Distillery: Caol Ila
Age: 25 years old
Caol Ila 25 year old was introduced in 2010, after Diageo had piloted cask strength versions a few years earlier. Nowadays this Caol Ila is bottled at 43% abv. Although the better part of this whisky has spent a quarter century in bourbon barrels, there’s also a few ex-sherry casks thrown into the mix. As a member of Caol Ila’s core range, this 25 year old is now the oldest regular offering from this oft-overlooked Islay distillery.
Colour: Light gold
Nose: Plenty of coastal influences, but not actually all that smoky. The medicinal aromas we’ve come to expect from Caol Ila are subdued, replaced by scents of dried seashells. Underneath that, this 25 year old is quite oaky, along with notes of toffee and dark chocolate. There is a sweeter, citrusy side to this Caol Ila too, offering up a perfume of marzipan and candied orange peel.
Palate: Lively for a 25 year old, with a rather sharp mouthfeel. While the nose was reminiscent of old oak, the palate offers new wood. There’s plenty of spice, with cracked black pepper and nutmeg providing a nice bite. Tobacco leaves and leather settle in for a much needed dose of sophistication.
Finish: At last this whisky lights up in a cloud of peat smoke. Like a peat fire though, the finish lasts long but isn’t overly warming.
Verdict: This is a nice enough Caol Ila, and for a 25 year old it’s very attractively priced. But age alone is not enough to justify a price tag, it’s quality that counts. I could think of better whiskies at this price point (like Ledaig 18 or Talisker 18), or in fact even at half the price (Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg Uigeadail). The long maturation process has tamed the classic Islay flavours that Caol Ila is known for. Usually there’s some up-sides to this trade-off: what you lose in boldness you get back in complexity and opulence. It’s this exchange where I feel Caol Ila 25 doesn’t offer quite enough. Although not a disappointing dram by any means, this Caol Ila falls shy of true greatness.
Value for money: 🤩🤩🤩