edgy vibe. my second sip is far better. Sticking a scallop in mouth [also my first and possibly last unknown sacrifice], simply confuses the whole event.
- F: The previous oyster still dominates as the charred smoke kicks in. Settling down, I’m left with a funky-fruit, sweet & smoky finish and a youthful spirity conclusion.
- C: I like this but I wouldn’t recommend it with scallops, nor an oyster before.
Scores 84 points
To further irk my mood, every whisky was accompanied by a “da der da da de dar, der dar, da der da da de de dar”, to which we then all had to shout in return “Caol Ila” instead of the usual ‘Tequila’. Hen & Stag parties, apply within.
The core range offerings/standard group tour vibes continue.
- N: Very light and with light smoke, this is a comforting aged/malty/smoky number with a touch of leather and subtly integrated coastal & tarry notes. I try for more but in this setting, fail to get anything but a general sense of youthfulness & balance with fair/straight forward complexity.
- T: Pretty fine juice with a nice chew and a feeling of more ‘power’ than the previous two. On the other hand, it’s a little fidgety/ungainly and somewhat simple, though balanced.
- F: A long subtlety smokey finish with chocolatey liquorice raisins.
- C: Sits comfortably between the youthful 12yo and the far older 25yo in the Caol Ila range.
Scores 86 points
So whilst everyone talks amongst themselves [I’m a man of a certain age on his own, so no one dares make eye contact], I muse over the fact that I’ve travelled all this way to Caol Ila to attend a unique festival masterclass, to be offered core range juice that’s on free pour outside. How about offering up say, a single cask, valinched & drained with gusto [for money if need be], in the courtyard? Bring on Ardbeg!
Here’s a ‘Special Release’, still widely available currently two years on.
- N: This is a ‘large’ dram as the abv would imply. The big cask influence helps bring a tutti & dry fruity concoction with lots of vanilla.
- T: With a pleasing arrival, we’ve more of the same on the palate. Add water for a more flowing, fruity vanilla bouquet and sustained travel.
- F: Turns towards firm >sharpish & tannic fruity vanilla notes thereafter.
- C: Well constructed and straight ahead juice with a rich pleasing hit that is more sustained with water. Give it 20 years in glass and we may be pushing into far higher score territory.
Scores 85 points
- N: Superbly balanced, ideally aged Caol Ila through and through. Of the core range, this is the one I have the biggest soft spot for. It’s reasonably priced too.
- T: Enjoy this one neat if you can. Water almost kills it, save for the sweet vegetal smooth oily/briny chew.
- F: A deeper finish than the previous expressions, though with rougher/edgier coal=char & straight peat smoke action.
- C: Pretty much ideal Caol Ila, though the 12yo & 18yo can be as equally superb.
Scores 88 points
Another unknown sacrifice. At least I finally get to try the Whisky Chocolatiers’ wares [SW]. There’s a lovely arrival on the palate that grows, the cocoa releasing more & more layers of controlled sweetness as the seconds pass. Adding [more] whisky now would trample it. Chocolate follows whisky, not the other way around.
Wow, the Feis Ile bottling – but only for a small & select number of us, at a price.
- N, T, F: Utilising refill US & rejuvenated European butts [SW], this is made up from a selection of eight casks, apparently. Pierrick says he likes it. A smokier Caol Ila with langoustines & green tea is all I noted.
- C: Our host points out that most people who buy Caol Ila don’t drink it. If that is the case, why WOULD the distillery bother offering it free for people to try before they buy?!
[Provisionally scores 86 points]
A sample I put in my left pocket was never found, so I’ll never know how truly amazing this £100 bottle of 10yo Caol Ila really was. I dash out to attend the Blenders’ Masterclass. In hindsight, I should have skipped this first one and gone straight there – coming up in part 2.