Boutique-y Caol Ila Batch 1
This is a review of the rather lovely That Boutique-y Whisky Company's Caol Ila Batch 1 bottling. It is a no age statement bottling following the company's project of finding "minuscule parcels of forgotten stock/lost casks" of whisky that we get to enjoy. Which, noble effort aside, brings me to my complaint. I have been pretty positive in the things I've talked about on this site and, frankly, I'm going to be pretty positive about this wee dram, but its the histrionics about the tasting bits that I'm going to go on a bit for.
Now, I'm a huge fan of the guys and girls at Master of Malt and in no way am I complaining about them. But there is the odd standard of remarkably personal tasting notes, which is not just a MoM issue. If I'm honest the thought of "harbour ropes, seaweed and a hint of linseed" feels like a memory of the Islay Festival and a wonderful image of drinking whisky on the isle where the finest of the single malts are conjured. But, I've never been there, I have no idea what Islay is like. I guessing there is lots of ropes and linseed about. The description is undoubtedly wonderful, but the closest I have to this is walking along the harbour wall in Dartmouth, arm in arm with nothing more than what is now a memory. The issue I have isn't with the attachment to a moment, but the fact the first time we taste something new, something exciting, something you are willing to spend £55 on for a 50cl bottle, we, if we've read the notes, on a certain level, are thinking of someone else's experience of that that first sip. To be fair, the image of an imagined Islay is quiet impressive when you're tasting something as lovely as the Batch 1. But that still doesn't get past the fact that tasting notes themselves, in my mind, nose and mouth, tend to compromise the whole experience a tad.
But how do you sell a whisky without telling the potential buyer what he or she is buying? Disappointingly, its by creating a moment for the buyer to imagine. So with this paradox, we sit before a bottle of our aforementioned whisky. It is pale like any good Islay should be, it almost feels as if the bottle should be lighter than it is. Pouring it out, you are hit by the classic Islay scents, peat sea salt and that wonderful smokiness that sits in the rim of the glass. For the person at Master of Malt who got carried away with his tasting notes, we land in a harbour, old ropes and brine. I guess, despite my reservations, I should submit and say what it reminds me of Dartmouth and completely differently, standing at the top of a 100 foot drop on the island of Mykines in the Faroes, feeling like I was standing on the edge of the world. If your going to sell out against everything you've just written, write about a place where only a dozen people live and you only got there by blagging a lift on a helicopter delivering oil. Beat that Master of Malt guy! I'm selling out my argument but raising you a Faore for your Islay. Back to the whisky. Rolling the Caol Ila around in the glass, the smoke rises in wisps, drawing you in. When you do get around to tasting the whisky, you have the iodiney touch of an Islay followed the peat and pepper. Noticeably the Boutique-y Caol Ila is remarkably soft, yet beautifully balanced. How old is this whisky? It has the lightness of age on the tongue, it is rather beautiful. The finish is bold and dry, the oak settling on the palate with the smoke blowing off at the end. It is a glorious dram, shamefully under priced at £55, yet pleasingly sold out. Enjoying if you have it and while my bottle is nearly gone, I know where one is considerably fuller.
So what is the point of all this, delighting on a bottle of Coal Ila you cannot buy anymore with a description I railed against, then fell into bed with? Well, simply, ignore the ramblings of the reviewer, look to the basics, the nose, the taste and the finish in it's individual forms. That the drink invokes memories of a specific time and place for the guy or gal writing whatever it is you are reading, well, I guess, that is a good thing for that person. It also holds that the whisky has had an effect outside of it just being a whisky. Its moved someone, which is as good a review as you can get. My point in all of this is not to think of the harbour tar or briny sea or wind blowing across the locke and ruffling the hair of a ginger native against the glowing of a setting of the sun. That is all personal and to the reader, bollocks. But it implies a moment and moments are worth chasing. My hope is that when describing a whisky, we imply that moment, we don't delve into a specific, we let the drinker find that experience the first time they pull the cork and smell the final dash of the angle's share as it races to heaven. What I mean is this, for an example, whenever I smell a drop of George T. Stagg, I don't think of the rolling hills and hollars of Kentucky, I think of an amazing bar in one of the alleys of Chijmes in Singapore where I first tried it. The notes would be the same when I describe how it tastes, but describing humidity, incense and spice in the air is contrary to the drink, which is incredible to say the least. Implication is the key, a journey is the pitch. That's the tools of any half decent salesman. Needless to say, from my first experience of That Boutique-y Whisky Company, I will certainly be exploring their portfolio ever more closely.
One final plug, head over to Master of Malt for your next booze order. The selection is mightily impressive and the customer service impeccable. I cannot rate them highly enough. As for Maverick Drinks, who carry Boutique-y, I envy their portfolio and am working my way through it as best I can. High prise indeed, even though Geoff never replies to my emails....