Review: Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Founded in 1846, the Caol Ila (pronounced “Cull Eela”) distillery is situated on the north eastern shores of Islay in Scotland. The distillery was re-built in 1974 to keep up with increased demand for blended whisky (most of the whisky produced at Caol Ila ends up in blends such as Johnnie Walker) and currently lays claim to being the biggest distillery on Islay. Ownership of the distillery has changed hands numerous times since it’s founding. Caol Ila is currently owned by Diageo, the parent company of Johnnie Walker and a multitude of single malt distilleries.

Though their core range consists of peated whiskies, Caol Ila is one of the few distilleries on Islay producing both peated and unpeated whisky and the distillery occasionally releases unpeated limited edition bottlings. Caol Ila 12 Year Old is their entry level peated single malt expression.

Caol Ila 12 Year Old Specifications:

  • Spirit: Scotch.
  • Type: Single Malt.
  • Region: Islay.
  • Age: 12 Years Old.
  • ABV: 43% (86 Proof).
  • Cask: Matured in ex-bourbon casks.
  • NCF (Non-Chill Filtered)? No.
  • Natural Color? No.
  • Price: $49.99 for 750 ml (on sale).

Elias’ Notes:

  • Color: Corn.
  • Nose: Smoky, sweet, briny, citrus (lemon), mesquite spices.
  • Palate: Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. Smoky, sweet, briny, citrus (lemon), mesquite spices.
  • Finish: Medium-long. Sweetness and brine fade. Smoke, citrus (lemon), and mesquite spices linger. Milk chocolate, toffee, oak (slightly bitter).

Caol Ila 12 Year Old doesn’t have much complexity, but it doesn’t need to be complex to be enjoyable. This makes for a great introduction to the Caol Ila distillery profile and it earns bonus points for being a consistent experience. The aromas detected on the nose carry on through the palate and all the way to the finish. If you’ve tried Caol Ila 12 and enjoyed it, I suggest seeking out independent bottlings from the distillery. I’ve had independent bottlings of Caol Ila from Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory and they’ve been exceptional, among the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted.

The bottle under review was purchased on sale for $49.99, but Caol Ila 12 is typically priced in the $60-65 price range. At full retail, Caol Ila 12 does not present a great value when compared to the competition. Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, and Talisker 10 can all be had at the same price (or less) and are better whiskies for the money. I’ll enjoy this bottle of Caol Ila 12 while it lasts, but I won’t be replacing it – instead, I’ll be seeking out more independent bottlings by the distillery.

Elias’ Rating: 85/100

Jayson’s Notes:

  • Color: Gold/Amber.
  • Nose: Nice and complex. Sea salt, smoked meat, sweet citrus.
  • Palate: Little oily, malty and waxy. Brine, smoke, faint sweet spices.
  • Finish: Long. Peppermint, salt, some oak. Smoke lingers on and feels well balanced.

This is a classic, straight-up ex-bourbon matured Islay malt. Drinks higher than 43%, which is a plus, keeps the balance from nose to finish (another plus), but lacks the complexity that was promised by the nose. A little sweetness on the palate to play off the smoke would be welcome. I still recommend trying it.

Jayson’s Rating: 84/100

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