Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Caol Ila is the largest whisky distillery on the Isle of Islay. Owned by Diageo, it produces whisky both for use in blends like Johnnie Walker and for bottling under the Caol Ila Single Malt brand. This particular expression was released by independent bottler, North Star Spirits.
There’s a Friends of North Star Spirits group on Facebook. A place where fans of this independent bottler can get together and share their appreciation of the many fine whiskies that have been released since the company launched in 2016. A recent post in the group reminded me of an event I attended at the Good Spirits Co.
It was November 2016 and the night was to serve as an introduction to a new independent bottler that I didn’t know all that much about. Two hours and six drams later, I left clutching a bottle of North Star Spirits whisky. It wouldn’t be my last.
Fast forward six years and North Star is a beloved bottler with an impressive back catalogue that even some long-established bottlers would struggle to compete with.
North Star puts out whiskies for all tastes and budgets. Old single casks from the likes of Springbank and GlenDronach require a remortgage to be able to afford but there has been plenty of top-quality offerings for those of us without four figures worth of change rattling around down the back of the sofa.
One such bottle is this 7-year-old single cask Caol Ila from Batch 15. It was distilled in 2013 and matured in a refill sherry butt. The whisky was bottled at 60.9% and retailed for a very approachable £45.
Smell: A little youthful spirity-ness at first. Lemony-fresh and a bit grassy. Straw. Sea shells and brine. Charcoal and barbecue coals. Damp bonfires and acrid, oily smoke. Butter pastries. Caramel and honey. With water notes of fresh fruits – pineapple in particular.
Taste: Toffee. Honey. Caramel biscuits. Barbecue flavour crisps. Grilled pineapple. Orange liqueur. A blast of peppery heat. Clouds of dry, ashy smoke. Water brings cream soda and dry oak.
Thoughts: It’s a rather unsurprising whisky, I suppose but that isn’t meant as a criticism. I know what I want from a young, cask-strength Caol Ila and this pretty much delivers. Cask influence is subtle thanks to the spirit-to-wood ratio of the refill butt, instead, the lively Caol Ila spirit is left to carry the dram itself. Nothing at all wrong with that. It’s young, it’s feisty, it’s a wee bit hot but it’s also wonderfully coastal, fruity, creamy and beautifully smoky.
Value for money: £45. You won’t find many single-cask Islay malts on the shelves for under £50 these days. So while this feisty young Caol Ila may not be for everyone, it’s a nice little buy for those of us who can’t get enough peat.
For more on North Star Spirits visit https://northstarspirits.com/