Caol Ila 23 1997 Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice

What was the occasion: End of year tasting. I’ve had lots of whiskies. I’ve taken breaks. I’m not into the pain drugs yet, but the leg is screaming that I should be what with it being broken in two places. But I’m not missing our end of year tasting, dammit.

Don’t do what the dumb man who’s work you’re reading did, by the way. I could have hurt myself more.

What whisky did we review? Caol Ila 23 1997 Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice – Cask Strength, a single cask, first-fill sherry butt Caol Ila that was independently bottled by those wacky Gordon & MacPhail… People? Sure, let’s go with that. Specifically under the Connoisseur’s Choice brand.

That brand’s a bit odd, right? Like, I have had 43% or 46% with the label that were less expensive, and I’ve had high end ones (like this one) that are cask strength, use really nice casks, and are a premium. It’s funny because other companies would use a totally different brand/product line name here. They’d find a new synonym for Connoisseur, like Gourmand or something. The “Gourmand’s Gulp” has a great sound to it. But they didn’t. Odd.

What’s the distillery? It’s Caol Ila. Take Lagavulin, make it way more industrial, pump out a shit ton of whisky, make money. That’s it. Very simple. There’s some acidity and peat to their whiskies. This isn’t hard to understand. We get special edition OBs, older versions that are very expensive, unpeated offerings when it needs to be made, and thus we have described their existence.

What’s my bias? Oh I love Caol Ila too much. There’s Caol Ila releases I don’t like, but I’ll keep going back to them. I buy bottles and then wait to open them at tastings, or before tastings to make sure they are good, and I have some in reserve.

As for Gordo and MacPerson? I have mixed thoughts. I’ll be honest, when I started reviewing there was a prolific reviewer who called them “MacFail” and I could see that. Connoisseur’s Choice is like a litmus test of my bias in whisky: If it’s a cask strength release with decent age, I have rated it high. If it isn’t, I’ve rated it as middle of the road or lacklustre.

Oh and I go bananas for sherry mixed with peat.

Does that mean we should throw this review out with the bathwater? No, I’m just saying if you’re different then me (a rare but still possible situation), you may feel differently.

But how do I feel? Let’s see, shall we?

Price: $335 CAD

Region: Islay

Vintage: September 25, 1997

Bottled: July 2, 2021

Cask type: First Fill Sherry Butt

Cask Number 12494

Number of bottles: 469

Abv: 59.9%

Colour: 10R 4/10

Nose: Dates, apple pie, cranberry sauce, going to a BBQ pit and being enveloped in those smells

Rich, buttery, tart, and smokey. So smokey. And meaty. Which I love. I had BBQ last weekend, and it’s everything in my adult brain to not have it every week, going broke and dying of too much meat.

This does that, though probably doesn’t help with the “overconsumption leading to death” part, so I’m waiting for a turnip that tastes like BBQ without tons of work. Come on science!

Taste: Rosemary, caramel, brine, raspberry, chocolate

Floral, but herbal. Some caramel, some brine, and the sherry has given us raspberry and chocolate. And if you read about my rant how Terry’s Chocolate Orange needs to bring back non-shit fruit pairings with chocolate, you know I’m in a happy place.

If anything I feel like the taste is having your dessert before finishing the meal, or the “diabetes is a goal” way of visiting a buffet. Can throw you off a bit, but this is a sweeter dram that blends aspects of meat and smoke, so perhaps that’s just part of the game at this point.

Finish: Apple, tarragon, strawberry, smoked brisket

Damn that finish, all herbal, fruity and full of brisket. I want brisket, dammit. I can’t have it, what with the high amount of fat and my age, but damn that’s tasty.

Conclusion: This is heaven. It’s what I look for. It’s complex, it takes you to savoury and sweet at the same time. Now I know some of you have issues with that, can’t imagine ever enjoying candied meat, and haven’t had a fist full of popcorn and M&Ms. Fix that. It’s a good flavour pairing, and this has it in droves.

This is an easy recommendation. It’s worth the hunt. It’s what you expect from sherry casks, with bold flavours, but doesn’t take over even though it’s a long, long time in a first fill cask. Easy buy, unless you don’t like this profile for reasons I won’t call you out for… again.


Scotch review #1620, Islay review #424, Whisky Network review #2348

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s