Considered the most naturally beautiful and picturesque locale on Islay, Caol Ila is perched on Loch Nam Ban near the town of Port Askaig. The distillery in the picture here, built in 1974, may seem rather large given Caol Ila’s low profile on supermarket shelves but they are a large supplier for Johnny Walker blends.
Caol Ila’s single malts have an unmistakable profile, distinct from other more famous Islay’s like Lagavulin. Lighter in a low viscosity oil kind of way, seaweed and iodine are common elements with smoky phenolics taking a back seat. This 27 year Duncan Taylor offering had notes of pine sol and wet stone; it felt like my nostrils were being disinfected. A browned butter element mingles with the seaweed and iodine on the palate and hits the back of your mouth in a chemical freight train, a noticeable wave of intensity on the top of the palate that vanishes suddenly after swallowing, leaving a very faint trace of spirit. I kept asking myself after every sip – how can such strong varnishy oil flavours disappear so quickly? An 8 year unpeated Caol Ila tasted alongside was rather lighter but with the same abrupt palate intensity/falloff. A memorable experience, it seems to me that Caol Ila probably has a loyal following that the rest of us don’t quite understand. I found other profiles and reviews at Whisky Notes, Malt Madness, Edinburgh Whisky Blog and Empty Hip Flask.