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Caol Ila 33 yo (1984/2017, Cadenhead’s, 54,5%)

In the year of its 175th anniversary, Cadenhead stayed true to its style, releasing two series of special bottling (one with green labels, another with labels specially dedicated to the various Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop around Europe, just like this one) – but they did it without shouting, without marketing fanfares, without launching events in posh bars. So funnily enough you still can find online rantings, like “Oh my god Cadenhead, what a missed opportunity, it’s your 175th anniversary and you don’t even try and celebrate? Oh, such a delusion, gne gne gne”. We would like to see these people’s faces when Cadenhead released a 40yo Banff, for example. Anyway. Apart from these special bottlings, every ‘standard’ 2017 release had a special packaging, slightly different from usual, with tartan boxes and a special plate. Choosing a bottle from the Authentic Collection range, during last year’s Milano Whisky Festival we took home a huge sample of this 33 years old Caol Ila, just slightly younger than us. Now it’s time to drink it.

N: uuuh, such a depth! A ‘brown’ Caol Ila, with fruity notes, kind of tropical, with tinned peaches; then carobs, oranges (candied too, we’d even say caramelised oranges). It’s sticky, with caramel and toffee notes. Very mineral, very maritime: the peat is made quite shy by time, as expected, while a damp, deep minerality earns its place. Damp flowers, almost stifling – in a positive way, if you know what we mean. Very compact.

P: it’s 54% abv and we’re stunned by the total absence of alcoholic notes. It’s mineral from the beginning, with a lovely waxy note, then it shows a quaint and yet perfectly integrated cheese note (we’d say toma, an Italian seasoned mountain cheese). And again, what a stunning fruitiness dances in the glass!, papaya, orange again, tinned peaches and a very mature banana. A wriggle of carob again.

F: full smoke here, finally!, neverending, with acrid shades of peat. Black pepper, nutmeg, a carpet of orange fruit (tinned peaches again and papaya).

Bloody hell!, during the fair we understood this was good, but we didn’t really realize it was this good. Even if we have in great esteem one of the most underrated distilleries on Islay, since it looks like a factory and it’s not as rustic and evocative as its fellows, we couldn’t expect such a deep tropicality and that waxy feeling: it’s time that chisels these kind of notes, and here they’re all here in a clear assertiveness. Possibly the best Caol Ila that ever slipped in our glass: 94/100.

Recommended soundtrack: David Byrne – Every Day is a Miracle.

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