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James Eadie was born into a large family. At just 14 years of age he left school to seek his fortune and through relentless hard work and sheer determination he began to earn a good living for both himself and his family. In 1854 he established a brewery and soon began to blend scotch whisky from a closely guarded recipe of his own devising.
Today the James Eadie company is run by his great, great grandson Rupert Patrick. Rupert spent three years in the wine trade before moving to Edinburgh to work in the scotch whisky industry with the likes of Macleod Distillers and Diageo. Seeking to revive the old family business, he secured the aid of Master Blender Norman Mathison to help him create Trade Mark X, a blend inspired by notes scribbled in a ledger by Eadie himself many years before.
The company now specialises in single cask and small batch bottlings, one of which recently came into my possession. Bottled at an enticing cask strength of 56.7%, this single malt was distilled at Caol Ila on the Hebridean isle of Islay.
Caol Ila is Gaelic for the Sound of Islay – a fast flowing stretch of water that separates the island from neighbouring Jura. Built on the coast, the distillery was founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson though he was forced to sell in 1854 to Norman Buchanan, owner of the only distillery across the water on Jura.
By 1927 Caol Ila had been taken over by the Distillers Company. Three years later it was acquired by Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd, beginning a series of events that would eventually lead through various sales and mergers to the creation of Diageo.
At the onset of the 1970s it was decided that the distillery would have to be expanded in order to cope with increased demand. Rather than simply extend however, the owners chose to completely rebuild, employing the services of George Leslie Darge in the process.
Darge was born in Edinburgh in 1919. His Father was a partner in Darge & Thomas quantity surveyors and architects and his Grandfather had been responsible for the design of the Caird and Usher Halls in Edinburgh. Following in their footsteps, George studied architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art. After serving with the Royal Artillery in India, he returned home to take up a position with the Newcastle City Architect’s Department but later left to become Architect to the Duke of Roxburgh.
In 1953 he moved to Speyside to join a newly established in-house team of architects, surveyors and engineers within Scottish Malt Distillers. Soon, he had been promoted to the position of Chief Architect, a title he would hold for 28 years.
Darge had been involved with the refurbishment of 46 distilleries by the time he retired but it was for his work with the likes of Caol Ila and Clynelish that he would win awards. His still-house design, with near floor-to-ceiling windows remains an incredible site today. Nowhere more so than Caol Ila, where the vast expanse of glass offers magnificent views of the Sound for which the distillery is named.
Aged for a total of 9 years and finished for six months in European Oak Palo Cortado sherry hogsheads, this James Eadie Caol Ila retails at around £65 a bottle.
Smell: Certainly not a sherry bomb but the wine influence nevertheless arrives upfront. Grape. Apple. Honey and lemon. Menthol. Pepper. Ash and charcoal and puffs of coal fire smoke.
Taste: Lots of peppery spice. Driftwood and charcoal. The sherry impact is subtle with Seville orange and Sun-dried raisins. Apple and honey. Figs. Lemon. Fruits become more dominant with the addition of water.
Thoughts: £65 seems pretty reasonable when compared with other cask strength Islay bottlings, especially when you take the unusual cask finish into account.
Independently bottled cask strength Caol Ila is hardly a rare occurrence, but James Eadie deserve some credit for bringing something new to the table. The sherry doesn’t dominate, by any means, so don’t go into this expecting an explosion of dried fruits but it adds a layer of flavour that you don’t often find in this whisky. That makes it an worthwhile purchase, even for those who think they know Caol Ila well.
For more on James Eadie visit here.
For more on Caol Ila visit here.