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#Caol Ila

Tasting Notes - Signatory/Edradour Tasting in Brooklyn

Last night I attended an Edradour/Signatory tasting at Heights Chateau, my local wine/liquor shop.  Ten scotches in an hour and a half, and probably the best local tasting I’ve been to in terms of host/taster interaction and sheer variety of whiskies.  The team from signatory was light on the schtick - no kilts, just down to earth conversation - and I got to taste a wide variety of whiskies.  Some of these were variations on old favorites, and others were brand new to me.  Let’s dig in.

Tullibardine 1993

Honestly, this bottle might have been the surprise of the night.  This is a bottle I own.  A friend brought it to a party I hosted, but stacked against the Islays that dominate my collection we came away thinking it was a rather plain whisky.  In a new context, this bottle came to life for me in a way it hadn’t previously.  Made from 75% bourbon and 25% sherry casks, the color is white wine and the nose was sweet with some light sherry on the end.  The taste was more tart and oaky with an upfront hit that I want to say is rubbery, but only because I can’t quite pinpoint the actual flavor.  The finish faded much too quickly to pure heat, but this was a pleasant surprise after my previous experiences with this bottle.

Caperdonich 1996 

This is the main single malt in the Chivas Regal blend.  The color was white wine, and the nose was a fantastic combination of fruits, flowers and vanilla.  I almost want to say like peaches and cream.  The taste was more flowery with another flavor I couldn’t quite put a name to.  The finish was medium long.  Overall, this was like a more mellow (read: less floral/perfumey) Rosebank.  Really nice and worth checking out.

Bladnoch 1992 Un-Chillfiltered

Only independent bottlings of this are available.  Again there is a floral nose, but it is different from the Caperdonich.  There is a scent reminiscent of the butter on movie popcorn.  This carried over to the taste, but faded quickly to a purely hot whisky when some water was added.  The finish had a perfume quality reminiscent of a lowland scotch and it built up as I took more sips.  Overall, it was too much flowers and perfume, and I wasn’t loving this scotch.

The Glentrothes 1994 Un-Chillfiltered

Made from 100% bourbon casks and a nice gold in color, this was a smooth scotch that had a lot of vanilla on the nose and a citrus taste.  It’s more complex than most offerings from the Glentrothes, and it lacked the “tequila nose” I normally associate with the Glenrothes.  It’s also a lot bigger than a normal Glenrothes - maybe that’s the non-chillfiltering coming through.

Highland Park 1985 Cask Strength

This is a 20 year old HP  bottled at 54%.  There’s peat and salt on the nose, and a whiff reminiscent of black magic marker.  The taste is salty, and this is much more aggressive and less creamy than the 15 or 16 year old.  It’s closer to a Laphroaig than most Highland Parks that I’ve tasted.

Ben Nevis 1992 Sherry Cask

The color is coppery on this sherry monster.  It tastes like the Mortlach 17 I have from Malt Trust.

Caol Ila 1996 Un-Chillfiltered

Getting towards the end of the night, my tasting notes start to taper off, but I noted that this white wine colored dram had the typical coal smoke flavor of Caol Ila with some salt and brine, and a finish that went on forever.  I’m always a big fan of Caol Ila and this was no exception.

Port Ellen 1982 Un-Chillfiltered

This was the dram that paid for admission to the tasting ($30 for the whole event).  Pale gold in color, this 25 year old had the typical tangy smoke of Port Ellen.  Energetic.

Edradour Ballechin Madeira Matured

This was a star of the evening.  Coppery gold in color with a massive amount of peat on the nose (50 ppm), this old farmhouse whisky seems simple, but then the madeira begins to creep out behind the peat, adding a layer of complexity.  Really nice if you are a peathead looking for something different.  The craziest fact of all, it’s only a 5 year old!  This one is going on my Christmas list.

Laphroaig 1991 Cask Strength

My notes are non existent here, but if I remember correctly this 16 (?) year old was less like the 15 year old or the new 18 and more like the Cairdeas festival bottling (at least on the nose).  Most interesting, it stood up well to the monster peat of the Ballechin.

