Sunday, 15 November 2015

Spirit Log: Reappraising the Caol Ila 12

 Since I didn’t receive it for Christmas as expected, using my Christmas money for it was always the most likely thing to happen – especially since for once I didn’t need to buy any clothes. And here it is, purchased for £37 from Tesco which, according to Bring a Bottle was the cheapest it was available for at that time. I polished off my Christmas money with the purchase of the Havana Club Anejo Reserva, which you’ll be able to read about later.

Let me just start by reiterating once again that this is (or was – attempting to keep a little suspense for the conclusion) my favourite scotch – in fact it is [was] probably my favourite spirit, so this bottle better live up to expectations, not just because I don’t want to be disappointed, but also because over the last couple of years I’ve been campaigning Mrs Cake to name our first daughter after it – as a middle name, though I’d take it as the first name if I could get it. And now we are, as I’ve been announcing to everyone, incubating the miracle of life. Congratulations to us. Let’s hope it’s a girl so we can use the name, and let’s hope the Caol Ila proves a worthy inspiration and one that our daughter can be proud – and not ashamed - of.

Well, it still looks the same – a simple tinted bottle representing sunlight at dawn on the magical island of Islay, adorned with a classy label and bottled at 43%. There isn’t a more attractive bottle than this in the whole spirit universe for me. I love the curve in the neck and the way it gives the spirit a dark edge. And I just love the shape of it. It’s almost a standard wine bottle shape, but with a slight taper towards  the base and weightlifter’s shoulders – though the overall effect is a damn sight more feminine than that. That’s what our daughter will be like; tall and feminine… with weightlifters’ shoulders. Though her skin is sure to be a lot paler – the colour of the label, in fact!

So, it was finally time to open it. I gave the bottle a quick nose before pouring into my branded Caol Ila glass and… yes, that’s vaguely what I remember. It’s been well over a year since I drank the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition and still longer since I’ve tried it’s base, the Caol Ila 12; a lot of whisky has been consumed since then, so I’m wondering whether this will have had an effect on my impressions.

I sat on the sofa to enjoy a bit of Card Houses and let the Ila open up for a quarter of an hour or so, occasionally picking it up to have a good sniff. In all seriousness, I can’t think of any other whisky that smells as good as this. It clearly ticks all my boxes. It is malty and full of a sharp, sweet citrus. I pass it to Mrs Cake to have a nose, and she reckons there’s a ton of peat. This confirms my suspicion that I have become almost immune to peat – I enjoy it (immeasurably), but I hardly notice it as a distinct entity.

Eventually it was time to dip my metaphorical toe in. Mrs Cake was watching with interest, since more was at stake than whether or not it represented £37 well spent. I felt the pressure keenly, but can confirm: I said let there be Caol Ila, and there was Caol Ila and I saw that it was good. Better than that: excellent, with a briney dryness that makes you want to chew on it. And a hint of water melon. Oh, how I was tempted to have a second glass,  but I knew it would be a waste of this precious nectar. And I felt fine about that. It just means there’s more to try another night.

If there is one miniscule gripe, it’s that I miss the extra degree of sweetness that the extra ageing in muscatel wine casks brings to the Distillers Edition. So just maybe, the Distillers Edition is actually my favourite scotch right now, but at roughly 13 extra pounds for that, the Caol Ila 12 presents an excellent value second place.


So many average whiskies or whiskies that just don’t reach the heights that this one does for me, had made me question the very reasons I’d gotten so interested in booze in the first place: could it even be all that good? Well, I’m pleased to be able to conclude that it can, and I’ll tell you: it makes a nice change to be able to write enthusiastically about something instead of scrabbling around for things to say about average products. The only problem here is that it makes me wonder whether I should stop trying various brands in so committed a manner, when I could just say found my brand, and stick with Caol Ila. Funny how far you have to go sometimes just to end up back where you started.

As far as the naming of our daughter is concerned, the bulk of this article was actually written before the happy occasion, so I can reveal now what actually happened. Well, when it came down to it, I kind of bottled it. There we were, in the delivery room, moments after the birth, and Mrs Cake went, “are we having Caol Ila as the middle name, then?”

I looked that that bright pink little girl and thought, it just doesn’t seem right – it’s too flippant. I didn’t want to cheapen the significance of the occasion by naming my daughter after a bottle of booze. It did make me a little bit sad, but I was happier that way than I would have been otherwise. Anyway, what if Caol Ila stop making this excellent 12 year old and release an inferior no age statement expression instead? Nothing’s permanent in this world, and brands are no more reliable than anything else.

Thanks for joining me again this week. It's a bit late, so the next post should literally be in just a couple of days' time. If I've finished it, it will be a post that has been a whole year in the making - The Great Distinct Beers Challenge. See you then.

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