I’ve never come across a bad Caol Ila. It seems the distillery is just incapable of producing anything below average. The lowest score I’ve ever given is an 83—twice actually. One was for a very young one, the other for a wine-finished release.
Now to some that makes Caol Ila boring. I mean, I guess I can follow along with that when it comes to the actual distillery. Beautiful location, but the facility is somewhat factory-like (partly because it is, of course) and has to compete with neighbours such as Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich and all the other Islay distilleries that seem to have much more of a soul to them.
But when it comes to the actual whisky, Caol Ila is anything but boring. It’s consistent, which is somewhat of a swear word among certain whisky enthusiasts. But when that consistency produces such good whisky, then there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.
Enter this new-ish Caol Ila from Gordon & MacPhail. Distilled in 2003, but already 15 years old. I’m only 34 years old, but I remember when a vintage 2003 whisky was basically an infant—time flies!
Caol Ila 2003 15 Years Old (55.7%, Gordon & MacPhail, Batch 19/033)
Nose: Sweet and spicy with a relatively subtle peat influence. Orange liqueur, creamy vanilla, touches of cinnamon as well as pickled ginger (giving it a slight soapiness). Whiff of red apple peel too. Taste: Quite an intense arrival, with plenty of spiciness, but mainly pepper and fresh ginger root. Hints of earthy peat, burnt oak and charcoal. Water brings out hints of sawdust. Finish: Lingering spices. Cinnamon. Crack peppercorns.
Decent, good even, but not great. Quite a bit of wood influence from the first-fill bourbon barrel, dominating the spirit just a tad too much.