Caol Ila

Caol Ila distillery

Caol Ila is located on the northeast shore of Islay, just a short distance from Port Askaig. Prior to the distillery, the site had been used previously for smelting lead from ore that was mined a short distance away. The distillery was built in 1846 by Hector Henderson. It was struggling to cope with demand in the late 1960s and was closed in 1972 for an expansion programme. It closed with two stills and opened in 1974 with six. Caol Ila was for many years used only as a component for vatted and blended whiskies, most commonly Johnnie Walker. It was only in 1989 that it became available for sale in its native form. It is now available in a young edition with 7 year old whisky as its base, a 12 year old and various finishes and limited editions. Each May a special release is made of between 1000 and 3500 bottles to coincide with Feis Ile Islay celebrations. Current production is 5,000,000 litres per year on a five days a week working pattern and it consumes 200 tons of barley per week. Of this, 85% goes into blended whisky and 15% into single malts. Its capacity is 6,500,000 litres per year.

The distillery currently mashes 12½ tons of mash 3-4 times a day. Two washes at 65°C and 85°C create 58,000 litres of wort, which is fermented in one of ten wash backs. The distillery has six stills. The current offerings are a 12-year old aged in all refill casks, Moch which is an 8-10 year old spirit, Distiller's edition which is 12 years in refill and 3-6 months in Muscatel, the 3000 limited edition which is first-fill bourbon, refill bourbon and then finished in red wine casks. There's also an unpeated 15 year old at 61.5% in refill bourbon and then European oak.

Blending and Maturation £40 and Whisky and Music Pairing £25

I attended the Blending and Maturation session and the Whisky and Music pairing at Caol Ila. The Blending and Maturation session was hosted by Donald (who distanced himself from others called Donald) and Craig. The first tasting sample was new make spirit from the day’s distillation. This was 71% alcohol and had a smoky aroma and some chemical taste, but not unpleasant. Various whiskies were available for tasting:

Cask 320239, filled in 2012 at 63% but now 60.7%. Seven years in refill American oak hogs head.

Cask 19321, filled in 1996, 55.3%. Twenty three years in first fill European oak Sherry butt.

Unknown cask, filled in 1988. First fill European oak.

Feis Ile 2019 22yo aged for 6-24 months in active casks then the remainder in inactive casks.

The Whisky and Music pairing gave the impression that it could have been a tame session with Scottish folk songs and ballads appropriate for the harp and fiddle. However this was far from the truth, which turned out to be a somewhat riotous affair that was less about pairing anything and more about drinking. The session was introduced and hosted by Colin Dunn, Diageo's Whisky Ambassador Western Europe. The music was provided by The Rhythm And Booze Project and it was great fun. The whisky flowed freely and the place absolutely rocked. Definitely something to do again.


Caol Ila Feis 2019