Whisky Advocate

Review: Caol Ila 10 year old, unpeated (2009 release)

January 15th, 2010

One more review of the new limited edition 2009 releases (coming to the U.S.). I like this whisky very much, but not enough to put it in the 90s. (Perhaps some of you may differ with me?)

Caol Ila “unpeated”, 10 year old, 65.8%, $60
Caol Ila makes unpeated whisky for blenders, but it rarely gets bottled as a single malt. Here’s a chance to find out what Caol Ila tastes like without the smoke. Very revealing. Good viscosity and rather sweet, showing thick honeyed vanilla, gobs of fruit (lemon drops, lime tart, ripe Bartlett pear, kiwi), mint jelly and cut grass. Its sea influence finally emerges towards the finish with emerging brine and just a hint of seaweed. Interesting: Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain are now bottling peated whiskies, and Caol Ila does just the opposite. This is an interesting diversion, but I am missing the added dimension of peat smoke in this Caol Ila.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 88

30 Responses to “Review: Caol Ila 10 year old, unpeated (2009 release)”

  1. butephoto says:

    There’s something about Caol Ila without the peat that I just don’t get. At all. Many do, but not me, sadly.

  2. Interested to try it but sans-peat seems a bit alien…

  3. G Llaguno says:

    For me Caol Ila without the peat smoke is like Macallan without the sherry. I mean, I have no doubt that this is a great expression of Caol Illa, but it is a little bit less “interesting” once you first tried the “regular” version.
    It seems attractive to kill the curiosity by trying once in a while this expression, but for my personal taste I prefer the “regular” one.

  4. Brian Bradley (brian47126) says:

    I bought this bottle was was overall disappointed. Without the peat it loses its Islay appeal. The sweetness on the finish really comes out and I feel as if I am drinking a Scottish bourbon.

    I am glad I bought the bottle as it really gives showcases what peat does to this dram.

  5. bgulien says:

    Out of curiosity I would try it, if I had some money to spare, but as I mentioned in the Lagavulin thread, I just bought my favorite CI, the cask strength.
    And have some 25 and 29 yo as well. Peated of course!

  6. Red_Arremer says:

    John, is the “brine and just a hint of seaweed” a note you’d give to the standard 12 yo? If so is that note more or less present here?

  7. JWC says:

    shoot, if i can find it, i may try it. after focusing almost exclusively on bourbons and port last year, i’m now turned off by peat/smoke (i used to focus on scotch when i first started getting into whisky 15 years ago).

  8. JWC says:

    oooops! forgot to ask – it’s a 2009 but you say in your review that it’s coming to the usa. is it already available or do we have to wait?

  9. Bill H. says:

    I’m excited to try this. I’d be excited to try any of the peaty standards un-peated (samples of the Ardbeg Kidalton welcome). I can’t imagine that they’d necessarily be less complex in that form, just differently complex. Often I feel as though I can identify distillery characteristics through the peat, but peatiness is no less distillery-specific and there’s a sense in which distinguishing it from what it peats is declaring as distinct what can’t be understood apart from their influence on one another. So trying something unpeated would offer a genuine opportunity to sort of revers-engineer the dialectic that produces the whiskys with which we’re familiar and maybe to discover notes lost or transformed unrecognizably by peating.

    Has there ever been an unpeated Talisker?

  10. Red_Arremer says:

    Bill H., good observations. Of course the reverse engineering will never yield a pure initial form. Whisky, scotch in particular, is nothing but an accumulation of influences.

    For me, it’s taken a long time to get a of grip on the different characteristics that peat can impart. People talk about smoke, ash, and peat reak, but there all sorts of crazy notes that can come from peat: oranges, various fish, cinnamonish tastes, and many others.

    Anyways, I really look forward to sampling this.

  11. patricks says:

    the “gobs of fruit (lemon drops…)” with the “sea influence” on the finish were what stood out for me.
    I’m actually on my 2nd bottle of this one. and being in the mid $50’s here I think it’s well priced.

  12. Ralph Biscuits says:

    This really sounds interesting. I really want to try it. I wonder if more distilleries that are know for their peated whiskies will try this?

  13. John Hansell says:

    JWC, the whisky is here now.

    Red, I think it’s about the same. I would have to do a side-by-side to confirm.

