CAOL ILA 12—Take me, I’m yours

You know I’ll drink anything, especially in a liquor crisis like the one we’re suffering right now at LBHQ. After waving a sad goodbye to the lovely New Year’s empties, my eye turns to our nasty little cupboard with its languishing Malibu and mescale. But it doesn’t take long for those neglected bottles to start giving me come-hither looks.

We all sometimes slum it when it comes to alcohol. Maybe we’re at a wedding where the freshly married have adorned each table with twin white/red bottles of the 28-day UVIN abomination they cooked up together. Maybe we’re basking at a beer garden listening to a band, too happy to scrutinize the beer. Or being polite at a dinner party. Or on a budget. Or an alcoholic—like your furry host here.

Increasingly the budget matters when it comes to booze. Market analysts say appetites for high-end hooch have shifted from North America to Asian markets where disposable household income has increased, whereas fewer North Americans can afford premium liquor these days.

That’s what makes my recent exposure to CAOL ILA 12 so poignant, my fellow inebriates. The knowledge that we can buy top-notch whiskey only on very special occasions (“not just so you can get wasted, LB”) makes me want to lash my parents into productivity and financial ease so we can purchase our own bottle of this golden stuff.

You see, we sampled CAOL ILA 12 at the generous behest of my newest best friend Christine, who brought it in a canvas bag with two other single malts this past weekend. Understandably, she took the bag home afterwards, although if I’d had a moment alone with her I would have negotiated a means of joining her.

I’ve described the first of our three samples, TALISKER 18, already. It was a tough act for CAOL ILA 12 to follow, and perhaps this ordering was unfair. (Perhaps we should have swished with Cutty Sark in between.) But CAOL ILA 12 held its own, offering distinctive characteristics that argued for its rightful inclusion in a tasting against TALISKER 18.

CAOL ILA is the largest of eight distilleries on Islay, traditionally a peat-cutting and fishing area on Scotland’s west coast. While it markets four single malt editions, much of its vast production goes into JOHNNIE WALKER blended whiskey. This might be why JOHNNIE WALKER is so damn good.

But CAOL ILA 12 is better. One whiff tells you this is no simple scotch—aromas of peat and honey, earth and vanilla float from the pale golden liquid. Redolent of campfires and misty nights, it has a medicinal hint, a whiff of iodine, brine, and complex herbs.

The sip is smoky, the peatiness walking a careful tightrope between too much and too little, sweet treacle and spice contributing delicate background notes, with unplaceable floral notes behind. Smooth and dry, it fills the mouth, its shy medicinal quality expanding in a serious, smoky finish. Sipping CAOL ILA 12 is a gift to the tastebuds—layer upon layer of artful scents and flavors, pressing you against the wall and ravishing you like there’s no tomorrow.*

This is the power of an exquisite single malt whiskey. Cutty Sark may get you drunk and Bell’s may get you laid, but a whiskey like CAOL ILA 12 will dominate you, and in a good way.

Unfortunately luxuries cost money, but you don’t have to slum it. Just remember that when you drink JOHNNIE WALKER, you’re getting some of that elysian CAOL ILA with it (albeit with a bunch of other malts). Think of it as a promiscuous Islay whiskey, and it’s all good.

 *What do you mean I don’t know what I’m talking about?

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