With my grumpy quibbles now over [blog], what I was looking for at the Managers’ Masterclass, I found at Keith Law’s Blenders’ Masterclass – entitled the Cask Strength Experience 2018. [Further reading: SW]
Though I arrive quite late, an inebriated-yet-warm young man offers me his samples of the first & then second casks on pour. Aah brotherhood! I take scant notes and later source my own samples to take home for deeper analysis.
Caol Ila 2012 6yo Un-Ob. cask sample #320239 60.9%
- C: Whilst I feel I’ve been stuck onboard an 18-30’s booze cruise for the last hour, I’ve been missing this – damn! This single cask has an amazing mouthfeel, the chewiest I’ve ever known – chewy, rich & ready! There’s positive consensus around the room. Provisionally scores 89.
SAMPLE TAKEN HOME
- N: A really thick & present nose with notes of potato soap, leeks, onions and cabbage [bubble & squeak territory], baked beans yep [an association classic], pickled [red & yellow] peppers and sweet gherkin juice – I believe there’s a Berlin band/club night of a similar name. This all sounds terrible, but it’s no such thing.
- T: Despite my love for the official 25yo [blog], there’s no doubt that Caol Ila works young and at strength. It’s of no surprise then, that blenders love it. This young CS single cask offering works with water too, which is a blessing because the initial ‘pickled’ hit is immense – though even at full power it’s never spirity nor unripe.
- F: The firmness of the spirit seems to shroud the oaky vanilla whilst allowing a sublime heady dryness.
- C: Super-high quality 6yo. The great thing about trying the same whisky in two contrasting locations is you get an opportunity to recorrect potential on-site romantic bias. Little needed as it goes.
Final score, 88 points.
Caol Ila 2006 12yo Un-Ob. cask sample #301956 61.9%
First-fill US oak.
- C: This is very decent too. Hugely preferable to the current official 12yo. Provisionally scores 86.
SAMPLE TAKEN HOME
- N: Again, the initial abv strength gives the nose a ‘boff’, yet the complexities of this whisky are undeterred. In short, we have salty oily oysters [in liquid form this time], flavoured with sweet lemon and a touch of dried tarragon and parsley. What’s not to like?
- T: On the palate, the alcohol strength knocks any subtlety out of the park, though there’s no doubting the quality and striking beauty of this single cask. It soon follows into the finish.
- F: We’ve a low & lingering dirtiness, very ‘English’ in style [can’t remember whether that was a distillery reference or not], with lemon & camomile tea wrapping things up.
- C: A straight ahead/no fuss, high quality slugger. At 40%, probably an 82 score.
Scores 85 in its own right.
I’m not sure what happened to the proposed 30yo or whether I missed it due to my lateness. Its absence from the lineup made the 22yo the oldest in the flight and was kept till last. To compensate, we first had this instead [at least that’s how I remember it].
Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive 2017 Ob. (3000 bts) 58.8% WB86.73
- N: Vanilla-ish, oily & salty-sweet, this is cask led though some firm consolidation is certainly present.
- T: Arrives fine and soon heads smoke-side. Pretty fair throughout save for another hollow middle. What’s going on there? Add water however, and all is forgiven.
- F: A sweet salty turn. After threatening a dirty finish, it concludes clean.
- C: A very good 10yo, surpassing this year’s Feis Ile offering [blog] of the same age.
Keith Law tells us that Diageo now have a ‘cask distinction’ program within their distilleries, whereby ‘sweet-spot casks’ are spotted & set aside for single cask/small batch releases. Thank goodness for that!
He also tells us about his ray gun that tells the ‘shooter’ what wood-type a cask is, and it’s nothing to do with bar codes apparently. All very Star Trek-ian.
Caol Ila 1996 22yo Un-Ob. cask sample #19321 55.4%
We finish with a sherry cask.
- N: Super-desirable sherry action with the right oils and phenols, from cask & spirit. Importantly, the sulphur rubbery sherry element is in fine order. Fantastic!
- T: That’s tasty and despite the still-high abv, it’s been well softened over those 22 years to be drinkable neat. That’s lucky, because water doesn’t exactly improve it. Here, sherry & Caol Ila smoke work a treat.
- F: Fruity, grassy and rough with a smokey coal >>peat finish.
- C: This isn’t the best whisky ever, but it’s exactly the kind of experience I came to Caol Ila and Islay for. Cracking fun. Provisionally scores 87.
SAMPLE TAKEN HOME
- N: Many of us soon get tired of the sherry bombs and soon [re]-discover the beauty of slow bourbon-matured barley spirit. Then something like this comes along to remind us how much whisky loves [refill] sherry casks. Descriptor-wise, we’ve salt, ginger & > banana loaf soaked in sulphur-y sherry, wrapped up snug in a subtlety ashy peat-smoked oak bed. Lastly, the sulphury character is bold and equally desirable.
- T: The peat & sherry combo can be a rocky road for me, especially when it’s full-volume Fino or worse, PX & peat. With peat & oloroso however, here we’ve an ashy quality that prevents things getting too freaky.
- F: Fruity, grainy-dry and a touch industrial. Creamy and oaky with sun-scorched dry vanilla at the death.
- C: I can’t imagine these casks will ever be bottled, which is a shame. These then are snap shots, once-in-a-life-time opportunities to try unadulterated single cask Caol Ila in their only on-site warehouse. Now that’s worth coming to Islay for!
It’s a close call, but for me that young 6yo excelled the most.