In the classic Islay style, Caol Ila is made predominantly with peated malt and the resulting phenols have a big influence on the final flavour of the whisky, as does the salty coastal air that the casks ‘breathe’ during maturation. One of the most approachable Islay malts.
Caol Ila is the Gaelic name for the Sound of Islay, which separates the island from Jura in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Scotland's West Coast. The distillery is situated on the shores of the Sound, a spot originally chosen in 1846 partly because of the clean water from Loch Nam Ban which still provides its main supply. And even today you can still watch the seals in the Sound from the still room.
When you sip this tempting, easy-drinking malt, well, at first you’d know you were in Islay – but you might not know where. Well-known whisky writer, Michael Jackson, pinpoints the smooth, olive-like house style, calling Caol Ila “a wonderful aperitif”.
Sniff the air over a glass and smoky, sea-fresh aromas recall an age, not so long ago, when fishing and cutting peat were the traditional occupations in these parts. Few men make a living cutting peat on the island today, but the old traditions live on in the skills of our distillery workers and in the ingredients they still use at Caol Ila.
“Caol Ila has remained undiscovered by many. However, its deserving rise in popularity saw the release of three new age statements in June 2002. This malt is a fantastically balanced Islay with wheat beer/cloves and wet grass/light salt fish subtleties.” David Broom, whisky writer and expert.
For more than 100 years small coal-fired "puffers" like the SS Pibroch brought barley, coal and empty casks to the distillery, returning her whisky to the mainland through the strait that divides Islay and Jura, the Sound of Islay – in Gaelic, "Caol Ila".
That tradition has passed. And other changes have taken place – like when the old distillery became outdated and was replaced by a new, £1 million building in 1974. Craftsmen faithfully reproduced the six stills from the original design to ensure the distinctive quality of Caol Ila remained.
Of course, not everything has changed. The barley used here is still malted locally at Port Ellen and pure spring water still rises from limestone in nearby Loch nam Ban, then falls to the sea at Caol Ila in a clear crystal stream, just as it always has. Their offspring is a fine-ageing malt reserved in oak casks for up to eighteen years.
Talk of offspring brings us to the descendants of generations past who keep traditions alive. Billy Stitchell is the manager of the distillery and has worked there for years. As did his father, both his grandfathers and his great-grandfather – their unbroken line is proof that traditions matter round here - all the more valuable, now that eleven men do work once done by thirty-two.
The result of their craft and skill is an easy-going single malt whisky of dry, sea air aromas and pleasing smoky-smoothness. Anyone who visits this magical island soon finds that Islay is home to some of the great malt whiskies. Caol Ila is certainly one of them, whose discovery is one of life’s great pleasures.
Character and Style of Caol ila