KWM Whisky Advent Day 5 – G&M Connoisseur’s Choice Caol Ila
We are big fans of Caol Ila at KWM. To quote my friend Kelly Carpenter, a great friend of the store, Caol Ila “is one of the most consistently good Scotch whiskies”. Any opportunity to feature the distillery and its whisky in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is a welcome one. We didn’t have a Caol Ila last year, but we did feature aCaol ila from Gordon Macphail in the 2015 edition on Day 18.
Our Day 5 whisky, like that from 2 years ago, is a Gordon Macphail Connoisseurs Choice Caol Ila. In this case a 2004 vintage. Unlike most independent bottlers, Gordon Macphail fills their own casks, rather than simply acquiring them on the open market. The family firm, now in its 4th generation has a wood policy that is among the best of any whisky firm in Scotland. In the last two years we have selected and bottled 4 Kensington Wine Market exclusive casks of Caol Ila from G&M. Every time they send us a flight of samples to select a cask, we struggle to select just one…
Caol Ila is Scots Gaelic for the “Sound of Islay”, the body of water separating Islay from Jura. Caol Ila, the largest of Islay’s eight operating distilleries has spectacular view of the Sound and the island beyond. But even though the view from the still room is second to no other in Scotland, Caol Ila has been modernized and expanded so many times that it is without question the island’s least interesting distillery to tour. Established in 1842 the distillery changed hands many times over the following century until it was acquired by Distillers Company Limited, one of the forbearers of industry giant Diageo, in 1927. The distillery has run ever since, with but three short breaks, including the War years, 1942 to 1945 due to wartime barley restrictions. It was also closed between 1972-4 and 2011-2, in both cases for major upgrades to add capacity.
As with past editions of the Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar, Gordon Macphail whiskies will be featured on a number of occasions this year. We will dig more into their history in the posts ahead. For this post we will simply say that they have a well-deserved reputation for the quality of their whisky and their unrivaled depth of maturing stocks of Scotch whisky. No one has bottled older whiskies than the 75 year old and three 70 year olds that the firm has released in the last 5 years.
About the Connoisseurs Choice line (Courtesy Gordon Macphail): “In the 1960s George Urquhart, one of the first of four generations of the Urquhart family to shape the future of Gordon & MacPhail, pioneered a range of single malt Scotch whiskies, which he selected, matured, and bottled. In doing so, he effectively invented a category in a market previously focused entirely on blended whiskies. The ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ range broke innovative new ground, giving a platform to many of Scotland’s single malt distilleries from across all regions, some of which had never before been bottled as a single malt. Over the past five decades, we have maintained our belief that every distillery has a personality of its own. The collection of whiskies in the ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ range is constantly evolving, aiming always to highlight the unique characteristics of the individual distilleries.”
We love the fact that the Connoisseurs Choice range is bottled at 46% without added colouring. While this 2004 Caol Ila is not presently available in the market, Kensington Wine Market has a pair of store exclusive Caol Ila casks available at the time of writing. There is G&M Caol Ila 2007 KWM Cask, a 10 year old Refill Ex-Bourbon cask bottled at 58.6%, $122; and the 14 year old G&M Caol Ila 2002 KWM Cask, bottled at 52.5% from a First Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel, $145.
Connoisseur’s Choice Caol Ila 2004 – 46% – First & 2nd Fill Ex-Bourbon – Andrew’s Tasting Note: “Nose: classic young Caol Ila, sweet, meaty and malty with a whiff of smoke; juicy orange and melon, chewy bacon dipped in maple syrup and vanilla icing. Palate: creamy, round, coating and malty; wow, layered, it creeps up on you; scallops cooked in butter and more chewy bacon dipped in maple syrup with a side of orange juice; we can’t completely ignore the savoury smoke, it is there but hidden under the more decadent tones. Finish: the smoke is more assertive on the finish as the sweet syrup and punchy orange notes pull back; still creamy and malty. Comment: damn this is great Caol Ila, but we didn’t bring it in because of our aforementioned casks… we’ll have to rectify that! - $TBA – We are trying to get some for 2018, in the meantime, check out our two existing KWM Exclusive Caol Ila casks!