K&L Awards 2012: Most Underrated Distillery - Caol Ila

I think I was more impressed by Caol Ila than any other distillery we visited in Scotland this year. They had the nicest staff. They had the most beautiful views. They had a fantastic tour. And they had the best tasting whisky. If I had to make a quick list of the top peated whiskies I tasted in 2012, at least four of them would be from Caol Ila (not necessarily official distillery bottles, but Caol Ila whisky in some form). Caol Ila was also the main component of one of my other favorite releases this year – the Compass Box Flaming Heart. What stood out in 2012? We had a 30 year old cask from Sovereign that we imported this January that blew our customers' minds. We also just imported another 15 year old expression that is a total fruit slut, while giving you all the peat you can handle. Absolutely delicious stuff. The best whisky I tasted this year in Scotland was the most-recent Caol Ila 18 year old, which is now unavailable in the states. It's aged entirely in Bourbon wood and, in my personal opinion, destroys the last few Port Ellen releases I've tasted. Magical.

If Caol Ila is making so much great whisky, then why is it always lumped on the bottom with Bunnahabhain for "Least Favorite Islay whisky" among most single malt fans? People go crazy for Ardbeg, have a passion for Laphroaig, consider Lagavulin a classic, and would follow Bruichladdich to the grave. Caol Ila, on the other hand, is seen as a commercial giant – a monstrous factory pumping out JW Black juice at a frantic pace. While it is a huge facility run electronically by a few local workers, Diageo continues to make great whisky at the Port Askaig distillery. The fat-necked stills create a supple and fruity malt and the peat smoke adds spice and character. What's not to love? True, there's very little romance in the idea of Caol Ila for most people, but I think a trip to the distillery might change many minds. It changed my mind, at least.

If you've never had Caol Ila, you owe it to yourself to get a bottle of the standard 12 year. You can also find the Moscatel-finished distiller's edition right now. If you're feeling up to it, you can also splurge for our 15 year old single barrel cask strength expression. All of them are dynamite for the price.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll