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Caol Ila Distillery – The Contributor of JW Blends

Caol Ila Distillery

Our visit to Caol Ila Distillery was the beginning of the end of our Islay trip. It was unfortunate that the distillery was undergoing renovations when we were there. It resulted in our tour getting cut, but the compensation we got was more of their gold nectar!

The Caol Ila Visitor Centre

Walking to the Visitor Centre

Due to the renovations, our vehicle was not allowed to go right up to the gate, so we parked far away and walked up to the distillery. The safety measures put up at the distillery were impressive, so we felt safe during our time there, even with all the construction works all around.

Curly the Pig reporting in

When we reached the visitor centre, the cask greeted us in a quiet corner. The cask served an important role though – it was the meeting point for all Caol Ila tours! Upon entering the little shop, we were quite shocked at the number of people squeezed into the tiny space. A group of Caol Ila fans turned up at the distillery without a prior tour booking, and they were unhappy that the team at the shop turned them away! There was a little commotion, but it was sorted out after one of the team checked the tour for the day after and managed to squeeze them in.

The Tour Proper

Our tour guide came to meet our group shortly after the commotion. She explained that as the renovation was on-going, we would not be able to visit the whole distillery but only the Still House, which was still untouched by the construction. We were quite disappointed, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

The Caol Ila Stills

Inside the Still House, our guide shared all the details of the production at Caol Ila Distillery with our group. We visited on a Sunday, and the stills were not running because the distillery only works Monday to Friday! It was surprising as most of the other distilleries work seven days a week, 365 days a year. Our group joked that it must be a good thing to be a production crew at Caol Ila! You get the weekend off!

The Caol Ila Way

Caol Ila smokes their barley to around 50ppm, and it should get a very smokey whisky like Ardbeg. However, their stills with the long lyne arms created a lot of reflux, and the result is a much softer smoke.

The wash still at Caol Ila has a capacity of 58 thousand litres, but they only charged 19 thousand litres of wash in each distillation cycle. The aim is to create high refluxes within the still and increase the purity of the distillate.

The distillery takes a cut of the heart between 75% to 65% abv of the distillate. Our guide shared that the process takes an average of 2.5 hours during a normal distillation cycle. The head is around 85%% abv while the tail is below 65% abv. The head and tail go back to the distillation cycle in the next charge, similar to most other distilleries.

The team then dilutes the new make to 63.5% abv (industry standards) before putting them into their respective casks for maturation. An interesting point to note is that Caol Ila does not mature their whisky on-site, but send them to mainland Scotland to mature in a separate warehouse.

Casks of Caol Ila

Noticing that some unfinished casks were sitting around the distillery, one of us asked our guide if those casks were no longer in use. She said that while those that we saw were indeed staves that they discarded, Caol Ila builds their own casks. How they do it is to import bourbon staves from the United States of America, and their talented team build the casks up on their own, complete with their specification. Most of the casks are hogshead.

Where does Caol Ila whisky go to?

Our article title already suggested that Caol Ila is the main contributor for Johnnie Walker blends. Still, you may be shocked to discover that up to 85% of all Caol Ila whisky goes to Johnnie Walker! Before the boom of Caol Ila single malts, up to 95% of the whisky goes to the blends. Diageo reduced it to 85% in 2011.

The Tasting Room

The Tasting Room

After the short but information session in the Still House, our group went to the Tasting Room, a large, upper room hidden by a wooden door! It overlooks the Sound of Islay and right opposite us, the Paps of Jura! Now you might remember that the Still Room in Ardnahoe overlooks the Paps as well, but we weren’t lucky during our trip to Ardnahoe to view them. However, we were lucky this time!

The magnificent Paps of Jura

Ta-da! This was the view right outside the window of the tasting room. Even though the clouds were still low, we could see the two peaks of the Paps, which were magnificent. Of course, our photograph couldn’t do justice to the beauty that we witnessed on Islay.

What was on offer?

