The Caol Ila is a Single malt that holds great relevance to the Johnnie Walker branding, being a major constituent to its malt component (another being Cardhu) while also lending it the traditional smoke and peaty nuances that makes the blend a standout. With over 90% of its produce being leveraged in making the blend, it is no surprise that only a sliver from the distillery makes it to the consumer markets. The 12 YO in specific is not only their standard release but also their most populous.
Owing to the increased demand for blended whisky through the years, and the growing popularity of the JW blend, the distillery increased its production by building on existing equipments and processes. Much of the barley is obtained from Port Ellen maltings, peated to a handsome 35 ppm. The wash from the distilleries are fed into the stills at 50% of their capacity, a bit orthodox but with good intent, encouraging increased interactions between raw spirit and copper, removing impurities while also subduing some of those strong phenolic influences. The resulting spirits are then matured exclusively in ex-bourbon American oak casks for a minimum of 12 years and then amalgamated at the distillery to provide for a subtle, well balanced whisky, or so they say!
ABV : 43%
Eye : Yellow gold | Non Chill Filtered, Natural Colouring
Nose : Brine and maritime with a whiff of smoke and char initially greets the nose; and not far along is the sweetness emanating from vanilla and what appears to be hints of tropical fruits like cantaloupe and kiwi. You sense some nuttiness interrupted by traces of ash, some orange zest and the heat of pepper and a warm spice.
Taste : Salt laiden with a good dose of earthy, moist wood. A few layers of sweetness, taking on flavours from vanilla, hints of milk chocolate, and charred papayas, followed by some freshness, infused with tobacco and cardboard, with traces of coriander and cumin powder.
Finish : Leathery with some reminiscent sweetness and a sliver of spice.
Crisp, light and smooth with a moist and earthy profile to the whisky. There’s quite a bit of peat, though not as pronounced as your Ardbegs or Laphroaig, showing restrain and balance. This might be an Islay expression but isn’t too smokey or overpowering making it a great addition to the JW’s blending landscape. Another noticeable trait is the strong affinity to the traditional exbourbon American oak maturation, reflecting those tropical nuances and signature spices.
All in all, this 12 YO expression is blessed with sufficient breadth, but seems to be lacking that pinch of oomph. For the price of AUD $75, it offers fair value and falls into the realm of whiskies that are surely worth a try. There are a few corners to the spirits that makes you lick your moustache, but at the same time, a few that pull it down a notch or two.