Caol Ila is a distillery that knows its roots. It is situated on the craggy island of Islay and its name means “Sound of Islay” in Gaelic, referring to the body of water that separates Islay and its neighbour, Jura.
It was built in 1846 and now rests in the very capable hands of Diageo, who have chosen to include it in their Special Releases collection.
For this, the distillery has brought out a 17 Year Old expression that is a step away from the smoky drams that Islay usually plays host to.
Instead they have released an unpeated version to showcase their talents outside of making smoke leaden Whiskies. Not that their smoky drams are anything less than great of course.
This dram was first distilled back in 1997 and is filled with great Caol Ila features, including a well rounded sweetness that usually goes hand in hand with their peated notes.
This time the sweetness stands out on its own, and it does not let the side down.
The nose is pure toffee and caramel, melting in the nostrils and just daring you to try it and uncover the smooth mouth feel. But lets not get ahead of ourselves.
As well as rich toffee, there are a number of citrus fruits in the nose. Tangerines and lemons take the fore and are a nice sharp note against the subtlety of the caramel.
There is plenty of citrusy zest to go with the spiciness that comes out next. Nutmeg and cloves make an appearance and tie in well with both the fruits and the toffee.
There is the slightest nod towards smoke in the end, almost like this dram is making sure to remind you that it is a member of the Islay clan but only with the faintest of hints.
This smoke is only a little bit more developed on the palate, playing a nice tune in the background of the sweet toffees and fruits taking the main stage.
The caramel of course gives this expression a nice smooth mouth feel that goes down easily.
The fruit is more intense, with more heather and herbal notes joining them and making a garden path of flavour over your tongue. But the flavours remain refined, allowing you to savour them but not becoming overpowering.
There is also a slight chocolaty taste that goes well with the caramel mouth feel. Combined with the spice it creates a hot yet creamy flavour that gives a good kick towards the finish.
The oak of the barrels also comes trough and is emphasised through the spice. The smoke can also be traced back to the charred casks with a hint of burnt wood in the background.
The finish is where the smoke really reveals itself, again like this dram is just giving you a reminder of its origins. The fruits die down and the caramel lingers just long enough to be savoured in at the last minute.
Also published on Medium.