I shall never understand why own-label bottlings are so often deliberately vague about who actually produced the whisky. I assume it's a restriction imposed by the distillery, but I've never been able to work out why they feel the need for secrecy.
This is particularly puzzling, because the bottlings nearly always come with heavy hints as to their origin so that anyone who really cares – and has a little knowledge – can work it out for themselves. Why not just name the distillery and save us all the work?!
The Islay 12 Year Old from Waitrose is no exception. While talk of a "seaside distillery" doesn't exactly narrow the field – Kilchoman is the only distillery on the island which isn't on the shore – the bottle also talks of "over 150 years of history".
While the majority of the distilleries on Islay have at least that much history – all but three of them – Caol Ila sticks out as being just a shade over 150 years old. Could I be lucky enough to have a £30 bottle of Caol Ila?
The whisky is a bright golden colour, a result of maturing in nothing but bourbon casks – no sherry wood finish in sight.
The nose is pleasant, and all Islay. Gentle toffee, slight medicinal notes and, underneath, the still-glowing embers of a bonfire.
Water releases more cold smoke and wet, burnt oak but the sweetness has vanished.
In the mouth, it's a delight – initially light, but there's quickly a mouthful of peppery spice. A soft, sweet vanilla – almost ice-cream like – slowly asserts itself, and in the finish the smoke returns, although it's more cold, morning-after ashes rather than fire.
Watered, the spice is less pronounced but longer lasting and the vanilla notes are lost entirely but some gentle honey notes come through, and the Islay smokiness comes through much more powerfully. Overall it's smoother, but with just a hint of sourness at the very end.
A great taste of Islay, and for £30 it would be rude not to. 3.5 stars.
Many thanks to Waitrose for providing this sample.
This review was originally published 9th April, 2014. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.