Caol Ila 12 Years Review

“Diet Islay”

Country: Scotland
Region: Islay
Brand: Caol Ila
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 12 Years 
Alcohol: 43%

A Hidden Treasure close to Port Askaig

Colour: Pale Straw/Chardonnay Wine

Nose: BBQ time on Islay with a nice platter of Smoked Fish, Shell Fish, Ham and Bacon. Sea Salt, Lemon, Mint, Herbs and Seaweed are amply present for seasoning and decoration. It's all quite Light though when compared to Ardbeg or Laphroaig. But there is also a Soapy, Floral and Vegetal feel to this Caol Ila. I find Wet Earth, Grass and Straw. In addition there are (subtle) notes of Sweet Barley, Band Aid, Iodine, Rubber, Leather, Tobacco, Toffee, Pineapple and Orange. It's not at all bad but a bit understated. The Smoke elements remind me of JW Black.

The rather small VC

Taste: Slightly Thin Delivery although the Alcohol stings a bit. It's mostly Sweet, Musty at times and Herbal toward the end. I identify Sweet Barley, Sweet Peat, light Smoke, Tar, Ashes, Rubber, Toffee, Nuts, Flagrant Soap, Lemon, Charred Oak, Pepper, Salt and Dried Herbs.

The Wooden Washbacks

Finish: Thin but Quite Long, Dry, slightly Sour and surprisingly Ashy with Earthy Peat, BBQ Smoke, Tar, Iodine, Fish and Shell Fish, Sea Water, Flagrant Soap, Pepper, Nutmeg, Licorice, Aniseed, Lemon, light Vanilla, Sugar Candy and old Cigar Boxes.

Who is buying here??

I added a bit of Water and that enhances the Soapy feeling on the Nose. Also a bit of Fruit like in New Make Spirit. The Palate and Finish however become too Sugary Sweet. Better sip the Caol Ila 12 Years without adding Water.

Rating: 83.5

Nose: 21 - Taste: 21 – Finish: 20.5 – Overall: 21

A Glimpse of the Stainless Steel Mash Tun

General Remarks: The Caol Ila Distillery was founded in 1846 and is located close to Port Askaig on Islay. It was bought by DCL in 1927 and through some mergers is now part of Diageo. The distillery was completely rebuilt in 1974 and only one old Warehouse reminds us of former days. Traditionally, Caol Ila is an important component of Blends like Johnnie Walker, Bell's and White Horse. But during the last 10 years Diageo has made great efforts to position the Distillery as a Single Malt as well. Caol Ila is now part of the group's Classic Malts line up. The core range includes the 12 Years that I am reviewing today, the 18 Years, the 25 Years and the Cask Strength. Caol Ila produces both peated and un-peated Spirit. The 12 Years was launched in June 2002 and costs around 60 US Dollars.

Shadow Stills!

Drinking Experience Neat: Good

Conclusion: The Caol Ila 12 years is an excellent way to sniff and taste your way into Islay Single Malt Whisky. All the ingredients of an Islay Malt are there but they are presented in a Light and almost Mellow Way. It's almost like you're having a Diet Islay. Therefore, true Peat Heads will probably look elsewhere to satisfy their daily portion of Wet Clay and Ashes. At 60m US Dollars, the Price Vs Quality ratio is okay.

All About the Cask!

Some Data: The name Caol Ila means Sound of Islay, It's located 1 mile off the A 846 from Port Askaig to Bowmore, quite close to the Ferry. The Distillery possesses 1 new Stainless Steel Full Lauter Mash Tun, 10 Wash Backs and 3 pair of  Stills. In 2014 their total production will amount to around 6,5 million litres. As mentioned above, the Distillery was rebuilt in 1974. I have to admit that I'm not too fond of the industrial look of the complex. On the other hand, the location is nearly perfect. From the Still House you have a wonderful view on the Sound and the Isle of Jura. What a pity really you're not allowed to take pictures of the production facilities inside!

Nice Warehouse!

The water for the distillery is sourced from nearby Loch Nam Ban. From April to November, the Distillery opens from Monday to Friday from 9.15 to 17.00 hours. From April to May it also opens on Saturday from 13.30 until 16.30 and from June to October from 10.00 to 16.30 hours. From December to March Caol Ila opens from Monday to Friday from 13.30 to 16.30 hours. The Standard Tour costs 6 Pounds but you get a nice Tasting Glass after the Tour. Premium Tours can be arranged by appointment and cost around 10 Pounds.

Serious Tasting Session!

We visited CaoI Ila on a rainy Sunday May 28, 2014. We did the Standard Tour and our group only consisted of 6 people. Nevertheless, or because of that, the Tour was great and our hostess very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. As I wrote earlier, it's a pity it is not allowed to take pictures. The Stills and the view from the Still House are spectacular! It's also a pity that the small VC does not sell any miniatures. After the Tour we tasted the Moch and the 2013 Islay Festival Triple Cask. All in all, and despite the limitations, you should certainly visit Caol Ila when you're on Islay. If only for the magnificent view from the Still House!

Jan van den Ende                                                        November 22, 2014

At Caol Ila Drams Come True!

