Caol Ila 18 – truely brilliant or whisky myth?

When I was a youngster in the field of whisky lore, I was introduced to a fine wee bottle. I had only been partaking in the golden spirit drink for a couple of months and was cramming my mind (and palate) full of as many new and exciting whiskies as humanly possible. Working at a bar with over 300 whiskies meant that, thankfully, I was not short of material to experiment with. In this initial rush, one bottle stood out above all others and cemented its position above all other casualties in my one man war on whisky. This was the magnificent Caol Ila 18. Three years later, it is still imprinted in my mind as the whisky I offer up, when repeatedly asked to name my numero uno. However, in recent times, my faith has waned in Caol Ila 18. I have not managed to try some for about two years! It was becoming increasingly hard to get hold of, other whiskies I had originally held with high esteem, upon re-tasting had faded out of my mind and, as with all of us, my palate has changed considerably over the years. Therefore, when tourists at the Scotch Whisky Experience pressure me into choosing a favourite whisky (and boy, do they pressure! Round after round of questions until I give an answer, never accepting a truthful ‘It changes all the time’ or ‘it depends on my mood’) I eventually, and somewhat grudgingly, state that Caol Ila 18 is my favourite.

It had been so long since I last tasted it, that it had grown in to a legend, a myth in my mind, escalating it to the top of my charts. I had to get a bottle. Sadly this is easier said than done as stock supplies are very, very low and even my good friend the internet was failing me. Finally, I lucked in to a bottle when my parents stopped at Baxter’s, outside of Glasgow, and found one random, lonely bottle left. After remembering that I had been searching for this they called me and after much whooping and celebration, I finally received my bottle. The truth awaited, was the level of awesomeness-ness a trick of my mind (most likely)? Did it deserve the legendary status it had gathered from my young, inexperienced mind? Well it should be of no surprise that I wasted no time in cracking it open and giving it a gentleman’s chance of proving itself:

Caol Ila 18yo
43% ABV

Nose: That is definitely the stuff!! A delicate light sweetness greets the nose, but paves way to a pork crackling and pepper tinge. A good balance of soft and sweet yet fiery. Mellows out to a smooth, dry, seaside bonfire aroma. Makes me crave school day barbecues at the delightful Balmedie beach, with the north sea air blowing around me, the sand under my feet and …  Anyway…

Palate: Actually very similar to the nose, but maybe not as big as I remembered. Peppered, light chocolate tingle around the outskirts of the palate. A smooth, salty wave brings a hint of smoke to the palate. Well rounded, warm and encompassing, again with this dry, bonfire note. Not as direct and sharp as the nose suggests, but for once I don’t mind.

Finish: To be perfectly honest, not as great as I was hoping for. Not disappointing by any means, but not quite the mythical glow of ascension that I was hoping for. Warm, slightly medicinal and comforting.

Person: Captain Haddock (Tintin). Mature, coarse and heroic. Legendary and yet oddly sincere. Plus he likes a wee drinky!

Overall: I have decided that this whisky will indeed fall under the category of excellent. Having just tasted it, I am finding it very hard to think of any other whisky that I would rather have in my hand. I know this is probably due to my excitement of finally trying this again but I have no doubt that it will remain as one of the best whiskies I have ever tried. Number one? I will probably never be able to decide. However, under the probing inquisition of the hounding tourist, I will most likely concede to pressure and name Caol Ila 18 my theoretical dram of choice.

Graeme Gardiner