KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 5

5 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

As a reader of Pop & Pour from its inception, and a lucky participant in many tastings written up here, it is a thrill to be a guest-writer this Advent season.  While I am a big fan of wine, scotch is my first love when it comes to alcoholic beverages and it was a with enthusiasm that I accepted the opportunity to assist in writing up the whisky offerings in this year’s Kensington Wine Market’s Whisky Advent Calendar. I will certainly do my best to try to keep my personal biases out of these reviews; however, today is an unfortunate day for such an attempt, as the whisky du jour is the Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice bottling of 2004 Caol Ila.  Caol Ila (pronounced “cull-eela”) comes from the island of Islay, my favourite scotch region – so much so that I may have named my daughter after the island due to my love of the scotches produced there.

The Caol Ila distillery is located on the northeast coast of Islay overlooking the Sound of Islay, for which the distillery was named.  From the distillery one can look across the sound and see the island of Jura close by.  The distillery was founded in 1846 and is now part of the global spirit powerhouse Diageo.  Although Caol Ila makes remarkable single malt scotch, much of its significant production is used for blending, including in Johnny Walker.

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Today’s whisky is the younger (but more aged) sibling of the Connoisseurs Choice 2003 Caol Ila from the 2015 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  Judging by those tasting notes, however, this bottle is quite different.  The whisky was aged in first and refill bourbon barrels and is a light golden colour in the glass, characteristic of Caol Ila which is typically lighter in colour than many of its Islay cousins.  On the nose, the 2004 Caol Ila has the characteristic Islay peat, pronounced but not overpowering.  Mixing with the peat are aromas of fresh baked bread, caramel, banana and a subtle citrus note.  On the palate, the smoky peat remains well-balanced and does not obscure flavours of orchard fruit, vanilla, banana and baking spice with a hint of citrus zest lightening things up.  The finish is long and surprisingly it is the baking spices, not the peat, that stick with you.  I have yet to try a Caol Ila that I did not enjoy, and this offering is no different.  An auspicious start to my blogging career!

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Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 18

18 12 2015

It is exactly one week until Christmas.  Seven more days, team.  Seven more whiskies, after this one.  Hang in there.  My mild-to-medium annoyance at opening the Day 18 window and pulling out yet another Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice bottling (the third of the calendar, after Day 4 and Day 10) turned to instant excitement once I saw the name of the featured distillery on the bottle:  Caol Ila, one of my favourites, and one of the best Islay distilleries at managing that delicate but critical balance of peat influence within a whisky’s flavour profile.  Having talked about Connoisseurs Choice twice now, I will avoid repeating (three-peating) myself and talk about Caol Ila instead.  Its name is pronounced “cull-eela”, meaning that I actually was almost saying it right before looking it up, a name that means “Sound of Islay” (referring to the body of water of the same name, not an actual sound, although that would be cooler).  Owned by global spirit behemoth Diageo, Caol Ila is, surprisingly to me, by far Islay’s biggest distillery, churning out more than double the production of the other distilleries on the island.  Much of this whisky is designated for use in blends — like the 2014 calendar’s super-awesome Big Peat, which champions its Caol Ila content on its label — but a smaller percentage of it is bottled in the distillery’s name, either under its own label or by independent bottlers like this.

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This particular bottle of Caol Ila is from a single vintage, 2003, and was bottled this year, making it a 12 Year malt.  It is classic Islay on the nose, a combination of rawhide, old catcher’s mitt, seaweed, liniment and salty sea air, but in a way that smells far nicer than that sounds, using those aromas in the most comfortable way possible.  The depth of flavour and sheer intensity of both the peat-induced and the other notes is just remarkable.  The peatiness has layers, descending from briny/herbal at first to campfire and ash down to something more dank, like tar and pitch.  This ominous progression somehow doesn’t interfere with the development of equally potent notes of peanut brittle, celery sticks, ginger, oiled leather, poached pear, shoe polish…I could go on.  There’s a lot happening in this whisky, especially at only a dozen years of age.  For me it’s one of the best of the calendar so far without question.  I actually wrote at the end of my tasting notes:  “If this is under $100 it’s a screaming deal.”  Well, guess what?  It’s $99.99.  Scream away.





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 5

5 12 2014

I sort of thought so. I sort of suspected that, after 4 days of relatively innocuous and conservative whiskies, Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market might pack a punch on day 5 of Whisky Advent.  I sort of expected that it was Islay’s time to shine.  And I was right, in a big way.  Islay (pronounced “eye-lah”) is a small island on the southwestern coast of Scotland that is known in the scotch world for peated whiskies, a distinctive style where drying the barley grain over a peat-fuelled fire leads to an eye- (and nose-) popping whirlwind of smoky, savoury, briny flavours.  I would say that peat has such a powerful and irrevocable influence over a whisky that you either love it or hate it, but I actually stand right in the middle:  I like both peated and unpeated whiskies and can certainly appreciate what peat brings to the table, but I don’t necessarily miss it if it’s not there.  As with wine, it’s all about balance.

Funny label.  Serious scotch.  Big peat!

Funny label. Serious scotch. Big peat!

You have probably suspected given all this talk about peat that peat plays a big role in tonight’s scotch.  You may not have suspected that it makes up most of its name.  Day 5’s whisky is the Douglas Laing blended bottling of Islay Malt Whiskies simply called Big Peat.

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