Part of Diageo’s Special Edition Series, this unpeated Islay whisky received five stars from Difford’s Guide, and was bottled at a remarkable 120.78 proof.
The southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Scottish Isles, the island of Islay (pronounced EYE-lah) is just 240 square miles and home to only 3,457 people. Still, the island is one of just five distilling regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law.
Islay's unique climate and geography impart signature characteristics to Scotch distilled and matured on the island. Despite its small size, the island boasts 130 miles of coastline, and the warm Gulf Stream from the Atlantic Ocean provides for cool winters and mild summers. In addition, the island is largely composed of peat, a phenolic compound that emits smoky aromas when burned. The salty winds and peat bogs of Islay result in Scotch that has a signature salinity and is balanced by a touch of smoke.
Nestled in a hidden cove near Port Askaig, Caol Ila Distillery (pronounced "Cull Eela,") was founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson. It borrows its name (which means "The Sound of Islay" in ancient Gaelic) from the sea sweeping past its dramatic and almost hidden location — it is situated between a steep cliff and the eastern shores of the Sound of Islay. For over a century, small coal-fired boats known as puffers navigated the Sound and brought barley, coal and empty casks to the distillery. Although the puffers no longer exist, Caol Ila continues to distill whisky using locally malted barley, along with pure spring water sourced from Loch Nam Ban (the water travels through limestone and peat before reaching the distillery).
Once the barley has been malted and fermented, it is distilled through Caol Ila's copper-pot stills. "The stills were designed to replicate the original stills installed in the 19th century," says Billy Stitchell, the distillery manager. Stitchell began working at the distillery in 1974, and is the fourth generation of his family to be employed at the distillery — his father, both grandfathers and one great-grandfather all worked at Caol Ila. Unlike other distilleries on Islay (particularly Lagavulin), Caol Ila distills the wash in copper-pot stills that are less full in order to maximize copper contact. As a result, the whisky is less peaty and smoky than traditional Islay whiskies.
Each year, Caol Ila distills a small run of completely unpeated whisky, and in 2014 Caol Ila released a 15 year old unpeated whisky as part of Diageo’s Special Edition Series. The whisky was distilled in 1998 and aged for 15 years in first-fill, ex-bourbon casks before being bottled at a robust 120.78 proof. The absence of peat gives the whisky a subtle aroma of toasted coconut, rum raisin ice cream, white chocolate and freshly baked bread, which leads to a malty palate filled with cereal, marshmallows and almonds. The finish is light and floral, with eucalyptus notes mingling with faint smoke and fruit cake.
Caol Ila 15 Year Old Unpeated Single Malt Scotch Whisky is limited to just 10,668 bottles, and received a perfect five stars from Difford’s Guide.
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120.8 (60.4% ABV)
Caol Ila Distillery
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Subtle aroma of toasted coconut, rum raisin ice cream, white chocolate and freshly baked bread, which leads to a malty palate filled with cereal, marshmallows and almonds. Finish is light and floral, with eucalyptus notes mingling with faint smoke and fruit cake.