Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Caol Ila 15 Gordon & MacPhail 1981-1997: Iodine, honey, sea salt, flowers and smoke.

Caol Ila was one of the less well known Islay malts back in the late 90s when I bought this bottle. The distillery's own label wasn't distributed in NY at the time. Caol Ila has since had a major Renaissance. This 15 year old bottle of 15 year old whiskey is a look back. I find little has changed.

Color: old gold (deep yellow with rosy orange glints)

Nose: honeyed sherry, malt, iodine, band aids, peat reek (smoke, oil, and damp fen), brine, seaweed, and a bit of old books

Semi sweet entry with immediate iodine brine, pepper and damp wood. After significant air there's a honey sherry glory lurking in the entry but it forms a backdrop for the sea flavors that take center stage. The midpalate expansion is abuzz with pepper, fire smoke, floral sherry honey and a fairly rich viscous mouth feel. Finish is fairly long with fine restrained peat smoke, old dry wood, dank meadow, and distant floral and incense perfume. The finale ends on a slightly bitter and medicinal note that is fitting.

This is a pure expression of the spirit of Islay, but a fairly restrained and deceptively complex one. Lovely, if not a real boomer.

How does it compare to the new Caol Ila 12?  The new one is sweeter and more sunny.  It also has a cleaner and more direct peat note.  However it's less complex and interesting.  Bottom line, however, the new distillery product simply tastes a little bit better in my book.  Maybe that's just its youth.   It's a happy debate; both are very nice to drink.



  1. Just saw this bottle in a shop for around $150 - and was thinking about buying it as a birthday present for a friend born in '81.
    Is that a decent price for such a whisky?

  2. Older Caol Ilas are rare and popular. You'll pay a bit extra for any of of the Islay whiskies of that age (as opposed to a Spey or Highland). But these days $150 is pretty par for the course for any 1981..

  3. Thanks for the answer Joshua. Great blog!