June 30, 2016
For a weekend in the country with friends and family we wanted a nice lightly peated malt for porch-top sipping at sunset. Digging through our bunker for something interesting, we found this independent bottling of Caol Ila from James MacArthur.
We couldn't find a lot of information about James MacArthur other than that they were founded in 1982 and produce uncolored and un-chill-filtered (yay!) limited release private case bottles. This Caol Ila is from the lower proof line (43%) which seemed appropriate for our summer drinking plans, and comes from a sherry cask. Peated malt matured in sherry has always been a favorite. So far so good.
Caol Ila is perhaps not as esteemed as some of their Islay neighbors like Laphoaig, Lagavulin, or Ardbeg, however they're one of our favorites. Perhaps it's this lack of acclaim that makes it a bit easier to track down interesting expressions and older releases. We picked this one up a few years ago for around $50. These independent bottlings of Caol Ila are pretty easy to come by if you keep an eye out and always fun to experiment with.
Nose: Simple and pleasant nose dominated by ocean scents. Sea air, mossy rocks, and light waves of peat. There's some sweet citrus - lemon meringue perhaps, and some vegetal notes like putty and hay. Very mellow nose with just the right amount of peat for sipping neat.
Palate: Very nice balance here with a mid-thick mouth-feel leaving a nice oil on the tongue. The peat fits in nicely with the sweetness and spirit warmth. More tropical fruits come out like a hint of mango and peach, and also some nice complexity of vanilla, white chocolate, and a little spice.
Finish: Mid-length finish, it's still a peater, but it's extremely smooth and leaves just a brush of smoke on the throat with honey and lemons lingering on the tongue.
This was a totally pleasant if not altogether remarkable malt. We'd buy this bottle again. It's a great Islay for people who aren't committed peat junkies like us. You can pass this around to your relatives without worrying about scalding their palates with an assault of ashtray Islay goodness. It has enough age to show maturity, enough sherry to bring forward a good sweet balance to the smoke, and a very solid mouth-feel and finish to complete the package. Should you go hunting after this bottle to the ends of the earth? No. Should you pick it up if you happen to see it around? Yes.
Happy Drinking! Cheers/SB