Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Sell Me a Tale: a review of Talisker Dark Storm

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
Oscar Wilde                 

Whisky's allure surpasses taste, texture and aroma. Stories matter. Legends abound when it comes to rare or expensive whiskies like a Bowmore 30 Year Old Sea Dragon, any Brora or Port Ellen. When enthusiasts, afficionados, and connoisseurs deny they've been seduced by a marketing pitch and insist they're "above all that", I posit it's either self-deception or an outright lie. We gravitate to stories; real ones or those conjured from the imaginative minds of sales reps...er, I mean "brand ambassadors". Bonus points if there's an element of truth in these yarns. Maybe the distillery's founder really was a viking warrior. Maybe the brand's founder really did ride a twelve-pointed stag into battle, bare-chested, to save the King of Scotland from Orcs, or Dementors, or something along those lines.

I can't wait for the Battlecat distillery's first release
Facetiousness aside, we're awestruck when sipping a whisky that's as old or older than we are. It's exciting to taste something from a legendary, now-defunct distillery. If you're a malt enthusiast, you can't avoid thinking "Wow! I was four years old (in my case) when this 35 Year Old whisky was distilled". So I won't denounce marketing here. I get it; it's all part of the experience. However, it's interesting to judge a whisky based solely on taste, and blind samples are the best way, possibly the only way, to do that. When a friend hands you a sample, labeled "Mystery #1", you're compelled to let your senses render a verdict. There's no tale to sell, no chicanery, no tales of long-forgotten lore. Quoth the blogger "Nevermore". Wait, wrong blog.

Tasting notes


I wrote these tasting notes without knowing exactly what I was drinking but I inferred whence came the aforementioned sample from the 45.8% ABV written on the label. That oddly specific number is a dead giveaway of the malt's provenance: the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. So while this wasn't a total blind tasting, I didn't know which Talisker expression it was. I was fairly certain I'd enjoy it, because I've never met a Talisker I didn't appreciate.

  • Nose (undiluted): the Talisker peat and smoke are there, but it is not the lead player in this orchestra. Lots of fruitiness right up front. Plums, cherries, red licorice, balsamic vinegar, and a very slight menthol note.
  • Palate (undiluted): very soft arrival, more red fruit, developing to dry peat smoke (think burning leaves), and a little minerality.
  • Finish: medium length, dry smoke at first, with a cherry Halls (cough lozenge) flavour lingering. It's more enjoyable than it sounds, I promise.

With water added, there's a floral or herbal note that pops up, fresh thyme maybe. A bit of honey. The peat smoke is still there with water, but the fruitiness changes. It tastes more like pears, and maybe a touch of orange. With water, the chalky minerality that defines Talisker for me is more evident. I prefer this with water. I have to admit, the 10 Year Old Talisker is more my style. Perhaps I'm curmudgeonly, but I prefer my Talisker with less fruitiness and more pepper, brine, smoke, and wet slate.

The Reveal


The fruitiness of the nose and taste lead me to guess this was a wine-finished Talisker; Distillers Edition or maybe Port Ruighe (pronounced Port Ree). My friend informed me I was wrong on both counts. The sample was from a bottle only available, insofar as I know, in Duty Free shops. So what should we expect from a whisky called "Dark Storm"? Well, I would have thought Dark Storm implied Cask Strength whisky, deep fruit notes, a crescendo of brine, a backhanded slap of peat smoke, a real whirlwind of flavours fighting for dominance. Diageo describes it this way:

Dark Storm Single Malt Scotch Whisky is matured in heavily-charred oak casks for an intensely smoky flavour, designed to capture the wild, untamed spirit of a full-blown storm at sea.

Ok, so my imagination isn't far off. But herein lies the rub: I found this whisky milder and tamer than the standard Talisker 10 Year Old. Don't get me wrong: Dark Storm is a pleasurable sipper; well-balanced and harmonious. I would not have named it "Dark Storm". It's more akin to an ocean-side sunset. I guess that name doesn't tell as bold a tale. The name Dark Storm projects an image of Jack Sparrow drinking his fill (since the rum is always gone), possibly using some of the whisky as a disinfectant in a pinch, all while sailing the Black Pearl through a hurricane. The flavour profile delivers a different, albeit satisfying, experience. Nevertheless, I'd advise you to try before you buy.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

May the winds of Fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Take It Easy, Bub: a review of Alberta Premium