Caol Ila 15 YO Unpeated, Caol Ila 10, Distillery Exclusive

Our guide invited us to take our places at a large table where our drams awaited. First, we gave us each a branded Glencairn glass; then she began introducing the whiskies. The distillery upgraded our tour basically, to include two drams direct from the cask as a form of apology for the renovations. You should hear the mumble of appreciation all around the table!

The list of whisky was as followed:

  1. 15 Years Old, Unpeated, Cask Strength
  2. 10 Years Old, Cask Strength, Feis Ile 2018
  3. NAS, Cask Strength, Distillery Exclusive
  4. 1996, 23 Years Old, 55.3% abv, Straight from the cask
  5. 2012, 7 Years Old, 60.7% abv, Straight from the cask

1996 Caol Ila Cask

2012 Caol Ila Cask,

It was a treat like no other! We enjoyed the large pours from our guide, chit-chat about whisky in general, and made new friends from the Netherlands! We also met the couple whom we saw at Ardnahoe, which was really a pleasant surprise! After all the drams, our guide also encouraged us to walk around the room, looking at some of the artefacts that the distillery collected over the years.

Used Barrels and a Colour Chart

We noticed some interesting old bottles of Caol Ila lying around too. Check them out!

Curly was really excited too!

Unfortunately, we needed to clear the room for the next tour before we could ask more about these bottles. Nevertheless, it was really enjoyable despite the disappointment of not being able to visit the mash tuns and the washbacks.

Return to reality

Exiting the Tasting Room carrying our drams, we went back to the shop just to meet yet another group of disappointed visitors who did not pre-book their tours. This group was unhappy when they saw us coming back, and some heated arguments started between the unhappy group and the team at the shop. Thankfully, our guide arrived in time, and she stopped the commotion.

As for us, we quickly side-stepped the incident by moving deeper into the shop to look at the bottles available.

Feis Ile 2019

Distillery Exclusive

It was disappointing that these were the best bottles on offer at the distillery, and the rest were the core range. As we had already tried the two expressions during the tour, we did not buy them home. All we did was to buy a super nice Caol Ila Down Jacket instead!

Saying Good-Bye to Islay

Our travels on Islay is over, folks! Caol Ila was the last distillery that we visited so we will be starting other articles from next week. Our team did visit Bruichladdich for a tour, but because we wrote a lot of articles on Bruichladdich previously, we decided to omit the tour unless our readers request for it!

We did not go on tours at Bowmore, Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain because we couldn’t make time for it. However, we visited their shops and bars to purchase bottles and drinks! This omission also meant that we have another excuse to go back to Islay in future!

WhiskyGeeks hopes that you had a lot of fun touring Islay with us! Stay with us, though! There will be more interesting articles coming up. 😀

 

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Whisky Review #88 – XOP Caol Ila 36 Years Old

XOP Caol Ila 36 Years Old at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar, Kaohsiung

Some of you may know that I am a Caol Ila fan as well as a Bruichladdich fan. Both distilleries are on Islay, but the styles are quite different. Nonetheless, I find whiskies from both distilleries enjoyable, and suitable for the various moods that befall me. This review is an independently bottled Caol Ila by Douglas Laing. It is part of their XOP range as it is a distillate from 1980 and matured for 36 years. I had this whisky at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar last year when I was there attending the Takao Whisky Fair.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Amber
ABV: 57.4%

Nose: Sweet caramel finds its way into the nose with warm spice in the background. Hints of dark fruits like raisins float in and out of the nose. After aeration of three minutes, the spice becomes more prominent, and the sweetness of fruits and caramel fade into the background. After ten minutes, light, aromatic peat appears to complement the spice. At the same time, light notes of caramel and dark fruits reappear. The result is intense sherried notes. (18/20)

Palate: Hot spice leads the way, but sweet caramel and dark raisins coat the palate almost immediately after the spice, reducing the fiery hotness. After airing, the spice mellows beautifully. Caramel, raisins, and dark chocolate are evident in the mouth, and we detect hints of honey at the back of the mouth. Unfortunately, the honey notes are quickly overwhelmed by the spice. Light peat comes in at the end, but it is hardly noticeable. (17/20)