Bunnahabhain 1989 Great Cask Review

“Strange Kinda Woman”

Country: Scotland
Region: Islay
Brand: Bunnahabhain 1989 Great Cask Series
Selected by and Bottled for Whiskysite NL, The Netherlands
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 23 Years
ABV: 44.1 %

Colour: Light Golden

Nose: Pleasant but not very complex for a 23 Year old Single Malt. The Floral and Fruity tones like Heather, light Honey, Flagrant Soap and (Green) Apple are combined with slightly Salty Mineral notes and light Maritime Peat reminding us of the fact that this Whisky was created on Islay. I also find Mandarin, Lemon, Unripe Peach, Toasted Barley, light Varnish, Butter and Oak. The Alcohol is not completely integrated.

Palate: Sweet, Spicy and Herbal with Sweet Barley, Grass, Citrus, Aniseed, Licorice, Pepper, Toasted Oak, Minerals and hints of Maritime Peat and Leather.

Finish: Medium Long, Sweet and Spicy at first but Dry and a bit Bitter towards the end with Floral Notes (Heather, Grass), Citrus, Oak, Buttered Toast, Salt, Pepper, Cardamom and Licorice.

I added a couple of drops of water. On the Nose the Floral and Citric tones become even stronger. Some Vanilla pops up as well. Palate and Finish remain basically the same. But you can certainly play with a few drops here.

Rating: 82

Nose: 21.5 - Taste: 20.5 - Finish: 19.5 - Overall: 20.5

General Remarks: The Single Cask Bunnahabhain 1989 I'm tasting today was distilled on October 20, 1989, matured in an Ex-Bourbon Barrel, Cask # 5706 and was bottled at Cask Strength on March 7, 2013 for Whiskysite NL's the Great Cask Series. It sells at around 110 US Dollars.

Bunnahabhain (Mouth or Foot of the River) Distillery was founded around 1881 and is located close to Port Askaig. Usually, the Distillery dries the Malt with hot air or light Smoke, giving their whisky a more subtle flavour then most of its Peated neighbours on the island. 

Drinking Experience Neat: Good

Conclusion: I am more familiar with the peated Bunnahabhains and mixed casks expressions. Therefore this 1989 Great (Ex-Bourbon) Cask struck me as a bit odd. A pleasant Creamy Nose with Fruit, Floral tones and Maritime notes is followed by a quite Spicy, Herbal and Oaky Palate. The Finish is slightly Bitter and did not really invite me to have another sip. It's not a bad Single Malt and I liked the Nose but on the Palate and in the Finish this Bunnahabhain did not convince me. The price is stiff and I would advise to try a sample first before deciding to buy a full bottle! 

Jan van den Ende                                                         November 19, 2014          

Johnnie Walker The Gold Route Review

“Not All That Glitters Is Gold”

Country: Scotland
Brand: Johnnie Walker The Gold Route (Explorer's Club Collection)
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: NAS
ABV: 40%

Colour: Sundown/Golden Amber

Nose: I must admit I had expected more of the Gold Route. It's a Medium Light Nose with Grains, Alcohol, Light & Sweet Coastal Peat, light Cold Smoke, lightly Charred Oak, Dried Fruits, Nuts, light Spice, Toast, Ripe Bananas, light Citrus, light Honey, light Pineapple, Strawberry Yogurt, light Vanilla and a very distant hint of Raw Meat. The Alcohol is not fully integrated. 

Taste: Sweet but a bit Thin with Grain Alcohol, lightly Charred Oak, light Peat, Dried Fruit, Orange, Caramel, Licorice, Pepper, Mint and Lemon Zest.

Finish: Medium Long and slightly Thin with Grain, Alcohol, Light Earthy Peat, very light Smoke, Lemon, Pepper, Wood, Mint, Aniseed and light Licorice.  

I added a little Water and you get more Fruit on the Nose, mostly Pineapple and perhaps a bit of Mango. A little bit more Smoke and Toast as well. But Palate and Finish do not take the added Water very well. It's already on the Thin side as it comes.

Rating: 80

Nose: 20.5 – Taste: 20 – Finish: 19.5 – Overall: 20

General Remarks: The Johnnie Walker Brand is owned since 1997 by the Diageo Group. The Explorer's Club Collection is exclusively sold via Travel Retail and was introduced during 2012 and 2013 to honour the Johnnie Walker Whisky Traders who have always travelled the whole wide world in search of new adventures, experiences, flavours and aromas. The Trade Routes series include The Spice Road, The Gold Route and The Royal Route. Diageo's Master Blenders have tried to create Blends that reflect those voyages, stories and regions. The Gold Route I am reviewing today is inspired by the diverse Aromas and Colours from Latin America. The Gold Route weaves its way from Central America through the Andes, passing the Inca Pyramids and along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The whiskies used in this blend matured in Ex-Bourbon Casks. It costs on average 90 US Dollars.

