Thursday, June 1, 2023

Review / Caol Ila 13 years old Fèis Ìle 2023 Edition

This whisky is the annual limited edition bottling for the Fèis Ìle festival from the Islay distillery of Caol Ila. The Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2023 Edition is released at 13 years old and has been matured in ex-Oloroso and ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry seasoned casks. These casks were selected by Sam Hale, the Distillery Manager at Caol Ila, and his warehouse team. It is bottled at the natural cask strength of 60.4% ABV and will cost £185. The new whisky will only be available at the distillery visitor centre until sold out. It was released to celebrate the Caol Ila open day on Monday, May 29. The exact number of bottles was not revealed in the press release.

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 has recently reopened following a major revamp 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 vibrant gold and the nose is smoky, sweet and expressive. Aromas of bonfire ash and coal tar soap mingle with golden syrup and toffee. These are supported by further aromas of milk chocolate, raisin, sultana and a hint of almond and hazelnut. A further hint of caramelised apple and sea spray sit in the background.

On the palate this whisky is initially sugary and sweet with a lovely hit of brown sugar and golden syrup to begin with. This evolves to include the dried fruits from the nose (think of those raisins and sultanas again, plus some candied orange and lime), stewed and sugared green apple, milk chocolate and a pinch cocoa powder. The sugary tang lifts the whisky superbly.

The ashy peat smoke is never far away and underpins the whisky. It weaves itself through the peat smoke elements very well and elegantly integrates itself. There are elements of coal tar soap and drying seaweed (imagine it as the tide has gone out), plus hints of medicinal iodine and dying embers. There is also a little spiciness that develops - think of cracked pepper, warming cinnamon and a hint of clove.

The finish is long and lingering. The peat smoke begins to dominate and this is especially true once the sweet and fruity characteristics die back a little. This gives a warming and particularly drying effect and this drags out the finish in a very pleasing way. A hint of gingerbread also comes through right at the end.

What's the verdict?

This is excellent. The balance of smokiness and sweetness is sublime in this Caol Ila 13 years old Fèis Ìle 2023 Edition. Caol Ila is often underrated and sits in the shadow of some of its more illustrious Islay neighbours, but this whisky shows the quality that consistently comes out of the distillery. 

This transported us straight to Caol Ila and made us think of standing there on the quayside looking over to Jura. The peat smoke lingers so nicely and aids the late switch from sweet to dry. If you are on Islay this week then have a sip and we think you will probably buy a bottle once you have. Delicious.

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