As an added bonus, I got a sneak peak at the Edradour Ballechin Olorosso matured whisky due out later this year.  Hard to do a solid tasting after 10 whiskies, but this had a similar profile to the Madeira matured Ballechin - which is to say it was great - but I’d need to do a real side by side when I’m sober to get a good comparative analysis.

Elana at Heights Chateau also generously shared some slightly-watered Octomore, which I found to be surprisingly balanced for all the hype about the peat levels. Thanks for the taste, Elana.  I owe you a dram of Supernova when I get my bottle.  And congrats to you and the guys from Signatory/Edradour for an excellent event. 


Caol Ila Grudge Match: 12 Year vs. 18 Year

This weekend I decided to crack open the Caol Ila 12 and 18 year from my Islay Gift Collection. These are smallish, 20 cL (quarter) bottles that you can occasionally find sold separately at local liquor stores. For those in New York City, I know for a fact that Warehouse Wines and Spirits on Broadway at Astor Place has both of these bottles stored behind the counter. I think they run about $15 per bottle.

Caol Ila is not a whisky that I drink often, although it’s gradually working its way into my rotation as my experience with it grows.  I know a few people, though, who view Caol Ila 12 as their go-to Islay whisky in terms of bang-for-the-buck (normal retail price is just over $50).  I’m looking forward to this as an interesting comparison.  Both whiskies have the same ABV and are aged in the same manner, so this is a straight comparison of the exact same whisky at two very different ages.

Also, thanks to Becky for the two excellent, new glasses in the picture; great wedding gifts.

Caol Ila 12

43% Alcohol by volume

Nose: a sweet peat and smokiness upfront, as expected. It moves into a smoked-meat flavor before a refreshing scent on the tail end.  It’s not quite a fruity scent, more zesty and it comes and goes. Sometimes I can’t detect it at all behind the smoke.

Taste: Still some sweet peat, but the taste is more a dry coal smoke.  Its a big hit upfront, followed by a mild alcoholic bite.  Enough to give it character, but it’s still a pretty smooth-drinking whisky.  There seem to be some subtle flavors below the smoke, but they’re difficult to pull out.  I’m not getting much of that refreshing smell on the nose in the taste. This is a great Islay if the medicinal character of Laphroaig is a bit too much for you, and an Ardbeg is too strong on the peat.

Caol Ila 18

43% Alcohol by volume

Nose: Some sweet peat smell but far less than the 12 year.  There is a floral character to the 18 year that reminds me somewhat of the nose on a Rosebank 19 year I once tried.  The difference is that the Rosebank is cloying to my nose, this is well-balanced and adds an interesting complexity.  No coal smoke at all on the nose.

Taste: The coal smoke returns but it’s mellower than the 12 year (to be expected after 6 more years in the barrel).  The floral character is sprinkled throughout, intermixing with the smoke.  Neither one really dominates and its a good thing.  One the final sip, there’s a hint of chocolate in the middle.

Overall: These are both great scotches and I’d happily recommend either.  The 12 year is a much bigger scotch with a lot of punch.  It’s just a really great, drinkable islay - heavy on the smoke, no medicinal character.  It could be a good session whisky.  The 18 year is more complex.  It’s a more subtle dram to enjoy slowly with friends.  Unfortunately the 18 year old is hard to find, so if you are in NYC, I’d drop by Warehouse to pick up a bottle before they are gone.

Other Opinions:

Caol Ila 12:

Caol Ila 18:

  • Scotch Hobbyist seems to find this considerably less enjoyable than I did, saying that the floral notes are distracting, and tasting a “mustiness” on the finish.
  • Our own Dodgydrammer finds similar chocolate notes.
  • Another Jackson/Broom head to head.
Tagged: #Caol Ila

Tasting Notes: Heights Chateau Presents: A taste of Scotland with Speyside Distillers and Scott’s Selection

Hello again everyone. I am back from my travels and plan to be posting regularly again. As the WhiskyParty writers are fortunate (or unfortunate in some circumstances) to travel a bit, we decided we would post as much as we can about whisky around the world. So, expect some postings about whisky from Dubai, Ireland, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand from me in the near future.

