Caol Ila is, as I've probably said too often here, one of my favourite distilleries. Not only do they have the prettiest distillery on the island (on the inside, anyway!), but I think their whisky sums up the Islay style perfectly – sweet, smokey, powerful.
Here we have an independent bottling from Murray McDavid; a company that knows a great deal about great whisky – in addition to bottling whisky from numerous distilleries, they also own Bruichladdich.
Bottled at a decent 52.5% ABV, it's a surprisingly light colour in the glass, belying it's years in the cask. The nose is very heavy on the alcohol, with some nicely restrained peat smoke about it – more the cooling embers than a roaring fire. Under that are some caramel notes and a hint of brine. Water keeps the smoke firmly in charge but reveals some more subtleties, with citrus fruit coming through.
In the mouth, the first thing that comes to mind is... wow! A brief initial sugar sweetness, almost immediately overwhelmed by a great peat hit, which blends with the heat of the alcohol to give you a big bonfire on your tongue. Behind that there's also a trace of something sharp, fresh, citrus – lime peel perhaps. The finish is spectacularly long, the peat and the warmth lingering for what feels like forever.
As with the nose, water simply cuts back the alcohol burn a little, but preserves that wonderful peat smoke, the lingering finish, that lip-numbing power.
This is a magnificent dram that despite its power is gloriously smooth. It's good for my liver that I don't have an entire bottle here; it's the kind of whisky that could easily disappear in the course of an evening or two.
This review was originally published 20th June, 2012. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.