Caol Ila – 17yo 1991 Murray McDavid
(Bourbon & Chenin Blanc Quarts de Chaume casks, 2025 bottles, 46%)
Yeah, blimey, look at the colour of that. Murray McDavid (who seemed to disappear for a few years but are now active again) do have a thing for interesting casks – in this case a sweet white wine from the Loire.
Nose: A great nose that’s very changeable. There’s strawberry jam, red cherry sweets and liquorice. Lemons, apples and banana with cream. It’s a bit nutty, and gets more lemony with time. Behind all that it’s distinctly saline, with hints of coal smoke and carbolic.
Taste: Much smokier and peatier than the nose suggests. Salt, bitter herbs and tart lemon – a bit Laphroaigy actually. Tea made over a peat fire. Tropical fruit comes out more the longer you spend with it.
Finish: Strong salty liquorice/salmiak – complete with the fizzy tongue-tingling ammonium chloride quality. Loads of coal tar. Some good vinous/grape notes right at the end that linger on for ages.
What a misleading nose! It’s all fruity sweetness in the streets, peaty monster in the sheets. (Yes, I made a pop culture reference. Deal with it.) And, in fact, it’s a nose that reminds me of much older Caol Ilas (such as this 31yo I reviewed a while back), even as the taste is more youthful and aggressive. It all hangs together nicely though, and it’s one of those whiskies that rewards a bit of time and exploration. Not a relaxing dram, but a sort of good-natured brute that will appeal to anyone who likes the smokier side of Islay.