Finish: Long finish with warm spice leading the way. Aromatic peat surfaces in the finish instead of the palate. We think that it could be due to the spice. After airing, the peat disappears from the finish, leaving only the mellow spice and the fruity sweetness. (17/20)

Body: It is not the most balanced dram that I had drunk. The peat is hardly noticeable in the palate and finish, though it is promising in the nose. The redeeming grace is the intense sherried notes that are balanced from the nose to the finish. The whisky is likely to benefit from some water, which will open the flavours. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to do that due to the overcrowding at the bar. (33/40)

Score: 85/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “My first impression was WOW! Then the spice overwhelmed me at the palate. I still think it is a fantastic whisky, but it probably needs more than just aeration. This whisky should open up its flavours if I add some water. It was a pity that I did not get to do that during my time at the TDM bar as it was too crowded! If I get to try this again, I will report!”

Geek Choc: “My mouth burns from drinking this whisky. It is too spicy for my liking, and I do not know why Geek Flora likes it! Hahaha…but I have to admit that it is pretty special. I think I will enjoy it more if I add some water to mellow the spice.”

 

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Whisky Review #74 – Caol Ila 1982 First Cask Series

Caol Ila 1982 – First Cask Series

WhiskyGeeks has not reviewed any bottles for an extended period, so it is time to put that right. Today, our review brings us to an independent bottler from the Netherlands, which is quite a character.

Brief History of the independent bottler

Jan Kok and Marcel Bol are the founders of Whisky Import Netherlands (WIN). Founded in December 2004, WIN started with the imports of new bottlings from Adelphi Distillery. Both Jan and Marcel are veterans in the whisky industry. As youngsters, Marcel was an avid whisky drinker and met like-minded Jan in the company that they both worked for. The two hit off so well that they planned a trip to Scotland together! From then on, their whisky journey took off on a higher note. As members of the local whisky club, Jan and Marcel both became the club leaders and Marcel was also in charge of the club’s publication. They are so well-known that Diageo approached them to promote whisky! As a result of this request, Jan and Marcel attended formal whisky courses and became accredited. During their learning journey, they got to know Charles MacLean, who got them to import new bottlings for Adelphi Distillery as well.

That is a short history on WIN, the Netherlands independent bottler, who bottled this excellent bottle of Caol Ila 1982 (single cask). The First Cask Series is WIN’s label, and much effort has been put into each selection to choose casks which showcase the character of the distillery and the influences of the barrels used. This bottle of Caol Ila is distilled in 1982 and matured in an American oak hogshead. 25 years later, WIN bottled the liquid without chill-filtration and colouring. It also boasts of a natural cask strength!

With the introduction completed, let’s dive into the review of this Caol Ila 1982!

Tasting Notes

Colour: Bright Gold
ABV: 60.8%

Nose: Elegant peat is all my brain could comprehend when I first nose this whisky! It was terrific. Sweet, fruity and light, all at the same time. When my mind calms down, I picked up mango, apricot and aromatic peat. There is a warm, pleasant spice wafting in the background. (18/20)

Palate: The first sip registered fruity sweetness and warm, mellow spice. A second sip reveals sweet mango, apricots, nutmeg, some cinnamon and beautiful peat. At the high abv of 60.8%, the liquid is gentle and elegant. The warm spice coats the mouth but does not burn the throat, which is pleasant for a high abv whisky. (19/20)

Finish: The finish is long with sweet peat and mango. The mouthfeel gets drier towards the end, but it is pleasant, almost wine-like. (19/20)

Body: This dram is excellently balanced. The peat co-exists beautifully with the sweet fruitiness and the gentle spice. I would say that the peat enhances the sweetness of the whisky and makes it even better! (36/40)

Total Score: 92/100

Where to find it: The Swan Song

Comments:

Geek Flora: “This dram makes me love Caol Ila more than I already am. That sweet, gentle peat completely sold me. I would be heading back for more in future!” 

Geek Choc: “I only got a sip of this, and it was heavenly. Did not get to drink a second sip of the dram after that because Flora was too excited and drunk everything herself!”

 

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