Wolverine has always been my favourite comic book character. He isn't your typical goodie-two shoes, always doing the right thing, smiling while doing it. Wolverine's conflicted. He's got baggage. And he's got one hell of a temper, Bub. So when the first X-Men movie came out, I was thrilled to see Wolverine in the previews. While I found it odd that an unknown Aussie who stands six feet, three inches was taking on the role of the diminutive, hirsute mutant (Wolverine stands five feet, three inches in the comics), I had to admit that Hugh Jackman's hair and mutton chops were on fleek, as the kids say. The movie did not disappoint, with Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen being, well, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen. But that Aussie guy, Hugh Jackman, really struck a chord with audiences. He was given more prominent roles in the X-Men sequels (some of which were disappointments) and even got his own Wolverine films. Fun fact: the Wolverine role in the first X-Men movie was offered to Russell Crowe. He turned it down and suggested film-makers offer the role to Jackman, whose wife thought it was "ridiculous". She advised him to turn it down. Luckily, he didn't. The role provided Jackman with 17 years of income, er, I mean, artistic fulfillment.

Jackman's final portrayal of Wolverine, in 2017's Logan, received overwhelmingly positive reviews (93% on Rotten Tomatoes) with the general consensus being that it was the best movie in the X-Men franchise. Despite my love for all things Wolverine, some of the films were not received as well as Logan.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was sneered at by just about every comic book geek and received a very poor 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The reasons for their ire are unimportant. While I admit Origins wasn't as strong as the first or final X-Men movies, I still enjoyed it. No, it didn't make me re-think the superhero genre, there were no big twists or shattering of standard tropes, but it was entertaining and Hugh Jackman was awesome. I mean, the guy legitimately looks like Wolverine. Yes, I know there's movie magic afoot. But some movies are best enjoyed as is, without further thought. The same goes for certain whiskies. So which is Alberta Premium? Is it Logan or Origins?

From the heart of Canada's Rye Country


Alberta Premium has truly Canadian origins, like Logan. Not only is it distilled in Alberta; this 100% rye whisky is distilled from rye grain grown in the Prairies. While it carries no age statement, the bulk of the whisky used in this bargain-priced offering is aged for five years, mainly in ex-bourbon barrels with some of the whisky aged in virgin oak barrels.  Much of the rye produced by Alberta Distillers is shipped across the border to the United States, where it is often finished in different barrels, bottled under various other brand names (like, say, WhistlePig), and marked up to a premium price. Suffice to say, the team at Alberta Distillers knows what they're doing.

Tasting notes


Nose: Toffee, rye bread, orange zest, oak notes (pepper, cloves)
Palate: very gentle whisky, pleasant if somewhat thin bodied, more toffee, some rye spice, red apples, and a touch of vanilla
Finish: short, drying, with bit of bite from the rye spices (cloves, mostly) and a bit of orange zest lingering.

Not super complex, but pleasant and enjoyable. I didn't bother adding water since it's bottled at 40% ABV and doesn't pack an overwhelming punch. In most instances, Alberta Premium is used  as a mixing whisky. However, I'd not hesitate to recommend this to a neophyte as their first neat sipper. The spice and heat aren't overwhelming and there is no overpowering solvent (read: nailpolish remover) aroma. It isn't an excessively challenging whisky, and there's just enough sweetness here to prevent a noob from reaching for some kind of flavoured whisky du jour nonsense. Salted Caramel "whisky"? Maple-infused "whisky"? No thanks. Alberta Premium could also fit the bill as a casual sipper, for days when you don't want to over-analyse what you're drinking like some nerdy, self-important, condescending amateur blogger with delusions of grandeur.

Alberta Premium is a very good whisky at a bottom shelf price. It isn't the Logan of the Canadian whisky world. It won't force you to re-evaluate the genre. But it isn't X-Men Origins: Wolverine either. I doubt this whisky will polarize anyone. I can't imagine anything this middle-of-the-road and balanced evoking any kind of visceral reaction from people. In many regards, it is the stereotypical Canadian; polite, balanced, sweet but not cloying, with just a little bite. You'd be remiss not to have this wonderfully outmoded bottle on your shelf, Bub. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

May the winds of Fortune sail you
May you sail a gentle sea
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !!

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

How Blue Can You Get? A review of Blanton’s Gold Edition

I've been down-hearted baby, ever since the day we met
I said I've been down-hearted baby, ever since the day we met
Our love is nothing but the blues, Baby how blue can you get?

