Located on the eastern coast of the Islay region in Scotland just across the straight from Jura, Caol Ila can trace its roots back to 1846. However, the current large-production distillery, sitting on the site of the original distillery, was completed just over 40 years ago. Expansion was warranted as Coal Ila positioned itself to a supplier for outside blenders. Not surprisingly, it is now owned by Diageo.
Caol Ila is often known as one of the more approachable Islay whiskies, which are known for their extreme smoked peat character. Caol Ila’s offerings, however, often soften the harsh smoke with floral, peppery and fruity notes. Because of this softer approach to smoke and peat, much of Caol Ila’s production is used by Diageo in other branded blends (like Johnnie Walker) or sold to outside blended scotch producers.
Nose: Sweet and smoky; grassy and peaty; soft peach, apricot, pear and vanilla; a welcoming saltiness.
Palate: Peaty and briny; more peach and green apple; a late developing mustiness of 18 years; amazing mouthfeel.
Finish: Long with slowly fading smoke, peat and salt, faint vanilla and soft oak.
Overall: Even as a “softer” Islay scotch, the smoked peat is massive. It hits you first on the nose, and remains even minutes later, lingering and reminding you to drink more. But throughout, this offers much more. Soft peach and apricot pair nicely with the developing salty and mustiness. At first this strikes you as a bit one dimensional. But given an opportunity to breath, and the palate to adjust, this turns into a delightful, fruity, complex pour.
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.