Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: Caol Ila 12 years Islay Single Malt

Do you ever form observations in your mind that you are sure are true, but afraid to voice in polite company for fear that you will find yourself committed to an asylum?  Okay, maybe not committed, but at least seriously shunned by practically everyone.  Yeah, I mean everyone.  Your life partner will look at you out of the corner of her eye late at night, while you slumber, and think:  He worries me.

Well, I do make such observations or connections via my chronically misfiring brain snapses.  Like all the time, and in spite of the risk of rejection and the stink-eye gaze from my wife,  family, peers, co-workers and even you, and living out my days in a straight-jacket, while listening to ABBA muzak in an egg shell white walled institution, I am gonna voice one right now.

I was thinking about adventure/thriller writer Jack Higgins and at the same time I was pondering the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, and realized a profound insight about the two men of the pen from different centuries:  They both were able to come up with awesome titles for their entertaining tomes!

A Sampling of Nietzsche Titles

Beyond Good and Evil

The Dawn of Day

. . . and my favorite . . .

Twilight of the Idols

Check out these Jack Higgins Book Titles

East of Desolation

The Judas Gate

. . . and my other favorite . . .

The Last Place God Made

I was thinking about these titles and what they are about?  Truth!  It must be truth.  Beyond good and evil, there must be truth.  Right?  At the dawn of day, it is Mistress Truth who is there to remind you that your headache and upset stomach is the dowry you received when you became betrothed to one of Dionysus' maidens the night before.

East of desolation?  Surely it is the cold, hard truth that you face?  Surely right?  I think so.  So, what about truth?  Well, that is why you are here right?  You want the truth about Caol Ila 12 years.  Well, I am here to give it to ya baby!



Nose (undiluted)
Gentle peat.  Still smoking, charred beach wood and a sweetness, grassy with a hint of seaweed.

Palate (undiluted)
Salty, cold orange pekoe tea, light peat notes, and smoke.  Think branches piled for a small beach-side fire.  Not overpowering.  Salted cod too.

Finish (undiluted)
Tart apple, tangy green seaweed, and the final note is salt.  Heavy salt.

General Impressions
Caol Ila is a distillery on Islay that is not as well known as the others like Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig.  Why?  Probably because their 12 year old single malt has only been available since June 2002.  You see, Caol Ila's principal business is producing single malt for the purpose of blending.  You will taste Caol Ila in two fantastically great blends: Johnnie Walker Green and Black Bottle.  Some say Johnnie Black, but Diageo aren't talking (well, not to me).  It probably is present in other blends too.

So, what is the truth about this single malt, as I stand at the twilight of the idols and east of desolation?

Price Point - Be Wary
I paid a lot of money for this bottle.  $80 to be exact.  So, my expectations were elevated. I was disappointed.  While Caol Ila is a pleasant smoky and peaty single malt from Islay, it lacked complexity of flavor.  If there is a word I overuse on this blog, it has got to be "complexity."  Seriously lacking here.

A regular reader told me he picked up a couple bottles on sale for $29 (he lives in the US).  At $29 I would be singing the praises of this malt as a great value for money play.  But, at $60 plus, I cannot say that.  On the plus side, it is smooth, balanced, with no bitterness.  Well put together, just missing a certain pizazz or Elvis Presley karate move that malts should have at the price point I paid.  Even you lucky Americans should be cautious about picking this bottle up if it involves paying in excess of $50.

While I was drinking Caol Ila, I couldn't help but think to myself that Talisker 10 years is twenty dollars cheaper and delivers a similar flavor profile, but far more interesting and rewarding drink experience.

If you do not want to hop to the Isle of Skye from whence Talisker comes from, you can stay on Islay and try Laphroaig Quarter cask.  Again, cheaper and superior.  As for Ardbeg, it is saltier and more pronounced than Caol Ila.  The latter is really easy drinking.  No wonder it is used for blending.

Online praise is everywhere for this malt.  Ralfy rated this malt 89 out of 100 and was very pleased with it.   So were many others.  Me, I am going out on a limb here and probably will attract heaps of criticism, but oh well, comes with the territory, though I hope I don't end up instituionalized like Nietzsche.


Jason Debly

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Johnnie Walker Platinum Label aged 18 years

Sherry, oak, chocolate fondue, wet leaves, loam, mint.

Blood oranges, sherry, rosewater, dark plums, raspberries.

Salt, very subtle smoke (methinks Talisker), and crisp red grapes.

General Impressions
The first couple of sips are accompanied by some feisty spiciness, but that settles down to a red fruit, sherry infused taste experience that is very satisfying.  Very quaff-able.  Very smooth.  Goes down way too easy.

Blended scotch consumers place a premium on smoothness above all other qualities.  Platinum Label delivers.  There are no sharp or pointed sticks here.  It's all velvet pillows and satin sheets.  Trouble is, when a blend is that smooth, it has to sacrifice complexity of flavor.  That's what has happened here.

Normally, I wouldn't hold a blended Scotch whisky up to a naked light bulb and handcuff it to the chair of tough questions of complexity.  But, Platinum Label is deserving of such an interrogation because of the price point.  In Canada, this blend retails for the borderline criminal  sum of $149.00.  In my opinion, any Scotch whisky, single malt or blended, has to display an appreciable complexity of flavor that makes me go "wow!" at that price.

Not happening here.

Don't misunderstand me.

This is good, solid, premium blended Scotch whisky.

I enjoy it.  But, the price of $149 is ridiculous (and maybe capable of tempting a prosecutor to lay a charge of larceny).

A good friend of mine, on his way to Isleworth picked this bottle up for me at Duty Free in Orlando, Florida for about $85.  I paid him back, so I am doing some serious Deep Blue value-for-money calculations, and I am still unsure whether or not it is worth it.  Well, actually, that is not entirely true.

Drinking Platinum Label brings to mind an old Barry Goldwater campaign billboard, that read: "In your heart you know he's right."  Similarly, in my heart, I know I'm right when I think I am paying too much for Platinum Label, even at Duty Free prices.  I think this should be priced at about $60.

Target Market
So far, we have established that Johnnie Walker Platinum Label is a good blended Scotch whisky, very drinkable, pleasant and pretty solid.  Unfortunately, due to the high price, we whisky nuts demand some complexity.  This is because for the same amount of money there are other blends (ie. Hibiki 17, 21, Johnnie Walker Green, etc) that are priced lower and deliver magical complexity.  Moreover, for much less money we can buy single malts that deliver pixies who dance on our palates doing nude interpretive dances that leave nothing to the imagination.

So, who buys Platinum?

Probably not whisky aficionados seeking a good value for money proposition.

I know that there are a lot of affluent, casual consumers of Scotch whisky who would bring out this premium blend during the holidays or in moments of celebration (weddings!).  These consumers want a smooth, pleasant, non-offensive whisky experience, and at the same time they want to demonstrate to their friends and family that they have the means to buy the best.  The handsome packaging, the high price, the lofty age statement and the precious metals marketing slant all satisfy that expectation.  I speculate that this would be a very desirable bottle in countries whose economies have an emerging middles class who want to announce that they have "arrived."  I am thinking: China, Russia, Brazil, India, and many others.

I am also thinking so called mature economies like Canada, United States, England and others also have plenty of consumers who want the same assurances and a need to make the same declaration.

Good for them!  I just hope I get invited to their next wedding celebration where the Platinum Label flows!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved except for photograph of Barry Goldwater presidential campaign billboard.  Photographer unknown, and image appears widely on internet.  Photograph was taken in 1964, in Atlantic City, NJ, USA.  It states: "In your heart, you know he's right."  A sign placed below it challenges: "Yes . . . extreme right." All images on this blog are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.