First, I wanted to post my impressions of the tasting I went to with WhiskyParty at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn back on June 9th, 2009. All in all it was a very fun night that ended with me buying WhiskyParty an expensive wedding present and myself an expensive “I drank too much and didn’t leave my credit card at home” present.

Notes we learned on The Speyside distillery :

  • 1 of 4 distilleries that do everything manually
  • Use bourbon barrels exclusively so that they can be strictly kosher
  • The only strictly kosher distillery

Notes we learned what not to do at a tasting :

  • Do not have a slightly larger jovial man wear a kilt and sit in a chair with legs splayed
  • Do not offer up only one glass with no paper towels for cleaning
  • Pour more than 1/4 oz pours, or at the very least, have 1 1/4 oz pour for tasting at cask strength, and 1 1/4 oz pour for tasting with water

Now for the tasting notes.  I did my best, but the tastings went pretty quickly so I wasn’t able to spend as much time as I’d like on them, and obviously tasting 13 scotches in one sitting is going to make your notes slightly jumbled.

Speyside 12

N: varnish, clean
P: grapes, berries
F: long, dry
O: Actually tasty.  Not like a blend, which is my problem with many of these cheaper scotches (they taste like Dewars to me).  This one was more unique.  Very drinkable, but not my favorite as there was not much peat smoke, vanilla or toffee.  8.5/10

King’s Crest 25 Year Old Blend

C: Orange Yellow
L: Small, slow
N: Vanilla, toffee, berries
P: Cherries, vanilla, no bite on tongue, smooth
F: Bright, a bit too sweet, explodes long with some fruit again.
O: Not bad, but coming in over 2 bills is way too expensive.  8.4/10

Now all the following drams are Scott’s Selections

Auchentoshan 1983, 21 years old, 105 Proof

C: light yellow
L: small, quick
N: Toffee, vanilla, grass, a little fruit with water
P: bitter, rubber, even brighter with water
F: nutty, sweet pistachios that turns slightly bitter with water.
O: Eh.  8.1/10

Glenlivet 1977, 27 years old, 106.2 proof

C: a pale yellow like chamomile tea
L: small, quick
N: Floral, and a touch of vanilla
P: fruits, toffee.  With water, the sherry really comes forward and somehow vanilla is right with it.
F: Caramel, long fruit.  With water, sweetness overpowers and becomes a bit sickly.
O: At this point, I’m a little worried about the tasting. This is once again okay, but hasn’t blown my mind or reached any of the right notes.  8.5/10

Macallan 1989, 18 years old, 106.2 proof, bourbon casks not sherry.

C: Pale yellow
L: quick, large
N: toffee cream
P: too bright to really get anything.  Remains bright with water added.
F: sweet, with a sprinkling of brown sugar that becomes a bit too much like caramel with water.
O: I know I like Islays, and the national sales manager Brian doesn’t, but I’m still waiting for a great scotch worthy of the price tags next to the bottles.  8.3/10

The Glenrothes 1980, 25 years old, 111.6 proof.

O: 8.1/10.  I’m a big The Glenrothes fan and this just disappointed me.  It tasted like the three above it.  Sort of this muddled jumble of all the notes it should have, without the right mix (sometimes Vanilla overpowers, sometimes it gets too sweet, sometimes it just tastes like someone poured me some Dewars that’s been sitting around in plastic for a few years.

Aberlour 1989, 18 years old, 105.6 proof

N: Cherries, chocolate
P: Cinnamon and sugar
F: Peppery and short
O: This was decent (unfortunately I didn’t record a grade) but still only marginally better than the ones above it.  It hit some interesting notes, but seemed incomplete.  Probably one of the better ones yet, though.  At least because of that cinnamon taste that I had never had with scotch.

Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967, 36 years old, 104.4 proof, Bourbon first fill

C: Copper
N: candied yams, vanilla cream and some green notes
P: a bit too bright without water, but a satisfying sweetness with a  few drops added
F: medium length swell across the tongue that accentuates but doesn’t overpower.
O: Alright.  This was pretty good.  The age mellowed the sickly sweet I was getting from the previous drams and this scotch hit the right notes without overpowering.  No smoke, obviously, but real tasty.  9.0/10

Glenlivet 1971 Sherry Cask, 36 years old, 106.2 proof, very rare as the liquid was filled into the wrong barrells

O: I got a bit of toffee with a lot of pine cabin on a hot day.  Lots of forest and wood that was interesting to taste, but not necessarily tasty.

Highland Park 1986, 21 years old, 108.2 proof, bourbon barrel.

C: pale yellow
L: Small, quick
N: alcohol burn and brine.  Salted fire with a bit of water.
P: Brine.  seaweed in a poppy fire with water.
F: salty sweet with a clean fire to finish.
O: not bad, but not great.  Pretty enjoyable to get that much brine out of a Highland, though.  8.8/10

Bruichladich 1990, 14 years old, 116.2 proof

C: almost clear
L: though this isn’t very helpful, I have either really slow, or really fst (I saw lines but no legs drop, and we were moving too quickly to investigate further)
N : fruits and flowers
P: light and grassy, with water becomes fruit forward with a tinge of smoke trying to peak through
F: sweet and clean with a bit of bitterness on the after.
O: Once again, an alright dram, but nothing that I’m writing home about.

Bunnahabhain 1988, 16 years old, 107.6 proof

N: cotton candy, delicious.  like The Glenrothes 1990 but without vanilla
P: Oily sea, a little fruit. With water smoke comes forward (oily, of course),  with the sweet fruit sitting behind it almost imperceptibly
F: briny without smoke, a good burn that is long and lasting
O: This was way interesting.  Totally sweet on the nose and totally salty and smoky on the tongue.  My mind was confused completely by the juxtaposition within the same dram.  This was one of the ones I tried again at the end of the night and enjoyed it.  8.9/10

Caol Ila 1984, 22 years old, 105.4 proof

N: Fire, raging forest fire, with candied coating
P: Salty sweet smoke.
F: Pork crackling, salty, overdose of campfire.
O: A great Caol Ila (though I’m not sure the price was justified).  8.9/10

Once again this was a great night.  I thank The Speyside for doing it as I learned a lot, and got to taste some great whisky (and they even got a decent amount of cash off of me).  I think my big hangup on the event was that some of the scotches tasted way too similar without there being anything really unique about them and that the price tags next to the bottles just weren’t justified as there was similar tasting and maybe even better stuff out there for cheaper.  My recommendations on the whole night would be the Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967, the Bunnahabhain 1988, and a toss up between the Caol Ila 1984 and the Glenlivet Sherry Cask 1971.


Tastings from The Speyside and Scott’s Selection

Last night StrongLikeCask and I went to a whisky tasting with the US Ambassador for The Speyside and Scott’s Selection.  I’ve got tasting notes below, but first a few observations about whisky tastings at local liquor stores:

  • If your taster wears a kilt, he shouldn’t sit down on a chair in front of you (seriously).
  • It might be useful to bring your own Glencairn glass.
  • Multiple tastings get to be a problem if you keep using the same glass for each new dram.

Sniping aside, this was a great tasting put on by Heights Chateau, my local wine store.  The whiskies were impressive - mostly 20 - 36 year old vintages from Scott’s Selection - and the $40 price tag was well-worth it considering the average price per bottle of what we tasted was somewhere in the ballpark of $175, and one bottle even went as hight as $332 (a Glenlivet 1971 Sherry Cask, only 3 barrels of which were ever made).   The Speyside Ambassador had great stories to tell about his own distillery and the whisky business more generally, and the two hour tasting flew by.  At the end of the evening, StrongLikeCask bought me a bottle of Longmorn-Glenlivet from 1967, my favorite dram of the evening, as a belated wedding gift.  That was a steal.