  14. MrTH says:

    I will definitely look for this. $60 for an 88 whisky looks like excellent value to me! And I’ve been interested lately in finding out what certain whiskies are really like underneath their customary dressing. Had a Sig UCF Macallan from bourbon wood that was very nice. It’s a shame that so many people don’t actually seem to like the taste of whisky without a thick veil of smoke or sherry.

  15. Alex says:

    I hear the unpeated version is quite good and if it has the briny character of the standard 12 yo I’d definitely give it a try but, like everyone else is commenting, Caol Ila without peat smoke is kinda like fish without the chips, or vice versa.

  16. Scott says:

    I am going to find out if I can get this one… I would be interested in trying it.

  17. B.J. Reed says:

    Blasda by any other name? 🙂

  18. MarcP says:

    I’m sure I won’t enjoy it as much as a regular peat-hitting CI, but would really like to try. Not available in SA though. I imagine if I did come across it in a store though, I would have trouble choosing it over something that did a solid PPM content.

  19. Scott says:

    Well I just checked, it was a very small batch I guess with a pretty small release here in Chicagoland.


    Missed the boat on this one.

  20. John, not that I don’t care about unpeated CI, but the “peated Bunnahabhain” you mentioned caught my attention. Details, please? In the USA?

  21. Tim D says:

    Still available in MI, Scott – just drive around the lake and it’s $49!

    I REALLY enjoyed this – and I’m a peat-head, so take that for what it’s worth. Showed me that what I love about Caol Ila is the juice more than the peat. Still love the peat, but this was like a lemon zot explosion – really and powerful. I enjoy it very much. High ABV, and while youngish all around, I don’t mind ’cause I’m pretty partial to youthful CIs.

    I’d go few points higher than you, John – but I’m also a HUGE fan of this distillery’s flavor profile in general. 88’s sure nothing to sneeze at for what is essentially a “novelty” offering…

  22. […] Lagavulin 12 (2009 Special Release), and he’s looking for alternate opinions of the unpeated Caol Ila 10 (2009 Special […]

  23. John Hansell says:

    Two-bit @20: I think there was a Signatory bottling that Binny’s had. The Distillery bottling version hasn’t made it here to the U.S.

    BJ @17: ah, but Blasda wasn’t cask-stength.

  24. Can’t wait to try it. Caol Ila is probably my favorite Islay, so any expression I can try of it is a treat for me.

    G Llaguno@3, I have had some great independent bottlings of Macallan that were not Sherry finished.

  25. Scott says:

    @ John:

    Do you remember when this was released? (peated Bunnahabhain)

    @ Tim D. :

    I wish it was that easy!!!

  26. John Hansell says:

    Scott, a couples years ago, perhaps? Do you have a record of it @ Binnys? Maybe I was wrong in thinking it was at Binnys?

  27. TheMandarin says:

    I see this as an opportunity to get a more nuanced look at the distillery character of Caol Ila.
    Think about the Maltadvocate article that described George Dodd’s traveling “Nosing Kit”, where whisky drinkers are trained to identify subtle cues from spices, fruits, sweets, herbs, etc., and how this of course “expands” their gustatory and olfactory vocabulary. You become more literate. You can identify, reflect on and talk about new, surprisingly subtle…even secret aspects that you never noticed.
    Caol Ila is my favorite distillery, one reason being the particular way that they work peat into their distillery character…dry, lemon, ash, game, campfire, cinnamon. While this unpeated version may not hit the same spot for me, I’m excited to try it and I’m hoping it can deepen my understanding of the distillery character. I’m expecting a nice dry maltiness…maybe like a cask-strength version Speyburn 10 but less drying?

  28. Scott says:

    @ John:

    I found it listed however I cannot(!!) vouch for availability. Drop me an email if anyone is interested and I can check with my “higher up.”

  29. Tim D says:

    @ Scott 27

    I picked up the peated Bunny at Binny’s last summer. It’s a Signatory and exclusive to Binny’s. Seemed fairly limited, but worth checking the various stores in Chicago for one on the shelf. It’s… interesting.

  30. Gal says:


    just got to taste this little pearl this week. what a good surprise. i am quite into Peat, but this one is very interesting and unique, if u like lemon pie, that is 🙂
    here is my post:

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