Drinking Experience Neat: Okay/Good

Drinking Experience on the Rocks: Good 

Conclusion: Let me start by saying that the Gold Route is not a bad blend. But at its Price Level I had expected a lot more. For a luxury Blend it's too Young and too Grainy. I don't get many tropical flavours as well. Bananas and some Pineapple basically. I do like the Peat and Smoke in the Blend. It's there in the background all the time without ever being too present. Well done! And yes, I'm going to say it again. A luxury Blend like this NEEDS to be bottled at least at 43%. There's more than enough margin in the price to do that! I also tasted the Gold Route on the rocks and I liked it. But JW Black does that trick as well if you like smoky Blends and its Price/Quality ratio is much better! I truly admire the Marketing Qualities of the JW Blends. The idea to combine the Explorers Collection and Travel Retail is good and the presentation and packaging are absolutely beautiful. But in the end it's the Whisky that matters and in this respect The Gold Route fails to impress me, especially at its current price level.

Jan van den Ende                                                         November 16, 2014

Cooley 13 Years Review

If You Concentrate Hard Enough This Logo Might Become a Bottle!

“Cool For (Peat) Cats”

Country: Ireland
Brand: Cooley (An Irish Representative in the The Soul of Scotland Series)
Type: Single Malt Whiskey
Age: 13 Years
ABV: 51.4 %
Sample Provided By Thomas from Germany. Many Thanks!

Colour: Light Golden

Nose: Right away there's Fresh Fruit like Melon and Apple but it is followed quite quickly by Smoke from a Dying Campfire, light Earthy Peat, Buttered Toast, light Vanilla, Raisins, Lemon Zest, Tangerine Mousse, lightly Charred Oak, Malt and Mineral tones. The Alcohol is not fully integrated and I think this Spirit could have done with a slightly lower ABV of around 47%. It's not an overwhelming Nose but it's not as Light as most of the other Irish Whiskies I have tasted so far. All in all it's quite pleasant and the Peat smells much more natural than the slightly artificial Peat I found in the NAS Connemara Peated Single Malt. 

Palate: Good Strong Delivery. Again I believe the ABV could be a tad lower. The Fresh Fruit from the Nose is gone. Instead I find some Red Forest Fruit Preserve accompanied by Smoke, Peat, Pepper, Licorice, Herbal Tea, slightly Bitter Almonds, Grapefruit Juice and Butter Biscuits.

Finish: Middle-Long, Spicy, Zesty and slightly Dry towards the end. I find Ashes, Smoke, Earthy Peat with a light Plastic feel to it, Lemon Zest, Grass, Licorice, Pepper, slightly Bitter Almonds and Cocoa Powder. 

I added a bit of water and the Nose becomes more Malty and Waxy with a bit of added Honey. The Vanilla gets stronger as well and the Alcohol is better in balance with the rest. I find some Pear Candies as well. The Palate does not change a whole lot although the Alcohol is less present of course. The Finish becomes a little Flat this way. But certainly a Whiskey where you can play with  Water, always adding only a few drops at the time.

Rating: 86.5

Nose: 22 - Taste: 21.5 - Finish: 21.5 - Overall: 21.5

General Remarks: The Cooley Distillery was originally a Potato Alcohol Plant and was converted in 1987. It's located on the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth in Ireland. Since 2014 it's part of the Beam Suntory Group. Cooley' s main range include Kilbeggan, Greenore, Connemara and Tyrconnell. Unlike most Irish distilleries, Cooley only distills their Spirit twice instead of three times. Today's Single Malt is a very rare Single Cask Bottling that was distilled in June 1999 and bottled at Cask Strength in January 2013 by Independent Whisky bottler Anam Na H-Alba from the town of Oberhausen in Germany. It matured in an Ex-Bourbon Cask, is Uncoloured and Not Chill-Filtered. It sold at around 100 US Dollars. Only 240 bottles were commercialised and I don't think it's still for sale somewhere. By the way, for the first time I could not find an image of today's bottle. Well, there's always a first time for everything! 

Drinking Experience Neat: Good

Conclusion: This is quite different from your average Irish Whiskey. Certainly an interesting bottling by Anam Na H-Alba. The Nose calls attention with an initial burst of Fresh Fruit. Unfortunately that fades away rather quickly but it is followed by some decent but not overwhelming Smoke and Peat notes. I also liked the Tangerine Mousse Note although you might identify it as Orange as well. On the Palate the good strong Delivery called the attention. I missed some of the Fresh Fruit Notes from the Nose. The Peat and Smoke are still there and are accompanied by Herbal and lightly Bitter notes. Those slightly Bitter Notes are still there in the Finish and Ashes and Licorice become more noticeable. But I do not find any aggressive tones and it all remains within the comfort zone. This Cooley 13 accepts a bit of Water and it's interesting to notice the subtle differences with each added drops. It's a pity that this type of Irish Whiskey is not readily available because I'm quite sure that people who like softly peated Islay or old style lightly peated Speyside wouldn't mind drinking this type of lightly peated Cooley from time to time. Even more so if it would be a bit cheaper. Because around a 100 US Dollars is a bit of a stiff price for a 13 Years Old from Ireland. Even if it's the odd Single Cask!

Jan van den Ende                                                         November 12, 2014

Cooley's Pot Stills