Cask-Strength Caol Ila: Some Reviews

Caol Ila is the powerhouse of the cell.

Oh, wait. No, that’s not right at all. I mean, it’s not even the mitochondria either but they both get in good amounts of work.

Caol Ila is the industrial hard worker of Islay. Based on that, you’d probably expect their releases to be peated, not much complexity, good for mixing, and that’s all. I mean, they are owned by a large company, Diageo. We’re not expecting art, we’re expecting Dogs Playing Poker printed a million times with no differences. On vinyl, if we’re lucky.

But weirdly enough that’s not what we get. Sure, there’s plenty of Caol Ila out there to add peat and lime and mineral to many a blend, but there are also some releases that make you turn your head so quickly it sounds like chiropractors are having a convention nearby.

Recently a group of friends started discussing a tasting idea: All the same distillery, compare them side by side. Yeah, I know, we’re totally original and amazing. After months of looking for releases and systematically forgetting and re-remembering the idea, we finally go around to it. Then I took it a few steps further and just kept collecting more Caol Ila reviews.

So how did the powerhouse of Islay do? Let’s see, shall we?


Elements of Islay independent bottler has slowly wormed its way into my heart. Wait, no, that’s something else because I forgot my medication.

Nonetheless I’ve had more and more from Elements and enjoyed quite a few of them. That said, I haven’t had a Caol Ila, so my opinion is lacking and I should feel bad.

But not for long! Because as part of the tasting we had two Elements of Islay offerings from Caol Ila, or CI if you’re nasty, and then I had one at home. Aren’t I swell? Anyway, let’s see how these taste, shall we?

Thanks to /u/throzen for sharing this dram.

Caol Ila – Ci8 – Elements of Islay

Price: CHF 79

Region: Islay

Bottled: 2017

Cask Types: 5 Bourbon Barrels

Abv: 55.2%

Colour: 7.5Y 9/3

Nose: Salt, green apple, orange, ash

Oddly enough peat isn’t the first thing on the docket. More so salty, fruity, and then some of that Caol Ila ash.

More subdued than I’ve come to expect from Caol Ila noses. And prior to this I had some pretty weak nose whiskies so I’ve been primed to think this was stronger, if anything.

Taste: Brown sugar, lime zest, orange juice, mineral

Molasses, some Caol Ila lime, some acidity and mineral.notes. Not a lot of peat, weirdly enough. We know these aren’t super old or unpeated. We assume they aren’t peated, I should say… And I guess we assume they aren’t super old given the price and lack of age statement.

Nice to sip on, but really light. Water brings out the mineral and acidity, and is really needed here.

Finish: Biscuit, ginger, ash, peat, butter, cocoa

Ah, there we go, some of the ash, heat, and peat that Caol Ila. Water is what gives more of the smoky notes, so give it water like Jesus in a crazy gun toting person’s movie. You know the one.

That’s right, Amelie. Moving on…

Conclusion: Benefits a lot from water. Boring without, interesting with. Simply put it was a bit of a downer in the tasting we had, because we all wanted that big, oiley peat with hints of lovely citrus. It has the citrus, but water is needed to drag the peat out, kicking and screaming.

So while nice, it’s not quite scratching the itch. I’d recommend it if you like hints of peat or that feeling of heat from ginger.

82/100


Caol Ila – Ci10 – Elements of Islay

Price: $770 (HKD)

Region: Islay

Bottled: 2018

Cask Type: 3 American Oak Hogsheads

Colour: 7.5Y 9/3

Nose: Molasses, candy lemon, pepper, BBQ smoke, more black pepper

Sweet is a word we throw around. And I know that a lot of readers, since I write this in English, will wonder how sweet. Sweets are part of English speaking countries’ DNA.

Suffice to say, when I, someone who loves sugar a lot, and am writing this after making chocolate chip cookies, this is very sweet. The smoke balances it. Also, if you’re a fan of Cacio e pepe, this is very, very peppery. Huge Vietnam energy going on here.

Taste: Smoke, apple, farm, chocolate, candied lemon, butter

So if the nose was selling a sweet, simple, pepper filled dram, the taste immediately apologizes to you and buys you a beer to make up for it. Simple balanced flavours lead into complicated chocolate, balanced acidity, and even some butter notes.

Finish: Salted caramel, salted licorice, butter, cocoa biscuit, pepper steak

If the taste buys you a beer, the finish goes down on you behind the bins and shows you Heaven. Salted sweet notes, buttery, more of that pepper, and a meaty/beefy loveliness.

Conclusion: This I liked. That salty finish (That’s what he said) made it for me, it’s full of chocolate and farminess, and that nose is all the best parts of a pepper steak (the smell) but if you’ve ever had a pepper steak, you know that’s a backhanded compliment.

Yes, the nose is too much pepper and too much sugar. It tries, but you just gotta get by it and it’s a gem. Drags down the score, but if you like peated whisky, this is a no-brainer.

