Invited a friend over with her longtime boyfriend a few weeks ago. She's a huge proponent of Isla whiskies. She's been on the tour over in Scotland a few times and maintains a collection of some very rare Ardbegs in her house, along with a few other Islas, in addition to some very good bottles of highlands, and other regions. She absolutely loves Ireland, but prefers Isla Single Malts when it comes to whiskey.
My friend happens to live with a backyard that opens out onto a lovely stretch of woods and fields with a creek meandering through one side. Two summers ago, as we were sipping whisky at her house, she narrated the history about how some dreadful serial killer in Beaverton buried his victims out there for decades, until the police finally caught him and he confessed in the 70's or 80's. So these days, every once in a while, whenever I venture over to her house to hang out, the tale she once told, almost in a tone of reverence) haunts me just a little. I don't really like that sort of "legendary" macabre that is so popular in the underlying sociopathy (and, yes, perhaps even a "programming" agenda) in quite a few Hollywood films these days. I think, to be perfectly honest, my friend's gung-ho nostalgia for such a dark and grisly chapter in history of her neighborhood haunts me more than the tale itself.
Anyhow, I finally returned the favor and had her over to my place, which is located in a part of Portland that was once known as "felony flats, but thank god, no grisly historical murders occurred near my house, at least not that I know of.
Despite my friend's virtuosity with Islas, she had never tasted Caol Ila, although she did know the meaning of the title (sound by the island, as in "body of water").
I brought out my bottle of 12 year, and she just loved it for what it ws (a very reasonably priced 12 year). She sampled some of my other bottles, but went back to the Caol Ila.
She was kind enough to bring over a small shot bottle filled with Laphroaig Quarter Cask, and I compared it with the Caol Ila. In my opinion, the Caol Ila came out on top. I know many people would disagree with me, but its quiet sophistication seemed to upstage the fireworks of the Laphroaig, especially the solvent astringent overtones that amp up the peppery liveliness a bit much for me.
REVIEW OF CAOL ISLA 12
Nose: Clover and fresh dried hay ready to be bailed; light but well articulated smokey goodness; briny hints of the northern sea with well oxygenated water and rich seaweedy nutrients wafting up through the mist. This accompanied by burning hardwood from a chimney in winter time.
Body: Generous mouth feel followed by delightful tingle in the nose that is not hot or astringent; very organic medley of flavors--no chemical overtones like the Laphroaig; realization that a significant amount of Johnny Walker Black and Green's magic is borne of this distillery;
Palate: Effervescent smoke; vanilla beans; hints of citrus, kind of a cross between pineapple and lime; gentle smoking peat that never feels too forced due to an expert's time-worn touch and tradition; glowing hints of cherry mellowed by a Grape Nutty goodness that eventually nudges some more flavors to the front of the tongue, but never rushes the experience like Laphroaig 12 or QC does (at least for me).
Finish: Smoke sustains through flashes of vanilla and bursts of salty mellow dried peppers. This said, the finish is not too long. It fades evenly but does not last terribly long, at least in the 12 year. Still, the mouth and tongue feels awakened and ready for another taste.
Rating: As always, my rating does take price into consideration. I paid $50 for my bottle--what a bargain! If I had paid $75 for the bottle, then I might not have rated it as highly. Is that wrong? Not in my book. There it is. I'm not a complete purist when it comes to my pocket book.
Blend: If you already have a bottle of Talisker in your collection, try different mixes with the Caol Ila. And if you don't, then shame on you! Every collection should have a bottle of Talisker. It's delicious, and also a very good bargain for the money.
Experimentation is key when blending these two stalwart buddies: Start out with more Talisker and then the next time try more Caol Ila in the blend. Then try 50/50. It's very fun to play around with mixing these two. Also, Caol Ila can mix well with other scotches. When it mixes well, you will know it. But beware: it certainly is picky about the company it keeps in a glass. I have tried mixing Arran Sherry Single Cask 12 with some success, so long as the Caol Ila is at least 60% of the blend.
Side effects: None, other than a delightful halo around your head! Or perhaps a stubby little pair of antlers still ensconced in velvet.
No nasty smokey burps or heartburn whatsoever. No back of the throat burn, or very slight constriction that can accompany higher alcohol percentages.
And this is the way my review ends, not with a bang but a whimper.