Caol Ila 2003 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice, 2015)

Caol Ila is always reliable and consistent. There are so many releases from independent bottlers (Gordon & MacPhail in particular always have a lot of Caol Ila), and nearly all of them are very good. It’s not as great value as it used to be, but there’s still a lot of young Caol Ila about at affordable prices. This particular expression was bottled at 11-12 years old and is noteworthy for the use of first fill bourbon casks – Caol Ila uses predominantly refill casks for the maturation of its whiskies, certainly in the core range 12 year-old.

Nose: Beautiful sweet, zesty smoke. A combination of sea breeze, lemon curd and fresh apples. It’s not necessarily complex, but it’s so well defined and has great presence and balance between the citrus notes and the smoke. Quintessential Caol Ila, in other words.

Palate: Smoked seafood with lime juice. Vanilla, lemon and orange zest. With water, the citrus note goes from lemon to grapefruit, with a waft of sweet smoke never far away. There’s some banana in the background from the casks, but this works well with the Caol Ila fruitiness.

Finish: Medium, zesty and warming.

Comments: There are few better things than the simple pleasures of a young Caol Ila, and this is a great example of how dependable this whisky is. A lot of the Islay distilleries love to claim that their spirit is very fruity under all the smoke, and there’s nowhere I can see this more than with Caol Ila. The first fill casks have added a welcome layer of sweet fruit to the more usual tart and sharp fruitiness. If you like the official Caol Ila 12, you will love this bright, fruity and easy variant.

Score: 88/100

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