Monday, May 30, 2022

Review / Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2022 Edition

The third day of the annual Fèis Ìle festival is always Caol Ila Day. Each year the event takes place on the famous whisky island of Islay. Each distillery on the island hosts a special day and release a limited edition whisky to celebrate.The Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2022 Edition is bottled at 15 years old. It has also been matured in re-fill American oak ex-bourbon hogsheads and finished in virgin American oak barrels. 

There are just 3,072 bottles and these are released at the natural cask strength of 55.2% ABV and is both non chill-filtered and of natural colour. It is on sale from Caol Ila Day (today, May 30) onwards. As Caol Ila is currently closed for major refurbishment, Caol Ila Day events will be held at the nearby Islay House instead. Bottles will be on sale there on a first come first served basis, at Lagavulin distillery and via A bottle will cost £165.

Caol Ila was founded Hector Henderson in 1846. It is located on the rugged north eastern coast of Islay, close to the hamlet of Port Askaig. The distillery looks across the Straight of Islay, the fast flowing channel of water after which it is named, to the neighbouring island of Jura. It is a large distillery with an annual production capacity of 6.5 million litres and is owned by Diageo. 

Caol Ila is a major ingredient in Diageo's Johnnie Walker range, especially in the smoky Black Label expression. The visitor centre is currently closed but will reopen later in 2022 as the fourth destination in Diageo's 'Four Corners of Scotland' Johnnie Walker experience. The other three distilleries are Cardhu in Speyside, Clynelish in the Highlands and Glenkinchie in the Lowlands.

Our tasting notes

The colour is golden yellow and the nose has an immediate hit of ashy bonfire smoke. Further aromas follow in the form of heather honey, milk chocolate and golden syrup, plus an underlying hint of malty cereals. There are also background aromas of vanilla custard, candy floss and something mineralic.

On the palate this whisky is bold and highly flavoursome. The ashy ember-like smoke leads the way again but evolves nicely to include some damp peat, drying seaweed and medicinal iodine. There is also a warm peppery notes along with a slightly chalky mineralic twist. The sweetness wraps the smoke and accentuates it perfectly. Malty cereals, hay and a hint of canned peach also begin to develop.

These three notes form a bridge between the smoke and some sweeter notes. Fairground toffee apples and candy floss lead the way and are backed up by boiled fruit sweets, juicy tropical fruits and bubblegum. If you could invent an ashy peach or apricot flavoured bubblegum, then that would nail it. The peppery hit from the nose pushes its way through along with further earthy baking spices.

The finish is long and drying. The ashy and mineralic elements contribute significantly to this, especially once the sweet and fruity notes fade a little. The mouth watering peat smoke also drags the finish out. Very enjoyable and makes you want to reach for another sip from your glass.

What's the verdict?

Caol Ila seems to remain somewhat underrated for some reason. Maybe it is because it is such a large distillery or maybe because its single malts range is not high on the owners' list of priorities? But the core range is small but strong, and these festival bottlings are always great. This 2022 Edition is no different and is superb, offering plenty for the drinker.

While the quality of this release is undisputed, we again feel that we have to mention the price. Much like the Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2022 Edition, which we reviewed a couple of days ago, we think this is pretty top end in terms of what it will cost you. Slightly less so in this case as it is older than the Lagavulin. We understand that it is limited edition with only 3,000 bottles, cask strength, exclusive to the festival etc etc, but £165 still seems heavy. It is the only negative.

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