I love B.B. King. No guitarist ever said more with one note than B.B. No guitarist's tone, attack, and vibrato is as instantly recognizable as B.B. King's. And his voice? Don't get me started about the power and passion of B.B.'s voice. As an awkward twelve year old learning to play the guitar, I just wanted to be Slash, Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page. That is until my guitar teacher showed me "where it all started". He played some blues CDs for me (yes, compact discs were a thing in the early 1990s), and I was floored. Buddy Guy was performing soaring vocal histrionics before anyone knew who Robert Plant was. Listen to "Leave My Girl Alone" if you need proof. Muddy Waters had swagger and a bad-ass attitude long before Mick Jagger claimed to be a "Street Fightin' Man". See "I'm Ready" if you don't believe me. Heck, The Rolling Stones lifted their name from a Muddy Waters song. But B.B. King, well, B.B. was just something else. 
He played many of the same blues standards as other blues artists, but everything B.B. did was just different. Now most blues music isn't renowned for its complexity. It's usually just three chords, and a few repeated patterns, but the raw emotion is what gets you. In fact, the sense of knowing what's coming next and still being impressed by it makes blues music all the more exciting. Now before this becomes a 10 000 word essay on the blues, or a hagiography of B.B. King, allow me to get to the point. No music is as purely American as the blues. And no spirit is as American as bourbon. Sure, for awhile there was bourbon made in Canada, but the fact remains that our Southern neighbours have produced THE greatest blues artists and the greatest bourbons. Without getting overly political, the blues is a unique art form that's a direct result of U.S. history. Bourbon is also the direct result of U.S. history, albeit for different reasons. However, both are criticized, rightly or wrongly, for being "repetitive" or "a lot of the same thing". I agree that both blues music and bourbon feature variations on the same theme (up to a certain point) but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Mark Twain once quipped "Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough."

Blanton's Gold


Blanton's bourbon is distilled at the Buffalo Trace distillery. Buffalo Trace is a mega-giant, producing over 10 million litres of whiskey per year. That's about the same amount of spirit as The Glenlivet Distillery. What makes Blanton's bourbon special? Well, it's a single barrel bourbon, meaning each bottling batch is produced from the contents of a single aging barrel and not mixed with whiskey from any other barrels. It also means that each batch can vary significantly, depending on where it was stored in the warehouse. Blanton's uses Buffalo Trace Mash Bill number 2, which is thought to be 12-15% rye, 5% malted barley, and 80-83% corn. So while this is Buffalo Trace's "high rye" mash bill, it's a far cry from the rye bite of Four Roses Mash Bill B which contains 35% rye.

Tasting Notes


The following notes were gleaned from a single sample provided by a friend who is NOT associated with Blanton's or Buffalo Trace. Opinions are my own.

Blanton’s Gold 51.5% ABV, matured in Warehouse H, on Rick 29, from Barrel 328, Bottled 9/19/2014. The bottle was opened July 2016 and was 2/3 full when the sample was bottled April 18/2018

Nose(undiluted): a big hit of cinnamon and red apples, a bit of wood varnish, fresh tobacco, oak, cloves, vanilla, a little brown sugar
Palate(undiluted): a bit on the thin side with some waxiness, not at all hot for 103 Proof, toffee, rye bread, allspice
Finish: fresh, juicy red apples, rye spices, then cinnamon, a touch of vegetal mustiness lingers. The last note is a bit out of place, and while it doesn't dominate, it is distracting.

With water the rye really dominates the nose and the red apple is subdued. Curiously, the bourbon feels richer and thicker with water added, but the rye spices (nutmeg in particular) seem to dominate again on the palate. On the finish, the tart, juicy apples come back, but they’re followed by some sweet caramel and coconut flavours. The musty vegetal note disappears with the addition of water, but it’s hard to tell if the effect is from the added water or simply resting  time in the glass. But I think I prefer this one with a few drops of water.

Blanton's Gold reminds me a bit of blues music; there aren't a whole lot of surprises, not a ton of different notes, but still very pleasing. I wouldn't hesitate to buy a bottle of Blanton's Gold if it were readily available at a reasonable price. Sadly, with the LCBO being the LCBO, the odds of ANY whiskey being reasonably priced are somewhere between slim and none. Now there's a reason to sing the blues.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches
May the winds of Fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me".

Slainte !

