This one from Islay's Caol Ila distillery was bottled for the Feis Ile Festival back in 2007 and was available only through the distillery on release. You can still pick it up for around £100 should you so wish but someone I know was kind enough to let me have the last of their bottle to try.
Diageo, the world's biggest drinks company. Their estate is huge, running to over twenty active malt distilleries, but in the end Caol Ila is still only one distillery. While that number of distilleries sounds like a lot, just to put it into perspective their output of single malts from all of those distilleries combined is a mere 4% of their total whisky released every year.1 So one distillery among many, one year, one release. These behemoth drinks producers are in a way as far removed from 'craft' products as you can get, and are often pigeon-holed and portrayed as one dimensional, the ultimate purveyors of the bland and the mainstream. It is a cliché that so often runs true in the drinks industry, but that makes it all the better to see that the biggest of them can sometimes think it is important to do something on a different level. It's almost impossible to see how it could make a difference to the accounts at the end of the year, but not hard to see how it can make a difference to the whisky drinkers up there at the festival, and to me. Credit where it's due.
It's bottled at a cask strength of 58.4% abv. The nose is mellow, gentle peat, with a hint of strawberry boiled sweets.* I also got some maritime aromas; seashell and seaweed, but all served with lashings of rich butter. The palate was somewhat surprising - I was expecting peat but it was dominated by tangy Granny-Smith apple and lime. Once this had passed the dry-ash sooty smokiness took over, and there was a peppery finish. From powerful alcohol on the nose I was sure it would need water but it was surprisingly palatable at full strength, although adding water definitely lifted the sweetness, bringing a cinnamon note to the apple.
I also had the chance to try a sample of Ardbeg's latest Feis Ile release, the Ardbog, recently too. It's great, with lovely toffee and bonfire flavours. That said, it seems crazy to me that it's already trading at double the original (last month's) retail price, when something like this is still around from six years ago at around £100 (or even if it's twice that). I guess that's indicative of what's happens with Ardbeg's 'cult' releases at the moment!
* I was told by a colleague that this has spent some time in a port pipe, which would explain any sweet red-fruit, but I couldn't find any evidence of this. It just says European and American oak casks on the bottle. If I find anything more out I'll update.
1. Ronde, I (Ed). The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012. Shrewsbury: MagDig Media Limited, 2011. ↩
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