Even though I have a sample of this lined up somewhere, Tom van Engelen beat me to it by writing this tasting notes, and sending them to me for publication.
Freak out with Caol Ila Sawdust
The Festival of Malt and Music returned after a two-year hiatus. Feis Ile 2022 picked up the pace rather quickly with all kinds of interesting bottlings. The one thing that has changed is that in the meantime the retarded plan of leaving the EU came to fruition. Brexit makes getting a special bottle of one of your favorites from Islay all the more difficult, if not impossible. Luckily, I did manage to get the Caol Ila Feis Ile 2022 on my desk, for which I am eternally thankful to the one providing it.
So, the whisky enthusiasts on the internet were buzzing about this year’s output from Diageo: both Lagavulin and Caol Ila released expressions finished on Virgin Oak. I have no information on the duration of the finish. All I know is that the Caol Ila started life in refill oak casks and was then transferred to new wood. The Lagavulin I sadly could not taste (yet) but impressions were damaging.
Let’s see for ourselves if Caol Ila deserves the same roast.
First whiff is definitely chalky, like wet pebbles on the beach, which made me check if I took
the right sample and not a Longrow or Springbank. After a few moments a delicate peat influence takes center stage, with in the background a subtle meaty note. Every time I pick up the glass there is a new characteristic to be found. A smoky sweetness reveals itself. The constant development is amazing.
Classic Caol Ila with an oily, mouth coating feel on the tongue. But also a raw side that I associate with the virgin oak. Like chewing on the sharp side of a chainsaw, the edges cutting deep. Forget Ziggy Stardust, this is Ziggy Sawdust. All in all it feels like failed integration. The oily liquid and the sawdust influence are in a fight, duality at its best. It makes for a complex and interesting drinking
experience. Caol Ila succeeds in bottling an expression for the more experienced connoisseur. That is what a Feis Ile bottling should be about; to create discussion.
The finish is all on wood but not too overpowering. The pleasant thing is: there is nothing exotic in it. It is clean refill wood Caol Ila, with on top a layer of extra clean new wood Caol Ila. No dirty notes from sherry or other (fortified) wine, and in this way the opposite of the recent WhiskyNerds bottling that was equally ‘dual’ (sherried Caol Ila versus high alcohol).
It loses some points on the middle part, but the aroma and the powerful finish make for high marks. Original price was 165 pounds which seems justified for quality. Now more than ever it’s important to try before you buy, because the price tag is not based on logic anymore, purely on challenging your boundaries: “Is this what I want to spend on this or that bottle, or not?”
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.