Tom picked up his pen once more to supply us with a review to a rather interesting whisky. Reviewed within a day of arriving at his doorstep, and one of the first reviews of this whisky online, if our Google search tells us anything.
The Islay Festival of Malt and Music, better known as the Feis Ile, is not a yearly item in my agenda. First of all, I need to save up a little money to get there every once in a while, and second: I want to keep it special. I do know a great many friends who were especially heartbroken about the cancellation of this year’s festival. We did get a few bottlings to mend our broken hearts, and one I will be reviewing today. It is the bottle I look forward to most every year, ever since I tasted the absolutely stunning 2009 edition at the pier near the distillery. That happened to be the first ever festival edition from Caol Ila.
This morning I found the 2020 expression in my mailbox.
Caol Ila Feis Ile 2020, 16 Years Old, Distillery Exclusive Bottling, at 53,9% abv.
Already the third selection by hands of Distillery Manager Pierrick Guillaume. He raised the bar rather high after last years 22 year old, and the special hand-filled 28 year 1990 vintage. This year’s expression is a 16 year old that had a finish in “Amoroso-treated hogsheads”. I tried to uncover what the subtle differences are between all the different fortified wines, but I think we can safely conclude this one is a close cousin to the more regular Distillers Edition of Caol Ila.
As expected, firmly rooted in peat land but with a sweet layer keeping it in check. I never paid attention if there is a candy shop on Islay, but it should smell something like this. Very fresh, outspoken, and besides lollipops also lots of herbal notes too. Bath bombs. A glass you could easily sniff for hours. Gets a little grassy after a while. A summertime Caol Ila if there ever was one.
The influence of the Amoroso-finish is clearly detectable in this one. It does not hide a rather floral stamp on the taste buds. Very interesting, it makes for an a-typical Caol Ila for sure. (I have not tasted the DE for years now, so it might be similar.) It even reminds me of some 1980s Bowmore on the brink of collapsing into the wrong soapy direction. This one luckily keeps a perfect yet delicate balance.
Quite sharp to down, here is where the peaty DNA of the distillate lashes out at you. A true Islay spirit. At the same time it is impossible the miss the pleasant oiliness that Caol Ila is known and loved for. A smokey taste lingers on forever.
It is nice to have a variation on the very well-known style of Caol Ila and this is why I
love the Feis Ile expressions so much. They do not always try to be what you can find on the shelf in abundance. Having said that, Caol Ila has more to offer with regular bourbon maturation. The Amoroso sweetness takes it down a few steps from the 90-point mark other bottlings did reach. An interesting and rewarding dram nonetheless.
About Tom van Engelen
I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whisky magazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.