Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: Coal Ila Goes UnPeated

The Classic Malts Selection portfolio has come out with a new batch of limited selection whiskys, including bottles from Oban, Talisker and the rare Port Ellen. Every single one of them is worthwhile (and I'll get to saying a bit about each in a minute), but I think the star of the new collection may be the Caol Ila Unpeated 10-year-old.

The 10-year-old part is interesting enough. This 163-year-old distillery has never released a whisky that young before. But it's the "unpeated" part that makes this such a special and unusual treat. Without the peat, you take about the smoky quality one expects from Islay scotches. (Caol Ila is the Gaelic name for the Sound of Islay, which separates the island from Jura.)

Unpeated scotch dries the malted barley without burning peat. This method is not traditional to Scotland. A natural cask strength single malt, it is actually the fourth limited release of unpeated Caol Ila but it is the first that’s been aged for ten years. It was aged in first-fill Bourbon oak casks filled in 1998. Only 6,000 bottles were produced.

When one gets to tasting a few scotches in a row, they can begin to, ahem, blend together until one has a little difficulty distinguishing one from another. There's no danger of that with the Caol Ila Unpeated. It's its own thing. With the peat and smoke gone, you can focus on other characteristics in the whisky. It's got a laserlike intensity to it. It's hot and focused, yet floral and exceedingly easy to like. Typical scotch flavors like caramel, vanilla and butterscotch take a back seat, yielding the stage to more to more fruity notes like lemon, pear, melon, lime and mint. The scotch is vibrant with the sort of flavors that wake up the senses. This may sound strange, but one feels after drinking it the way one feels after brushing one's teeth in the morning: the mouth is alive and awake. You feel refreshed.

Often, these limited releases put themselves out of reach with their high prices. Happily, Caol Ila Unpeated goes for an affordable $60.

I'll be looking at the other Classic Malts releases in a future post.

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