This Gordon and MacPhail Caol Ila is not only exceptionally high in strength, it’s also composed of a two sets of casks that were distilled 5 months apart. Five casks (5347 to 5351) distilled on the 4th May 1978 were combined with twelve casks (11553 to 11563) distilled on the 19th October 1978. The bottling was produced in February of 1992 at a crackingly high ABV of 63.7% - when G&M indicate ‘cask strength’, they mean it.
Nose: Candyfloss sweetness combined with pronounced salinity and exceptionally lively lemon peels and lemon curd. Deeper fruits develop – poached pears, apricots and honeydew melon. Smoke is immediate and highly coastal – minerals, ozone, iodine and a touch of bromine. Underlying are gentle bakery aromas – buns and rolls – alongside golden syrup and toasted barley. Water adds some overt seafood flavours – sweet crab and salty prawns, as well as plenty of briny water.
Taste: This is bonkers drinkable – is the hydrometer reading of 63.7% correct? The delivery is of sharp and defined citrus, honey and melon. It is followed by a wave of coastal peat smoke – sweet, but full of salinity, scallops and crab cakes. Bitterness develops in the mid palate (it balances perfectly with the sweet fruits and the sour citrus) – balsamic, furniture polish, camphor and a touch of menthol. In the back palate, there are further bakery flavours – but they’re burnt – toast and charred pastry – they’re joined by a building pepperiness. The addition of water (which, amazingly, I don’t think is essential here) adds depth and nuance – burnt ends, meat stock and plenty of kippers. It also heightens minerality – sharp-edged granite and limestone quarries.
Finish: Exceedingly long with sweet but salty seafood and ashy coastal smoke.
I’m still rather blown away by how easy-going this Caol Ila is at such a high ABV. That said, this is still worth diluting as additional aromas and flavours come to the fore with just a touch of water. There’s a ton of distillery character here - and it’s all superbly defined and coherent. Quite excellent.