Ahh, Caol Ila. Owners of the prettiest distillery in Islay, and producers of some of my favourite whiskies on the planet.
This is their 1996 Distillers Edition, and in common with all their Distillers Editions is finished in Moscatel sherry casks. The whisky sits clear gold in the glass – clearly the time in the sherry casks hasn't been long enough to impart much colour.
The nose is classic Caol Ila; a whiff of honey, an iodine twang and just a hint of dates, with an underlying charcoal bonfire. Adding water to the glass is like pouring water on that bonfire; the flames are gone and you're left with a cooler, smokier aroma which is less imposing but just as tantalising.
On drinking, an initial sweetness hits the tip of the tongue while fire bursts out around the rest of the mouth. That sweetness lingers and even manages to build, in perfect harmony with the smouldering peat. It has an almost syrup nature, and the big, long finish manages to be both dry and slightly stickily sweet.
Watered, that sweetness is more widespread, although shorter lived, and the fires cooled. It exposes an almost pepper-like spicy note which lingers far longer than the sweetness leaving you with a much drier, tingling finish. It's so different from the unwatered version, and yet I'm not sure I could chose a favourite.
This review was originally published 19th September, 2012. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.