In February, I had a couple of unexpected samples show up at my door. One was a Caol Ila 30 Year and the other a Highland Park 13 Year; both bottled by Master of Malt at cask strength. These unsolicited samples were not part of the samples program that I previously blogged about. A bunch of bloggers received these two samples out of the blue, and I’ve included links to the resulting reviews that I know about at the bottom of this post.
My favorite way to review samples is to be able to compare them to other expressions that I’m more familiar with. In this case, I happen to have gotten a Battlehill Caol Ila 25 year from my wife for Christmas. Battlehill is supposed to be the “entry level” line from Duncan Taylor, specializing in 6-10 year expressions. They seem to have branched out a bit, and this Caol Ila 25 year is a single cask release sold exclusively by Total Wine & More.
Battlehill Caol Ila 25 Year (Bottled for Total Wine & More; 43%; $110)Nose: A cleaner, sweeter version of Caol Ila 12, with citrus and subtle smoke. Lots of vanilla, some fresh oak, and Werther’s caramels. This is all very well balanced, with perhaps less wood than you would expect of a 25 year. I would have guessed that this was more in the 18-21 year range. Palate: Medium to high viscosity, but also juicy and sweet on the tongue. There is some nice pepper, but not in the same league as a “Talisker kick.” Finish: Classic Caol Ila finish with lemons and ashy coal smoke. Again, it’s cleaner than the 12 year, with none of the youthful peat that I sensed in that one. The smoke is more subtle than the 12 year, but still very much the focus here.
Comments: Overall, it’s excellent. Everything that first captured my interest in my Caol Ila, and more. It’s refined and very, very drinkable. I think 3-5% more ABV would have brought it into Ace territory, but that’s not the Battlehill style. Rating: B+ (89 Points)
Master of Malt Caol Ila 30 Year Single Cask (1980/2010; 57.4%; MoM Exclusive £99.95)
Nose: Lifesaver butter rum candy and pineapple, then mango. Actually, more like a whole bouquet of soft fruits. Vanilla. Faint whiffs of smoke. Very rich and elegant. I could nose this for hours at a time…we’re talking some serious 30 year old magic here.
Mouth: Holds back at first and then the 57.4% ABV explodes on the late middle to back of the tongue. More woody than the nose indicated. Enjoyable, but a few drops of water provides a more consistent experience over the whole tongue, with more fruity flavors.
Finish: Finally, we get a more sooty smoke that reveals some distillery character rising up in the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, continued heat along with sweets and fruits. However, as the smoke and sweetness dies off, I’m left with a stale malt flavor that takes over and lingers. Hmm…not what I expected. It reminds me of the late finish on my 200ml bottle of Glenkinchie 12. Adding water to bring it down closer to 45-50% ABV seems to cut down on the stale malt component. I just discovered this at the end of my sample…wish I could try again to confirm.
Comments: I thought this whisky provided a world-class experience on the nose, along with moments of greatness on the tongue and into the early finish. However, I was a bit put off by what my olfactory senses perceived as some staleness at the end, especially at full strength. On the nose, this was an Ace. I wish I had a little larger sample to play some more with adding water. As it stands, the finish brings it down a little for me. I’d put it just below the 25 year overall. Rating: B+
Many thanks to my wonderful wife for buying me the Battlehill Caol Ila 25 year. What a great treat this has been. A big thanks to MoM as well, for the 30 year sample. How cool was it to be able to compare these two expressions? [answer: very cool.] At just over $1oo for the 25 year, and $160-ish for the 30 year, I’d say both of them are a relative bargain, considering the distillery 25 year bottling costs $200.
I don’t know how many bottles of the Battlehill were made. According to to Greg Tuttle at Total Wine, these “bottled for Total Wine” Battlehill releases are all single-cask. At a 43% ABV dilution, we’re just talking a few hundred bottles. I can easily recommend purchasing one if you find it.
The Master of Malt bottling is a little less cut and dry. The price is certainly amazing for a 30 year (though our exchange rate kind of sucks right now). When I first took in the nose, I thought I was going to HAVE to get my hands on a bottle. The finish changed my mind, but adding water was looking promising as a potential panacea. I recommend checking out the other opinions below. Nobody else seems to be complaining about any stale malt sensation. Maybe it’s just me. You can also get a sample from Master of Malt to see for yourself.
The folks at Master of Malt were quite generous with these samples. Some of the fruits of their labor:
- Whisky Israel – Gal really enjoyed it. 90/100 points.
- Dramming.com – Not quite as much of a rave, noting some “interesting” herbal notes.
- Jewish SMWS – I think it’s safe to say Josh is a fan.
- A Wardrobe of Whisky – A whopping 93/100 points!
- Edinburgh Whisky Blog – Tasting both the Caol Ila and HP sample in a fascinating location.
- Whisky Boys – Another review of both the Caol Ila and HP, with three opinions in one review.
- It’s Pub Night – A recommendation to add a wee drop of water, and probably not a bad idea.
- Malt Fascination – Sjoerd gave the Caol Ila 30 pretty high praise. Notable since he doesn’t care for the distillery 25 year bottling.