From London, with Love – Caol Ila 19yo “The Whisky Exchange”

Music: The Cranberries, “Dreaming My Dreams”

Caol Ila reminds me of London. The last (and only) time I was there, I spent one sunny May afternoon working in a small flat, enjoying Shropshire cheese, fresh bread, and some Caol Ila Cask Strength. Everything just seemed to work. It was there that I picked up this TWE bottling of a 19yo Caol Ila. Now, independent bottlings are largely a hit and miss, so I’ve read. With that level of risk, however, comes a higher return. When you get a good’en, you get one for a bargain. Independent bottlers also provide the chance for folks like me to try older whiskies that are usually unaffordable when packaged by the providing distillery.

Nose: It takes time a little bit of water (5 drops or so) to open up. Whereas the 12yo is upfront with its nose, this 19yo is mellow. Fresh top soil. Fireplace mantel. Vanilla. Similar to the Laphroaig Cairdeas, it has that unlit cigar tobacco. Olive oil and espresso. Coastal sea air, and seaweed, much like you’d expect with Caol Ila. An odd (but pleasant) pairing of lemon merangue and coal soot. Cherry cough drops. Some furnisher polish (distinctly lemon Pledge). Anise and, oddly, Pho.

Palate: Cool, refreshing, and oily. Bloody hell, there’s really nothing like an oily bourbon-cask whisky, something I find more often in older whiskies. It’s somewhat nippy, so in a way it’s still young, but that’s ok. Sherried whiskies like Glendronach’s 15yo give you that oily mouthful at 46% with a middle-age. It’s great, yes, but it’s almost a given. When I get that viscosity from a bourbon cask, I’m just all that much more astonished and appreciative. Coal smoke, sweet and sour citrus (in a good way), and fresh oysters in salt water. Chocolate and anise. Hints of leather, pear and coffee.

Finish: Long, with lingering peat smoke, lemon and salt water. Barbeque sauce. Hazelnuts on the tail.

Grade: A-

At first, I was really disappointed with this whisky. I opened the bottle, and the first two drams were so restrained on the nose, as to almost be lifeless. The palate was sharp and bland. The finish was long, but not all that interesting. I thought that I’d wasted some good money on this bottle until I watched Ralfy’s video on the 30yo Mackillop’s Choice Caol Ila. Old whiskies, he said, needed some time in the bottle to open up. Then I remember the sample I tried at the TWE came from a bottle 1/3 done, and I understood.

One month in, and this bottle is different.  The nose is somewhat quieter than the Caol Ila 12yo OB, but it’s much more talkative.  It reminds me of the Signatory 19yo Mortlach UCC I had a while back: oily, complex, but quiet. The whisky fans are right, too, that peat is sexy when it’s older. It becomes understated in the nose, present in the palate, and lingers throughout the finish.

I’ll summarize that it’s not the earth-shattering whisky I hoped it would be (I’d hoped to grade it an A), but it’s definitely a damn good one. As far as older whiskies go, too, it was reasonably cheap, so it has that going for it as well.

One last note: A Caol Ila is a Caol Ila is a Caol Ila. There are some drams out there that, if you’re blindfolded, you may not be able to guess that they’re from the same distillery. Caol Ila, so I’ve found, is not one of those. Every Caol Ila has that distinct coal smoke, lemon and sea salt base, and in that way, the distillery is remarkable.

“All the things you said to me today, changed my perspective in every way.”

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