Tonight I’m comparing 2007 OB versions of Caol Ila 12 and 18 year expressions. These are 200ml bottles that came in my Islay Collection gift pack. Both are bottled at 43% ABV. Locally (Arizona), the full size bottle of Caol Ila 12 can be found for around $50, while the 18 year goes for $75 to $80. I’ll state right up front that I really like the Caol Ila profile. I purchased the Islay Collection gift pack so that I could get my hands on the Port Ellen annual release, with Lagavulin 12 and 16 being a great bonus. I was happy to get to try Caol Ila, but wasn’t expecting a whole lot, as I hadn’t seen a lot of buzz on the internet about this distillery. I ended up being very pleasantly surprised, especially by the 12 year.
Caol Ila 12
On the nose, there’s lemon citrus, sweet peat, and smoke. The smoke isn’t all that strong, though. This is a pleasant nose, and relatively “light” compared to Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin. After working through the initial citrus, there seems to be something salty mixed in with the peat and smoke. I’m not sure exactly what it is, though. [Update - I forgot to mention that the lemon scent reminds me a little bit of lemon Pledge furniture polish...not necessarily pure, unadulturated lemons. It's subtle, and I didn't find it off-putting.]
On the palate, BANG…that peat and smoke come through much stronger. Then a wave of pepper takes hold. The pepper lingers into the finish, and the smoke keeps building into a strong coal smoke chimney coming up through the nostrils. Excellent.
Caol Ila 18
On the nose, it’s very similar to the 12 at first, with citrus, sweet peat and some smoke. But there’s something else as well…I think this one is a little more fruity, and there’s perhaps something a little floral there. I guess you could say this makes it more “complex”, which is usually a good thing. However, I find these “extras” to be a bit of a distraction.
On the palate, there’s not quite the bang of the 12 year. The peat, smoke and pepper are there, but more mellow. On the finish, it continues to be more subdued, and I’m getting a little bit of “hot tea” like I was getting with the Bowmores. At the very end, I get a subtle sense of something musty or stale.
I really enjoy the Caol Ila 12. At $50 locally, it will probably end up being my favorite value in Islay single malts, once stock of Laphroaig 15 disappears. I like the Caol Ila 18 as well, but I’d rate it a couple of points below the 12 year, so I don’t really see a scenario where I purchase a full bottle of that one in its current form. Having it as part of a gift pack is fine, though. I’ll certainly continue to drink it, and enjoy it.
I have exactly the opposite reaction to the Caol Ila 12/18 as to the Talisker 10/18 expressions. In both cases, the older one is mellower and has more going on. However, the Talisker 18 retains enough of the energy of the younger drink to stay interesting, and the additional complexity provides a significant increase in enjoyment/interest. With the Caol Ila 18, I feel like it loses a little of the pizazz that I like so much in the 12, and the additional scents and flavors distract me slightly from the primary profile that I enjoy so much.
- Whisky Fun – Whisky Fun has notes specifically on the 2007 bottlings of both the 12 year and 18 year Caol Ila, along with a slew of IB expressions. They rate the 18 year a few points higher than the 12. Funny, they also mention a “tea” flavor (earl grey) on the palate of the 18, but I think they found that to be a positive.
- Whisky Magazine – Notes and ratings, along with links to related discussion forum threads.
- Issue 25 (CI 12) – Review of Caol Ila 12 by Michael Jackson and Dave Broom
- Issue 50 (CI 12) – Notes on Caol Ila 12 by Martine Nouet and Dave Broom. The numbers are not ratings, but peat levels out of 5.
- Issue 25 (CI 18) – Reviewing Caol Ila 18; Michael Jackson rates the 18 over the 12, while Dave Broom is less impressed with the 18.
- Issue 50 (CI 18) – Like the 12 year issue 50 link above, these are peat level numbers, not overall ratings.
- Whisky for Everyone – Review of the Caol Ila 12 year, along with interesting info about the distillery. Matt also notes something salty on then nose like I did, and compares it to bacon crisps. I’m not sure if I quite get bacon, but that analogy of salty meat being cooked is a pretty good one.
- Scotch Chix – The Scotch Chix find Caol Ila 12 to be a good stepping stone to stronger Islay malts.
- Whisky Party – “dodgydrammer” compares Caol Ila 18 to Talisker 18. He rates the Talisker slightly higher, but it’s reasonably close. He’s probably a little higher on the Caol Ila than I am, and not quite as impressed with the Talisker 18 (one of my absolute favorites).
- YouTube – IslayScotchWhisky reviews Caol Ila 12 and has good things to say about it. He gets tart apple on the front of the nose, as opposed to citrus. He also takes the spiciness a different direction at the end.