We close today our three days dedicated to Wilson & Morgan’s new liquid sons. From Bunnahabhain, where we enjoyed the joys of two very different but unforgettable whiskies, we roll south 4.4 miles: same beach, same sea, but different distillery. We go to Caol Ila to compare two whiskies that promise to be as different as the two Bunnas: the first is a lively experiment, a vatting of 5 casks of whisky distilled in 2008 of which 3 have been aged in ex-bourbon first fill casks and two aged in virgin American white oak casks. The second is a fine 25 year old matured for the first few years in a sherry refill cask. In 2013 it wasn’t growing, so they decided to move it into a new sherry refill butt, tasting it year after year until it was judged ready. Fire in the hole, the final saraband begins.
Caol Ila 12 yo “Quercus Alba” (2008/2020, Wilson & Morgan, 46%)
N: the first impact is rather surprising, because Caol Ila has a style recognisable even to a Covid positive with anosmia. Yet here we are greeted by a deeper, richer nose. Luca Chichizola throws out a suggestion: it could be mistaken for a Lagavulin. The notes are atypical, banana bread a little burnt (but only the crust, points out a drinking companion). Toasted pecan nut. Lemon cream and chimney smoke.
P: sweet, sweet. Banana sugar, if it exists. Does it? Ok, let’s stick on the sugary banana candies, the Haribo kind, yay! A bit of solvent, acetone. But underneath this active woodwork, as Guido Meda would say at the finish of a motorcycling GP, “Caol Ila is there!” (ok, this was only for the Italians). In fact, we are greeted by a beautiful island note, with sea, fresh peat and lime. Then it’s back to dancing in front of the bonfire, amid burnt sugar, seaweed and peanut butter.
F: nice and fresh, sweet and intense. Lime and banana dominate.
A whisky to drank by the pint, litres and gallons, we would have said ten years ago, when we were young, beautiful and thirsty. And we’ll say it again: by the gallon, if only we could remember how many litres it is. It may not be a monster of vintage refinement, but it does exactly the job, with just enough peat and sweetness. 86/100.
Caol Ila 25 yo (1995/2020, Wilson & Morgan, 59,8%)
N: Volutes of orange marmalade and wrinkled orange left on the stove rise from the glass of magnificent red gold. Roasted chestnuts and a powerful image: a mat left in front of the fireplace, or the carpet of an Islay pub, where the footprints of salt water slowly dry. And all this came to us without even taking drugs, eh! Then there is a sensation of polished wood, or at least of antique furniture. On the nose the peat is not very marked, it is perhaps more about musk or undergrowth: smoked pork with herbs? A touch of leather.
P: more burnt than expected, burnt wine we would say. An incredibly balsamic note, like rosemary and eucalyptus, obviously burnt. Blunt, oily and greasy, with more bitter orange and even more roast chestnuts. The peat is very intense at 25 years of age, probably due to the very high alcohol content in relation to the age statement. The vinosity is liqueur-like but dry, nutty and still wet leather. It softens with water but remains a flavour bomb. Mint.
F: a note of cooked wine remains, a sweetish edge. Balsamicity takes the path of myrtle, and an acrid peat lingers in the throat for a long time..
A certainly successful experiment, recommended to all fans of the combination of sherry and peat. Certainly robust and deep (both in terms of peat peaks and ABV), with a rare balsamicity. Out of the box. You have to like strong emotions, and we do: 88/100.
Recommended soundtrack: Dusty Springfield – Spooky.