A hidden gem can mean different things. Either it is a distillery, brand or expression that hasn’t received the love or attention it deserves from whisky drinkers. Or in the case of this Caol Ila 25 Years 1979, a hidden gem is a whisky that was unearthed from a dusty shelf and bought for a price from a bygone era.
It’s been a while, but there used to be a period in time where I would vacation in Italy almost every year. Near Sanremo, to be more specific. We had great accommodation in the hills above the city, and the hosts became friends almost instantly. The pool and view of the city and sea certainly helped increase our enjoyment too. To be honest, we didn’t often went down into the centre of Sanremo, because most of the best restaurants were located in the outskirts of the city or in nearby villages.
Nevertheless, we veered into Sanremo every once in a while. Partly because there was a small enoteca that also stocked some spirits. And while located in a very touristy part of the world, it apparently wasn’t in a very popular location for whisky enthusiasts like myself. Indeed, I’ve picked up quite a few hidden gems there over the years.
It is the sort of treasure I never before or since have come across. Most surprisingly, the bottles that I didn’t buy immediately (because I had some more restraint back then), usually would still be available a year later.
Last year I finally opened this interesting cask strength version of the Caol Ila 25 Years. Mine was distilled in 1979 and bottled in 2005, but there is also a version distilled in 1978 and bottled in 2004.
Caol Ila 25 Years 1979 (58.4%, OB, Diageo Special Releases 2005)
Nose: Old, naked Caol Ila highlighted by bright apples, wet pebbles and seashells. There’s a very distant smoke with touches of old oak and hemp ropes, underpinned by the gentle sweetness of cotton candy and mush banana. Balanced beyond belief. Taste: Thick and mouth-coating, this old Caol Ila shows its high abv but never becomes too aggressive. A pinch of white pepper and very salty with whispers of lemon zest, agave and dried hops, but also touches of bonfire smoke and olive brine. Finish: Lingering spices, sweet peat and soft minerals. Long.
Old yet rather vibrant, this Caol Ila 25 Years 1979 still has a lot of power, even after a quarter century of maturation and well over 15 years of bottle aging. It's very spirit-forward which makes it all the better in my book. Dependable as ever and it makes me wish the current 25-year-old was bottled at cask strength as well.