There's something very self-consciously 'cool' about That Boutique-y Whisky Company (henceforth to be known as TBWC, or "te-ba-wuk"). From the funky name to the "cultish graphic novel-style" labels, it all makes the craft beer movement look staid and veers dangerously close to hipsterism.
All this would normally leave me cynically expecting it to be a pure marketing exercise from some huge faceless multinational, used as a vehicle to charge a premium for a distinctly average product - but in this instance, nothing could be further from the truth.
The folks behind the label are none other than the Master of Malt, who know a thing or two about good whisky. Each edition is part of a small batch - a few hundred 50cl bottles at best, which suggests it's often a single cask they've managed to hunt down. There is deliberately no age statement provided, and although the majority of the range is single malt there are even blended malt offerings(perhaps a result of tinkering with their own Blending Kit?!)
The Caol Ila Batch 1 is one of the larger batches I've seen, producing 732 bottles. They've all been sold now, although there are still 'Drinks by the Dram' samples available. At 45.8% ABV it's on the gentle side - many of TBWC's offerings are well into the 50s.
It's a pale straw coloured dram, with a equally light nose - initially sea spray and a touch of lemon sherbet, but as it sits in the glass a light oily character develops, old resinous wood and cold bonefire ash.
Watered, the resin and ash is more obvious along with a slightly chemical peardrop edge.
In the mouth it's unexpectedly sweet and fruity - rum-soaked raisins fading into a touch of brine and a black pepper heat, with a warmth that slips right down into your belly before you even realised that you've swallowed. The finish is lingering but gentle; a memory of sweet spice.
Water radically alters the flavours, depriving you of those sweet notes and bringing out a beach bonfire; driftwood smoke, a hint of seaweed - it's like two different whiskies, and both of them delicious.
Caol Ila rarely disappoints, and this bottling is a cracking example - 4 stars.
This review was originally published 29th October, 2014. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.