Quick note - some of these drams were hard to identify, especially stacked one on top of the other, and at times we moved pretty fast.  That’s why not all of the tastings contain notes on color, nose, taste, or finish.

Tasting Notes:

The Speyside 12

The Speyside is a relatively new distillery, having been in operation for only 15 years.  As such, the 12 year is their signature malt.  It’s also one of only 4 distilleries in Scotland whose distillation process is completely manual - no computer automation is used in their process.  They produce 86 barrels per week, and are the 3rd smallest distillery in Scotland.

Nose: Suprisingly alcoholic for one of the only non-cask strength whiskies we tasted.  Hints of citrus and vanilla.

Taste: The citrus resolves into orange upfront, with a slightly floral finish.

Overall: A surprisingly nice dram considering it’s $38 price tag.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit more than some of the older vintage whiskies.  This may be worth returning to for a full 40 Under $40 review.

King’s Crest 25 (Blend)

Very tough to identify.  Maybe some bananas and caramel.  With a price tag of $222, I really didn’g “get” this whisky.

Auchentoshan 1983 (21 year)

Color: straw

Nose: Floral, but lacking a perfume quality found in Rosebank.

Taste: Identical to the nose.  Very light alcohol profile.  I should note that this is one of the few single malts that is triple distilled.

The Glenlivet 1977 (27 year)

Nose: Huge alcohol profile.  Tough to get anywhere near the glass.

Taste: Some cinammon.  Banana and spice.

Macallan 1989 (18 year)

This was interesting in theory - it’s a Macallan aged in a Bourbon barrel rather than the usual Sherry cask.  I couldn’t identify any difference between this and the Glenlivet 1977, and have to say I prefer the sherried version.  This and the Glenlivet 1977 may well be my least favorites of the night.

Glenrothes 1980

Color: pale gold

Palate: Chewy

Aberlour 1989 (18 year, Bourbon Aged)

Color: Straw

Taste: The ambassador said this was a cinammon bomb and he was right.  Very rich.

Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967 (36 years)

Nose: Campfire

Taste: Burnt, or carmelized fruit.  A little vanilla.

Overall: Hands down my favorite of the evening.  The smoke/peat is very dry and not at all phenolic like a Laphroaig or Lagavulin.  It actually reminded me more of a Springbank than anything else.  This is the bottle that StrongLikeCask picked up for me.

Glenlivet 1971 Sherry Cask (36 Year)

Nose: Lemon Zest

Taste: Candied - and interesting mix of sherry and cinammon.  There’s a tightness to the sherry as well.  It’s not a big dram.

This is the most expensive bottle of the evening ($332).  According to the Ambassador, it comes from one of only 3 barrels ever made.

Highland Park 1986 (21 Year)

For some reason, I got very little out of this dram.  My only note from last night is “seaweed.”

Bruichladdich 1990

Non-citrus fruit.  Maybe berries.

Bunnahabhain 1988

Nose: Thin, almost like a tequila.  Reminds me of the Glenrothes Select Reserve.

Taste: Some nice smoke.  The taste in no way resembles the nose.  It’s a little incongruous and slightly surprising.  Like drinking two whiskies at once.

Caol Ila 1984 (22 Year)

Nose: Barbeque, slight hint of that tequila smell from the Bunnahabhain lurking in the back.

Taste: Tangy barbecue straight out of the smoker.  Awesome.


Tasting notes: two well-priced Island 18 years head-to-head

I pulled a couple of my favorites from the bar for a comparison.  Both Island whiskies (Caol Ila from Islay and Talisker from Skye), both nicely peated, and both priced around $70, these are two very different whiskies.