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Life on Mars? A review of Laphroaig Cairdeas Madeira Cask

I'm a movie nut. Mainstream blockbusters, indie films, comedies, literary adaptations, as well as big, dumb "blow it up real good" movies are all fair game. I recently surprised myself on Facebook when I completed a "10 films in 10 days" posting and did not name a single Wes Anderson film. I've loved every one of his films. Well, the ones I've seen anyway. I mean, how can anyone dislike movies featuring Bill Murray? I know I can't.
Most of Anderson's films garner positive reviews from critics, but my personal favourite The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou wasn't received as well as the others. Perhaps The Life Aquatic didn't execute the juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, and melancholy as perfectly as The Grand Budapest Hotel (a flawless movie if ever there was one), but it had enough personality and quirkiness to make it a standout. The Life Aquatic's unique superposition of references to The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick is augmented by spellbinding performances of David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese by  Brazilian singer/actor Seu Jorge. After seeing the movie, Bowie said "had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with."  Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, David Bowie songs, of course I loved this movie!! Alright, I'm getting to the whisky review. This disquisition is relevant, I promise.

Laphroaig Cairdeas


Care-dee-ass? Car-deez? Is that Portuguese? According to Laphroaig's Distillery Manager (and my personal hero) John Campbell, it's pronounced "car-chiss". Cairdeas is Gaelic for "friendship" and the choice is deliberate. Laphroaig offers a rewards program to its faithful customers, known as "Friends of Laphroaig". Aside from the square foot of land a FoL is "given" upon buying a bottle of Laphroaig, one of the main perks of membership in Friends of Laphroaig is a chance to buy unique Cairdeas bottlings before they go on sale to the general public. Sadly, the LCBO frowns upon anything fun or creative that offers any value or joy to any of its customers. Ergo, Friends Of Laphroaig cannot order a special Cairdeas release directly from the company. Also, the standard Cairdeas releases are hard to find on LCBO shelves outside of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), and are usually a year late if they arrive at all. Fortunately, if you have friends or family who travel abroad, some of these gems can still be found in the wild. The 2016 edition of Laphroaig Cairdeas was "fully matured" (though no age is given, so make of that what you will) and then finished in Portuguese Madeira wine casks. For those who don't know, Madeira is a fortified wine made on the island of Madeira, a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira is about 600 miles (968 km) south-west of Lisbon, Portugal. Madeira wine’s unique taste comes from repeated heating which creates a wine with flavours of roasted nuts, stewed fruit, caramel, and toffee. How does this Portuguese wine influence the salty, tarry, smoky goodness of Laphroaig? Does it work as well as Seu Jorge singing "Life On Mars?" in Portuguese in a Bill Murray movie? Seriously, if you haven't watched the video, do it now.



Tasting notes


Image result for laphroaig madeira
Nose (undiluted): very light and bright, red fruits popping before the classic Laphroaig maritime character (brine, iodine, peat  and smoke) appears. The vanilla notes are present, but subdued.
Palate (undiluted): gentle arrival, with a nice, oily mouthfeel, I wouldn’t have guessed this is 51.6% ABV. More red fruit; cherries, strawberries, red licorice (cherry nibs), giving way to rich tobacco smoke.
Finish: medium length, more smoke, cream, strawberry jam, hazelnuts, and a bit of oak.

With water, the fruit is subdued on the nose and the vanilla comes forward with the classic Laphroaig maritime nose of a bonfire on a seaweed-filled beach. The flavour of the barley comes through a bit more with water as well; think toasted whole grain bread. The finish becomes creamier with water, but it's a trade-off as the fruit is less pronounced. This Laphroaig won’t be for every Laphroaigophile. It’s much fruitier than most of their offerings, but it works brilliantly. I prefer it without water.

Some people don't do well with change; they prefer the tried and true. This Laphroaig Cairdeas Madeira Cask received mixed reviews, as did The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (You see? I told you it all made sense.) Keep in mind that the Wes Anderson film has become something of a cult classic in recent times, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the same thing happen with this Laphroaig bottling. It's complex, unique, intriguing, and it just works for me, like listening to a stripped-down, Portuguese version of a classic David Bowie song. Very highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5 moustaches


May the winds of Fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !!!

