A few months back I wrote a post entitled “How Do You Drink Whisky?” in which I dove in to some of the fundamental nuts and bolts of whisky appreciation. In an effort to put some of that theory into practice, I’ve decided to put together some tasting notes on one of the purchases I’ve made recently here in the Netherlands. Keen eyed observers may well recall this release was one of the sample bottles I picked up at Van der Boog in Rijswijk.
Unless you’re involved in a blind tasting (which is also a tremendously fun and informative way to learn about whiskies), one of the first steps to ascertaining information about a whisky is to study the label. In this case, a cursory skim tells us the following:
- The whisky is from the bottling company Sansibar
- It is “Distilled On The Isle Of Islay”
- Bottled at 52.8% ABV (alcohol by volume)
- 8 Years Old
- “250 Bottles Only”
- No chill-filtration, no colouring
This information gives us a great deal to work with (it’s a fairly young Islay whisky, bottled at high strength, and from a relatively small outturn of only 250 bottles), but we don’t yet have the full picture. Conspicuous by its absence is the name of the distillery itself, which has been intentionally omitted. This is not uncommon practice with what are known as “independent bottlings” like this one. Independent bottlers like Sansibar make a business of purchasing whisky wholesale from a distillery to bottle under their own label. For reasons that range from cost issues, to protecting the integrity of a distillery’s own “house style”, and a host of other industry related considerations, a distillery will occasionally request that the bottler not explicitly advertise where the spirit originated. Unless you are an incredibly keen nosed expert (which I admittedly am not), your best bet to pin down exactly what you’re drinking is to do some digging online. I’ve managed to find the listing for this bottling on both whiskybase.com & passionforwhisky.com, both of which indicate that this release is from the Caol Ila distillery. With that additional info in hand, I feel ready to move on to the juicy bits and get to nosing and tasting this whisky.
Brine, lemons, ash and smoke dominate up front. In the background are some faint whiffs of vanilla, driftwood and a bit of a rubbery character. With water everything becomes a little more crystallized, with a more pronounced vanilla and citrus sweetness in the foreground, as well as a grassy and herbal note that begins to develop. The smoke remains, but is more intermingled with the lemons, which are now candied.
There is a hot, peppery initial attack (likely the youth and strength muscling its way to the foreground). This burst gives way shortly to a rush of vanilla sweetness, along with some ashy notes and a good dose of salt. A drop of water calms things down considerably, with a sweeter and fruitier profile immediately on display. I get lemon curd (something you’d find at the center of what my mother used to call a “Canada Day cake”), as well as some aniseed and more of the herbal (parsley) notes I found in the nose. The smoke remains quite pronounced, but is certainly cleaner and less ashy than before. I’m starting to pick up a pleasingly oily mouthfeel as well.
The finish is incredibly long and lingering for a whisky this young. It trails on with beach bonfire smoke and candied smoked fish (memories of sweet, smoky, buttery candied sablefish at Victoria Fisherman’s Wharf back in Canada). Very pleasant indeed.
Smoky, punchy Islay whiskies always show a great deal of intense character at a relatively young age, and this fiery undisclosed Caol Ila is no exception. A bit of a bruiser at first, it reveals a considerable amount of subtlety and complexity after a few drops of water. 87/100