Caol Ila – Sister Casks, Terroir and Wood you believe it..

Caol Ila

Founded In 1846 by Hector Henderson the Caol Ila distillery is certainly one of the big boys when it comes to production but it might not be the first name on the lips of those Islay fans..

Caol Ila is definitely known for the peated whisky it produces but for many it is a more gentle dram compared to some of the other distillery releases from the fabled island..

Production from the distillery is done with a 13 ton full Lauter mash tun, 8 wooden washbacks and 2 stainless steel versions, 3 wash stills with a capacity of  19000 litres and 3 spirit stills with a capacity of 12000 litres – This along with the 26 mashes per week gives the distillery a capacity to produce 6.5 million litres of alcohol per year..


This Independent bottler which is situated in the small town of Ripon located near York is a small family run business who pride themselves on releasing exceptional single cask expressions that boast both younger releases and some stunning older expressions of whisky from both mainstream and more elusive distilleries..


Caol Ila head to head

Todays review was going to be two separate reviews but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review two sister casks head to head to see just how different these two single casks might be..

Over recent months / year there has been a lot of talk / discussions on the “Terroir “ argument.. Does the ground, area, conditions give the whisky the flavour or will these two casks which have been produced on the same day, put into cask on the same day, stored in a warehouse together be the same or will the wood have completely altered the dna of the original spirit.. Well let’s see…

The first thing I have to disclose is the fact these two cask have actually matured for different lengths so that will obviously have a little bearing on the final results but in theory there should be some similarities if indeed it’s down to the initial make up..

Caol Ila 6 year old

Distillery.. Caol Ila

Region.. Islay

Age.. 6 years

Distilled.. 5 January 2012

Bottled.. 2018

Abv.. 57.2%

Cask.. Refill Hogshead – 1841 – 300379

Outturn.. 341 Bottles

Bottler.. Claxton’s

This expression is NCF and Naturally Coloured..

Nose.. Ashy with hints of toasted almonds, sea spray, citrus peels and toffee apples..

Palate.. A citrus bitterness melts into toasted sugar almonds and those toffee apples.. A little honeyed sweetness comes in with a soft peppery aftertaste.

Finish.. Peppery with a hint of oak..


Caol Ila 7 Year old

Distillery.. Caol Ila

Region.. Islay

Age.. 7 years

Distilled.. 5th January 2012

Bottled.. 2019

Abv.. 60%

Cask.. Refill Hogshead – 1959 – 300381

Outturn.. 285 Bottles

Bottler.. Claxton’s

As always this is NCF and Naturally Coloured.

Nose.. This starts of with a real smokey note mixed with chocolate digestive  biscuits, pineapple and ripe pear.. The spices are quite soft with a hint of cinnamon and ginger showing up before a soft lemon tart note finishes it off..

Palate.. The peat is more prominent along with more of that peppery kick instantly noticeable.. There is less sweetness with this one with more emphasis on the bitterness in the form of citrus peels and spices.

Finish.. Drying smoke and spices

Thoughts.. It is harder to differentiate between peated expressions from the same distilleries but these two are very different in their own ways.. There is a softness to the first one and a more rugged feisty beast in the second..

What we have to remember when talking about Terroir is that once the spirit enters the cask then we have very little ability to differentiate between cask influence and the original DNA or origins of the ingredients..

These two expressions could easily be from different periods or even distilleries but the fact they were distilled on the same day, made from the same barley which may or may not be from the same farm but unlikely, produced in exactly the same way and in theory the spirit probably entered the cask within minutes of each other give or take a lunch break or production problems.  They  most probably sat on the same row in the same warehouse before they were sold on to the same company..

There is certainly something to be argued about the origins of the ingredients but in the grand scheme of things it is far less important than the actual production techniques that the distilleries incorporates..

These production techniques can and will offer up more diverse and noticeable results than anything, add into this to the influence from the cask which is impossible to argue against and the argument becomes flawed..

Companies like Diageo who own Caol Ila will probably never know or maybe I should say they are not worried about the exact origins of where the ingredients come from due to the sheer amounts they will use.. They will however be very concerned about the quality of the products so they can offer a consistency and stable product.. They will then argue that the production and the people that make the spirit are the important factors before the final stage of maturation..

All we want is a quality product in the bottle.. Ask yourself.. Do you need to know where the barley comes from or are you more bothered in how it tastes ? Origins are fine but not as important as the distillery itself, the wood used to mature it and the way it’s bottled..

And back to these bottles, Both offer great insights into the younger end of Caol Ila and Claxton’s have to be commended for releasing younger whisky in order to help educate us all in just how good these bottles can be.. Of course they aren’t alone and thanks to the independent bottlers we will all be able to further our journey into the vast world of single casks..

With thanks to Claxton’s for both official samples..


One Comment Add yours

  1. Neil says:

    Thought provoking review of these two Caol Ila whiskies. Reding that they are from sister casks kinda reinforces what I have been thinking, that the cask (the wood) is one of the main influences on the flavour.

    I guess it may be interesting to some to know exactly what, where and when the barley was grown, but as you wrote it’s ‘not as important as the distillery itself’, and I tend to agree.

    Keep up the good work!!

    Liked by 1 person

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