85/100


Caol Ila – Ci12 – Elements of Islay

Price: £65

Region: Islay

Vintage: 2011

Bottled: 2018

Cask Type: Two refill sherry butts

Number of bottles: 1,901

Abv: 57.5%

Colour: 5Y 9/6

Nose: Farmy, chocolate, buckwheat honey, cereal

This is now after the Caol Ila tasting. So of course I cracked open the Caol Ila that’s most like a Caol Ila.

Farmy, peat’s gone to chocolate, and a cereal note. I’m not getting a lot of sherry notes here. Maybe that’s the farminess? Maybe the sherry was on the fifth refill.

Taste: Peach pie, anise, cocoa, canned pear, lemon

Ok, more spice now, I believe there was sherry here. More of the citrus comes out, and some ex-bourbon like notes of that peach buttery note. Kinda brash, if I’m being honest.

Finish: Jerky, cinnamon bread, cocoa digestives, manure

Smoked meat, lovely yeast-spice-butteriness, and a light cocoa/cookie note. Even some stronger farm notes. If the taste was kinda brash, the finish punches you in the kidney and takes your ice cream. Why’d you have ice cream? Because people need ice cream, dammit.

Conclusion: A brasher version of Ci 10 that has some nice meatiness and stronger Caol Ila notes. I find it funny and sad that we didn’t break this one out at the Caol Ila tasting, because of the three, this is the most Caol Ila standard profile. You have smoke, less ash, farm, and acidity.

I think if this was a bit more refined and less punchy I’d have liked it more. But you may enjoy it more, especially if you’re going for that standard Caol Ila with some strength, like the old Cask Strength.

And that kids, is what they call a segue.

84/100


Thanks to /u/Distillasian for sharing this dram

Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength 2017 Distillery Exclusive Bottling is only sold at the distillery. If you, like me, took your younger whisky days for granted, you missed out on Caol Ila Cask Strength. Which was amazing. That I thought was never going away. And then it did.

But then there’s this: A new Cask Strength, albeit only for the people who visited Islay. But this one is wine casked (I couldn’t find anything specific as to what kind of wine)…. Have they messed with my beloved whisky? Or perhaps Nostalgia is a vindictive horror movie that haunts us forever, mocking and blurring our lives.

Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?

Price: €129

Region: Islay

Bottled: 2017

Number of bottles: 3,000

Abv: 58.8%

Colour: 7.5Y 9/6

Nose: Strawberry, earth, sugar cookie… after water…. Plum, cotton, gingerbread

Wine influence shows up right off the bat. This is a whisky that heavily benefits from water. Changes course, gets spicier, more floral/fabric, less sweet and more tart.

Really quite nice, if odd and sugar. Also where’s the peat?

Taste: Almond, thyme, cream, sugar cookie, mint, honey

Yeah, still looking for the peat. Again, I’m at a Caol Ila tasting, right? It’s nutty, sweet, well-developed/cooked sugar flavour, has lots of herbal notes, and is quite sweet. Yet no peat? Or perhaps the mint was? Maybe the sherry is really strong? Maybe I can pad this by keep asking questions?

Finish: Almond, peat, blackberry, salami, potato, coffee

Hey, there’s the peat, we’re good now. Nutty, meaty and still spicy, earthy and sweet, and a lovely roasted note. The finish was my favourite part, even if it was one weird combination.

Conclusion: Great, if really weird whisky. This is what a distillery exclusive should be: Fun, weird, unique, and worth it. This is all of that.

It is not the second coming of the once great Cask Strength. That’s gone save for the bottles saved for Auctions, we are worse for it.

If you’re a big fan of wine influence but want something different than that still shows off aspects of the malt, great. I didn’t find a lot of peat here. Instead more spice and developed aspects of peat. It’s nuanced and fun and tasty.

85/100


Caol Ila 10 2009 Cooper’s Choice is another wine cask finished Caol Ila, and kicks off what I’m calling “the Caol ilas I had that broke the mold”. Or “Caol Ilas that I had and put together because life is crazy and that’s why I’m adding all these reviews together”.

Yeah, less catchy. This one is interesting because /u/devoz poured me a Muscat wine cask finish. Muscat is a varietal used in multiple versions of wine (dry, sweet, semi-dry, sparkling, even dessert wines). I also read that it can range from white to pink to black wines. And since I’ve screwed up wine identifying before, I’m going to just say it’s a wine cask and not make a horrible mistake again.

So I’m not quite certain what this will do with Caol Ila. Let’s see, shall we?

Price: 1,164.40 Krona

Region: Islay

Distilled: May 2009

Bottled: 2019

Cask No. 1839

Cask type: American American Oak (why is that there twice) with a Muscat wine cask finish

Number of bottles: 305 bottles

Abv: 52%

Colour: 5Y 8/8

Nose: White peach, peat smoke, lilac, yeast, manure

Sweeter nose, mixes peat and floral notes with lots of barnyard and mulch notes. Think working in your flower garden. And be at peace.

