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Caol Ila is often called “the neglected Islay whisky.” It’s so neglected, it’s famous for being neglected. And I’m not sure who’s guilty of all this neglecting. It’s one of the more ubiquitous brands in liquor stores large and small, and its reputation has always been strong among connoisseurs.
Therefore, I always interpret “neglected” in any Caol Ila review to mean “Slightly less popular than Ardbeg, Lagavulin, or Laphroaig.”
I’ve long thought that the standard Caol Ila 12 yo was about the best introduction to peat for a whisky newcomer. It’s tame but uncompromising, in that it lacks the aggressiveness of, say, Ardbeg, but it offers a full palette of peat flavors from sweet to smoky.
This 1998/2011 Distiller’s Edition is a tamer beast than the 12 yo, yet I give it high marks for balancing the smoothness with such a high concentration of peat. It also has the right sort of “sweet peat” to complement its array of fruit and candy aromas. Matured in American oak, finished in Moscatel casks. Fifth (or sixth?) dram from a three-month old bottle, so it’s had some time and space to settle. At 43%, I prefer this neat. One drop of water adds to the caramel layer in the palate and finish. Another drop drowns it.
Nose: A gentle peat, but rich and penetrating. After a couple of minutes, I get white wine and loads of indistinguishable fruits: mostly citrus and berries. I can’t decide if this nose is deceptively simple or deceptively complex. But it’s definitely satisfying regardless.
Palate: Very sweet lemony peat on the arrival; fruits (grapes, apples, strawberries), barbeque smoke, and a little caramel develop soon thereafter. Becomes smokier and meatier the longer it sits. A complex but mild tongue.
Finish: Exquisite, superb, breathtaking, and even darn good. Smooth but powerful on the way down. Not much but sweet smoke, pepper, and a trace of malt, but there’s nothing wrong with minimal components when they’re delicious and last forever.
In short, CE ’98 DE may lack some kick, but it compensates with flavor. It’s one for early in a tasting evening: when you’re ready to get serious about things, but not ready to be overwhelmed yet.