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Freedom! Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila 10 Year Cask Strength

Mel Gibson loves to make movies about freedom. In Braveheart, Gibson protrayed Scottish hero William Wallace, a man who fought to free the Scots from the yoke of English rule. In The Patriot Gibson played Benjamin Martin, an American (a fictitious one) who single-handedly defeated the British army and won the American Revolutionary War. In Signs he portrayed Graham Hess, an Episcopal priest who fought for his family and Earth's freedom from an alien invasion. In Hamlet, Gibson assumed the titular role of the Danish prince who struggled for freedom from....an existential crisis? Forget (for just a moment) that Braveheart and The Patriot are historically inaccurate. Bigly. 
These remain entertaining films which tap into a basic narrative with which we can identify; the victory of the underdog, the unlikely hero defeating the powerful, domineering authority. Nobody was rooting for King Edward "Longshanks" in Braveheart, were they? The Scotch whisky industry also has underdogs. Independent bottlers are perceived as companies who go against the grain (pun intended) and are loved by whisky geeks because they offer something we all long for; freedom!

Independence Day?


Distilleries weren't always in the habit of bottling their own whisky. Once upon a time, malt whisky was sold by the cask to pub owners and grocers. Grocers? Yup. Back in the 1800s (way before the Internet, iPhones, or Kanye), grocers used to bottle and sell spirits alongside wine and produce. Johnnie Walker, the world's top selling scotch brand, was founded by grocer (and teetotaler) John Walker. Gordon and MacPhail, another big independent bottler, was founded in 1895 and sold single malt whiskies from a variety of distilleries. Gordon & MacPhail have been in business a long time, and they have a stock of very old and rare casks of malt whisky. But why buy from an independent bottler, often known as an IB, at all? Freedom. Most distilleries are owned by large, multinational corporations. These distilleries usually strive for uniformity in the taste, the texture, and even in the colour of their "official bottling" releases. After all, most corporate bean-counters prefer consistency and predictability to the wide variability implicit in releases such as single cask bottlings or natural-coloured cask strength bottlings. Independent bottlers offer the enthusiast the opportunity to taste something  a bit different from a distillery. Not better, not worse, but different.

Caol Ila 10 Year Old 


Image result for president business lego movieCaol Ila is owned by spirits mega-giant Diageo. Diageo is big. Very big. Yuge, even. They are the real life equivalent of Lego Movie's Octan Corporation, though I doubt Diageo's CEO Ivan Menezes walks around commanding a super-secret robot police force like President (Lord) Business, but you never know. A large proportion of Caol Ila's whisky goes into Johnnie Walker blends, also owned by Diageo. Caol Ila's most common release is a 12 year old expression bottled at 43% ABV.  Also, they release a Distillers Edition (finished in wine casks) once per year, an 18 year old, and you can occasionally find a 17 year old unpeated expression or a (pricy) 25 year old. The Caol Ila sample I'm reviewing is a Gordon & MacPhail bottling which is 10 years old and bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes 


Caol Ila Cask Strength 60.5% ABV
Distilled 2004/Bottled 2015
Bottle was opened May 21/2017,  sample was bottled Nov 15/2017,
Bottle was 2/3 full when the sample was bottled.

  • Nose(undiluted): The peat hit is immediate, but not overpowering. It isn’t a “deep, damp” peat, but rather a drier peat with a smoke that’s more like the burning of dry kindling. Almost immediately after the peat hit, the smoke dissipates and there’s a big aroma of salted caramel and green apples.
  • Palate (undiluted): medium bodied, toffee sweetness at first, black pepper, more brine, a minerality reminiscent of pencil “lead” or wet slate, kind of like a Talisker.
  • Finish: long, starting with the same dry peat smoke from the nose moving to some oak notes and ending on  a wonderful green apple note which lingers.
With water the peat smoke and fire is tamed a bit on the nose, as the toffee notes take over. But these notes also dissipate fairly quickly and this Caol Ila starts to remind me more of a Talisker. The peat and smoke return with a minerality like sea-sprayed rocks. I know it sounds pretentious, but it's true. On the palate, it's all sweetness with water added. Lots of toffee and oak notes. The finish changes significantly with water. The smoke seems to get thicker, as though someone threw wet leaves or branches onto a bonfire. Black pepper shows up and that lovely green apple note takes a few moments longer to appear. I prefer the nose and palate neat, but the finish is more interesting with water. This is an enigmatic, shape-shifting whisky.The longer this sits in the glass, the more it tries to become Talisker. I wish Diageo would release a Caol Ila like this on a regular basis !

Ok, so independent bottlers aren't exactly David to the corporate multinationals' Goliath. I mean, Gordon & MacPhail purchased Benromach distillery in 1993, and are planning to build a malt whisky distillery in Cairngorms National Park. Nevertheless, this independent bottling offers an interesting and unique taste from a terrific distillery. And that's reason enough to raise a glass.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

May the winds of Fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me!"

Slainte !!

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points