Taste: Wasabi peas, strawberry, manure, cereal, fish sauce

Hot vegetal note at first, some more mulch notes with fruit and cereal, and a strong salty/savoury/umami note. It’s very, very tasty, but can throw you off a bit.

Finish: Cocoa, peach, grape, lemon, anise, salt

Finish is a Caol Ila standard: Cocoa, lemon, salty. There’s a bit of the grape note there but it’s not going to be as weird as the rest.

Conclusion: Unique, solid, it doesn’t brine you to the moon but it’s not stopping at Denny’s and splitting a kid’s meal either. If I had to guess I’d say it was a sweeter white wine, just due to the floral and sweet nature on the final whisky. If you’re just getting into odd casks, this would be perfect to pick up.

It’s not too weird, and was fun to sip on. The cask doesn’t take over too much, though I appreciate the finish (unlike some finishes which are an afterthought).

81/100


Thanks to /u/Amesey for pouring me a sample.

Caol Ila 18 Unpeated Special Release 2017 changes the paradigm by being, well, unpeated. I’ve been happy to try a few of the unpeated releases over the last few years.

Caol Ila’s version of “Highland Style” comes out each year as a special release. And some of them have shown aspects of Caol Ila that I hadn’t explored enough. Lime, salt, and even what’s part of the cask versus the alcohol itself.

But they vary, and some years they are just another Diageo special release that isn’t worth your time. Let’s see how this one stacks up, shall we?

Price: £ 110

Region: Islay

Bottled: 2017

Abv: 59.8%

Colour: 5Y 9/8

Nose: Mango sorbet, hay, strawberry, old ash, peanut

Tropical, bit farmy, some nice acidity/fruitiness, some of that ash from Caol Ila (can’t clear all the peat flavour completely I guess) and even some nuttiness to it.

Taste: Lime juice, dark cocoa, smoked lamb, farmy, fresh peach

Yeah, I’m still getting smoke. I double check, and it’s there, though it’s more of a gamey/meaty element. For me that’s smoked lamb, but if you’re lucky enough that no one ever over smoked a lamb on you, think of meat where the smoke has overtaken the flavour.

Nice lime, nice cocoa. I keep reaching for a bit more, and while this is nice, it’s having trouble hitting on the complexity of it’s age/cask strength.

Finish: Gamey meat, cocoa, brine, apple, thyme, lemon

More game-y notes, more cocoa, and still simple. So don’t get me wrong: This tastes like an elaborate meat/fruit/herbal mixture that you try out for Xmas. It’s just missing some element to get there.

Conclusion: Clean, fruity, nice mixture of flavours. If anything this is a really clean malt, and if you’re into cleaner whiskies, well hunt down a dram. It’s odd to have a farmy note with so many gamey notes but still finishes with that crisp, lemon/apple note, however it pulls it off.

All that said, for my money I’d have preferred something that expanded on the flavours more. More complexity. Nice to have, lovely nose, keep working on it and keep them coming.

83/100


Caol ila Callisto VIII 12 Ruby Port Scotch Universe is unique because I personally haven’t found a Caol Ila that was aged in Port casks before. At all. Perhaps I’ve been missing out. Perhaps it doesn’t mix well.

Let’s see, shall we?

Price: €100

Region: Islay

Vintage: 2007

Bottled: 2019

Cask Type: 1st Fill Ruby Port Wine Barrique

Abv: 57.4%

Colour: 10R 3/12

Nose: Bread, honeycomb, ash/embers, leather, raspberry

Interesting bread note, good floral/sweetness, and that acidity and ash you expect from Caol Ila.

Oh, and leather. Holy damn I’m a sucker for a leather note. This has that with a bit of water and I’m hooked.

Taste: Sugarplums, chocolate covered cranberry, salt, orange

Strong plum note, lovely complex rich berry and chocolate notes, and then some simple acidity and salt. It’s got moments that you want of Xmas desserts and socks as an adult (yay!) and then socks as a child (boo!) and simple flavours.

Finish: Pumpernickel, dried fruit, brine, plum sauce, cinnamon

More yeast, more sour notes, and some Xmas vibes. No leather though.

Conclusion: Acidity landscape in the making. This has acidity twelve different ways. If it was a guy living in the US he’d be on Venice beach and would be telling you about going to another plane in his mind, man.

Sour, yeast, plum, and fruity aspects. Nothing gets too crazy but frankly, I don’t know why Caol Ila isn’t grabbing a bunch of port pipes. It works. Sure, this was a first fill and that may have made all the difference, but if this is just the tip of the iceberg then let’s get some Titanics out there to find more.

84/100

Scotch reviews #1244-1250, Islay review #327-333, Whisky Network review #1897-1903

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