Caol Ila

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Unpeated Style (59.6%, OB, Special Releases, 2013)

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve 2013 – Diageo Special releases (Official Bottling)

59.6% ABV, £70 for 70cl

Score: 82/100

What they say:

A limited edition, natural cask strength single malt. From Caol Ila, an active distillery on the Isle of Islay. A eighth limited release of unpeated Caol Ila. From a batch made only once a year, from unpeated malt, for blending in the ‘Highland Style’. From a mix of refill American Oak, rejuvenated American Oak and ex-bodega European Oak casks, so interesting to compare with expressions from first fill Bourbon previously released at 8, 10 and 12 years old and a 14 year old from ex-bodega oak, released in 2012. Limited availability worldwide. From specialist retailers only. UK RRSP £70 per bottle.

APPEARANCE

Clear, olive gold. Light beading.

NOSE

At full strength, immediately clean, aromatic and fresh: like inhaling Friar’s Balsam. After this first blast, more reticent; softly sweet, then a vivid freshness like that of crisp green fruit or lemon zest. Water raises a fruity, nutty honeyed sweetness and a faint note of treacle, with perhaps just a hazy hint of smoke.

BODY

Light to medium. Oily, yet firm.

PALATE

Drinks well straight; has an intense and in your face style, with a most appealing smooth, lightly oily texture. Firm, clean and fresh throughout. Intense and mouth-filling, with a great initial surge of sweet spiciness unaccompanied by the usual signature phenols of peated Caol Ila or indeed, much fruit. Becoming honey-nutty (nut brittle, with a dark edge of treacle bitterness) then finally, warming and drying. A good splash of water develops these flavours; it’s tonguecoating and appetisingly bitter-sweet now, leaving a spicy dryness as the tide of flavour ebbs.

FINISH

Aromatic, spicy and drying; a balancing bitter edge embraces more of the soft nutty, biscuity notes, always maintaining that essential freshness overall.

Caol Ila Distillery facts:

Established in 1846 near Port Askaig, by Hector Henderson. Caol Ila means ‘Sound of Islay’ in Gaelic. A waterfall supplied power for the barley hoists and pressure for the fire hydrants. Today, a novel heat exchanger uses the sea to cool hot process water before returning it to the condensers. 12 year old, 18 year old and cask-strength regular bottlings since 2002. Both 12 and 18 year old won IWSC Gold Medals in 2004 and 2005, 2008. 12 year old wins Double Gold at San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2010; Master at Scotch Whisky Masters (SWM) 2010, Gold 2011. New 25 year old and Moch bottlings extend the range with new packaging throughout in 2010. First 8 year old Unpeated bottling voted Best Islay (unpeated) single malt whisky under 12 Years Old at the World Whiskies Awards, 2007. Distillers Edition (DE) Gold & Best in Class at IWSC 2009, Gold at ISC 2009, Scotch Whisky Masters 2010, Double Gold & Best Single Malt Scotch whisky, SF 2011. Caol Ila Moch, Master, SWM 2011. Sweet starting, maritime style with (in peated bottlings) a characteristic lingering, smoky finish.

The Stitchell family story …

Billy Stitchell has worked at Caol Ila during five decades, for the last 15 years as Manager. Billy’s father went to work there before him, in 1950. As did his father before him, in 1949. Billy’s other grandfather had done so rather earlier, in 1914. As had his father before him in 1888. And his father-in-law before him, earlier in the 1880s. Which makes five generations; keeping up with the Stitchells is no easy task.

What I say:

After reading the Handbook of Whisky – Dave Broom I was keen to try an un-peated expression of Caol Ila’s single malt whisky. The Stitchell Reserve is unique for the unpeated Caol Ila expressions in that it is constructed from whisky matured in both American (ex-bourbon) and European (ex-sherry?) oak casks.

Colour:

Light gold

Nose:

Sweet perfumed, floral buttercups, feints, vaporous and spirit, cereal notes reminiscent of biscuits or crackers (water biscuits?), malted barley and a light citrus orange juice

Taste:

Warming and buttery with a prickly cinnamon spice gives way to a very mealy cereal , full bodied, cinder toffee and treacle, sweet, deep fruity flavour (fruit syrup) mouth watering then slightly savoury oak woody notes.

Finish:

Sweet with strange cereal notes, a hint of salt perhaps and a slightly earthen quality but not in a peaty way (more earthen-floored dunnage warehouse?) with a little time becomes drying (European oak influences?)

Would I buy it again:

This expression is interesting but a little difficult to truly enjoy. It is very reminiscent of the Ardbeg Corryvreckan but without any (or with very little) peat influence. It really feels like something is missing from this dram and I can only assume it is a little something from the peaty influence. Normally I am not a huge fan of Caol Ila as I associate the smoky peat flavour with cigarette smoke/ash, (possibly one for the smokers or ex-smokers?) I just find this a little off-putting in my drink. The Stitchell Reserve is an interesting a well-constructed whisky but sadly not to my taste. I guess my biggest disappointment was in searching for the ‘Highland-Style’ superb blending whisky I kinda missed the boat here and bought something unpeated but very ‘finished’ from Caol Ila. Fortunately it was on the sensible side of Diageo’s special release pricing schedule so I and others won’t be too upset if they have bought a bottle plus it has a great heritage and history behind it.

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