I had to take my daughter’s viola to the music store today to get a string replaced. I knew of a liquor store nearby that is supposed to have a good selection, so I stopped in to take a look. They had some interesting stuff, including a pricey 29 year Cragganmore. Prices were generally a bit higher than I’m used to paying. Caol Ila 12 was selling for $65, vs. $56 at Bevmo and $50 at Total Wines. Then I noticed a Signatory Vintage 1992 Caol Ila with the following specs for $57:Age: 14 Years Distilled: 13.05.1992 Bottled: 11.08.2006 Matured in: Hogshead Cask No: 06/588/3 Bottle No: 56 of 382 Natural Color 43% Alc/Vol.
I’ve heard good things about the Signatory Cask Strength series, and at basically the same price as a bottle of CI 12 (OB) at Bevmo, I decided to give this expression a shot. I was planning to buy a full size bottle of Caol Ila 12 soon, anyway. I just finished a Caol Ila 12 vs. 18 comparison a couple of days ago, but I couldn’t resist trying this bottle out right away.
On the nose, I get the lemony citrus right away that I expect from Caol Ila. This seems a little cleaner than the OB 12, but more subdued than the Port Askaig 17. Working through that, there’s a pleasant peat smoke, and I want to say a little bit of caramelized sugar. Like the OB 12, I’m getting a mixture of saltiness and sweetness. Perhaps some kind of smoked meat for the salty scent?
On the palate, there’s peat, coal smoke and pepper, but the body seems a little lighter than CI 12. I think there’s a little less coal smoke in this expression, allowing the peat to come through a little more on the finish. At first, it seems like a medium finish, but after dying down a little bit, the peat and some smoke continue to linger for quite some time.
Conclusion – If you just handed me a glass of this Signatory Caol Ila and told me that it was Caol Ila 12, I would believe you. I’m not getting any significant clues that this is an older expression from another bottler. Even the color is virtually identical. Signatory did a great job of maintaining the distillery character that I like so much. This is a perfectly good value given the asking price, and definitely worth a shot if you’re a regular Caol Ila 12 purchaser. I can’t imagine anybody liking the 12 and disliking this one.
Compared to Caol Ila 12 – I have now proceeded to pour a glass of Caol Ila 12 from my 2006 Islay Collection gift pack. I don’t recall having noticed this with my 2007 bottle, but side-by-side with the Signatory, I’m getting a slightly rubbery scent on the nose of the Caol Ila 12 (returning momentarily on the finish as well). Everything else is virtually identical between the two expressions, except the body on the 12 year seems slightly more oily. Given a choice, I think I would opt for the Signatory. I’m a little baffled by this based on my experience with the 2007 CI 12 bottling, and will compare again in the future after both bottles have been open for a while.
I can’t find any! In fact, I can’t find any evidence that this expression actually exists. Well…except for that fact that there’s a bottle sitting in my cupboard. If somebody out there with one of the other 381 bottles from this cask actually comes across this blog post, how about leaving a comment and sharing your experience?
So, given the unknown likelihood of finding another bottle of this particular expression, what is my takeaway from this tasting? It’s that Signatory is capable of producing a solid Caol Ila release that is true to the original distillery profile. I won’t hesitate to try another one of their expressions in the future.