Before returning to France with my faithful Brad Peat, I could hardly enjoy my time on the west coast of Scotland without going to take a jump on the Queen of the Hebrides, I named the magical Islay!
On the spot I headed due east from the island to the Sound of Islay at CAOL ILA. The distillery of paradoxes. Indeed, it is clearly the biggest of the island with its 6 big stills seen from the sea which produce 3,6 Million litres of distillates per year (3 times more than Bruichladdich -NDLR-) but it is far from being the one who produces the worst whisky ! In any case it is one of the most recognisable and very often the one chosen by independent bottlers or Blend composers (looking for the peaty tip that made the difference).
And as I like to discover different things, today I'm going to make you taste a non-peaty CAOL ILA! Yes! The word of PEATDREAM!
Before discovering it I remember the great moment I spent here with my troupe. Sitting in the sun, facing the Sound of Islay and the Ile de Jura with a 30 year old glass, the culmination of a crazy (and hungry) tasting with our friend Nigel with cask releases (6, 12, 22 and 30 years old !!)!
But today, we are going to turn the Sound of Islay up against the current as Diageo has been doing with these CAOL ILA unpeeled versions since 2005.
While most of the non-peat distilleries do not hesitate to add a touch of peat to their range (based on peated barley or aged in casks that have contained peated whiskies), one of the kings of peat makes a counter-current to prove his mastery of distillation.
So there you have it at the beginning, an 8-year version was added, but now that the annual small-batch has aged its version has aged. Today we are going to taste the 15 year old Unpeated style distilled in 2003 and bottled at 59.1% cask strength in 2018 (13th of the name). Nice programme.
Moreover, and this is why I have chosen the 2018 one, it is the first time that CAOL ILA is trying the double maturation. Part of the distillate was aged in classic American oak casks, but above all a second part was aged in European oak casks which were used to age sherry in the bodega. As a reminder, the difference between a traditional sherry cask and an ex-bodega cask is not the common Spanish provenance, but the ageing method.
An ex-bodega Solera (or pyramid-shaped) cask is filled with several series of more or less old sherry (of different ages) throughout its life, which allows it to retain a variety of aromas.
So here is for the first time our CAOL ILA will have some sherry!
What's up with that?
On the colour side, the Sherry marks this distillate a little bit more than on the usual version of a CAOL ILA. Nevertheless, it keeps a nice golden colour that will darken slightly.
When we dare to plunge the nose into our glass, we will discover a certain pastry warmth. As the pleasure lasts, we will discover notes of spices that tickle the lashes. At the second passage, the heat will still be there but its pastry side will be replaced by the arrival of red fruits (strawberry) and juicy grapes.
The aroma is refreshed as the sea breeze from the Sound of Islay flows into the glass as it moves back and forth. So the third passage will be a mix between the salty side of the glass and the freshness of the heather surrounding the distillery.
I don't know if it comes from stills that are so accustomed to hosting a peaty mash or if it is a simple confusion of the mind (at the idea of the liquid of the glass usually peaty), but I find that there is a very slight touch of peat left in the glass. Just put a drop in your hand, rub it in and you will discover it.
And then you say to yourself, I go ahead, I drop a whisky with almost 60% alcohol. Well, let there be no mistake, when it enters the mouth, it keeps its suave side. Its buttery-pastry side immediately comes out in the mouth. It is accompanied by a hint of spice but above all by the sweetness of a ripe apple. This sweetness gradually fades away, leaving the spices first and then the vinous side brought by the sherry. As with the nose, the first approach in the mouth is warm and gradually it is refreshed with the arrival of iodine. Paradoxically, while it has a titre of 59.1%, it is very smooth. It even finishes on honeyed notes.
When it descends into the throat, it will leave a fairly long lasting hint of liquorice and a more pronounced vinous side to it than in a normal CAOL ILA. It is at this point that the alcohol, which did not seem to be too present, will leave its mark and leave the mouth lustful and sleepy.
Word of PEAT DREAM, once again, and even without peat, I find that this CAOL ILA does its job and tells me that Islay (the magic one) remains a constant surprise.
Unfortunately I have to go on my way and return to France not far from its centre in Auvergne, it seems that there is a little newcomer who smells good peat and sherry !