Caol Ila OB 18 year

ABV: 43%

Color: pure gold

Legs: med-large beads, med-slow roll

Nose: ocean notes, soft peat, cream & dark berries, pine, and a touch of smoke

Palate: almonds and a light, crisp smokeyness floating above malt and sawdust, with some muddled sweetness mixing in at the middle

Body: just slightly oily, rounded, med-full without being weighty

Finish: very “smooth” and fairly long with cocoa notes developing and lasting; a touch of warmth develops at the very end

Overall: beginning on the nose with maritime characteristics and on the palate with refined (if restrained) peat smoke, this dram is pleasant to the end.  Well balanced and well rounded.

Talisker OB 18 year

ABV: 45.8%

Color: slightly-bronzed gold

Legs: med-large beads, slow drop

Nose: cherries, cherry cough syrup (ie, medicinal), chocolates, some orange, and a little gun smoke

Palate: plums and smoked wood, then pepper and more gun smoke, with hints of vanilla and butterscotch candy

Body: full bodied and textured

Finish: med-long and warm, you feel it all over; the smoke persists

Overall: I, personally, don’t find this sweeter on the palate than the OB 10 year; in fact, I feel that it has developed the sharper elements of Talisker rather than the sweet notes.  Maybe thats just me.  Love the sustained attack of the smoke with the pepper.  The nose was delightful, with intense sweet, smokey, and medicinal characteristics.

Comparison: The “big” island feel of the Talisker seems to have won out over the soft, balanced, and mellowed elements of the Caol Ila.  Both are awesome, both are very fairly priced (CI: $74; Tali: $69), and neither is particularly easy to find on shelves.  Whichever one is stocked near you, get it and enjoy it.

Tagged: #Caol Ila

Tasting Notes: Caol Ila 10 year from Gordon & MacPhail

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Caol Ila 10 year (dist. 1995)

Alc/vol: 46%

Color: just-slightly-bronzed gold

Legs: long, with med. beads

Nose: buttery pastries in paris, a crackling fireplace in winter, dark chocolate, ripe red fruits, and oranges, all wrapped up in an ocean breeze

Palate: coal, spices (nutmeg), more chocolate (milky now), and a sweetness like buttered veggies (butternut squash seems to be it) grilling over a charcoal flame

Body: a bit oily and quite fulfilling in the mouth; lots of texture (can a mouthfeel have “complexity”? - I think so)

Finish: a long, lingering chocolate éclair eaten in front of the fire

Overall: I was happily shocked when I first tasted this, and the retaste confirms everything: a well cared-for independent bottling of a beloved Islay.  While it is as enjoyable to me as anything, it doesn’t quite have the complexity of a Talisker 18, Ardbeg 10, or Highland Park 18. Nevertheless, this dram is absolutely a peaty, smokey treat.


10 Cheap Scotches to Get You Started

A number of people here at the Whisky Party have been discussing some cheap, quality bottlings to recommend to folks just getting into drinking single malt scotch whisky.  Here’s what one of us came up with.  Let us know what you think:

  1. Jura Superstition (young peated casks vatted with 23 yo unpeated casks from a unique Island distillery; $40-45)
  2. Highland Park 12 yo (one of my favorites, a critical darling, and a true “all-rounder” Island whisky for under $40)
  3. Glenkinchie 10 yo (light and grassy, with a non-citrus fruit in the middle. Maybe pears).
  4. Caol Ila 12 yo (I prefer the 18 yo, but at $45, this one is peatier and more interesting than often assumed)
  5. Laphroaig Quartercask ($47; a vatting of young whiskies finished in tiny casks, imparting much wood flavor and mellowness.  Anyone who hasn’t had this should kill themselves)
  6. Clynelish 14 yo (a northern, coastal Highland and undervalued)
  7. Glenmorangie 10 yo (another superb Highland; $40-50)
  8. Bowmore 12 yo ($30-40; see Dr. Whisky)
  9. Cragganmore 12 yo (top notch Speyside; big, floral nose; nice buttery body with some rich fruit and a touch of smoke; right around $50).
  10. Balvenie DoubleWood ($33)