[Review] Caol Ila - 16 years old Féis Ile 2020 53.9%

Ever hear of Féis Ile? It is a bit like Mecca for peat-heads. It is a whisky festival which takes place every year in May on Islay. Each day of the week sees a distillery opening its doors to thousands of peat enthusiasts, with music, food and of course a lot of whisky.

It is also the opportunity for distilleries to release festival-exclusive bottles which tend to disappear off the shelves at the speed of light. However, how many of these bottles get opened? I'd say certainly not the majority. These bottles are generally 'limited' to 'very limited' releases which are only available from the distillery during the festival so it attracts many investors and flippers (people who buy to sell straight away) who buy these with only one hope: a good return on investment, short or long term.

I went to Islay a few years ago and loved the peace and quiet of it. I would be interested in being there during Féis Ile, but it is bound to be a completely different experience, and I am not sure that would necessarily be for the better... So if I want a festival bottle, my only option is auctions, where prices tend to be ridiculous. This year however, due to obvious pandemic reasons, Féis Ile went online and so did the bottle releases. I still think the prices for most of these bottles are way above what they should be but why would flippers be the only ones to cash in on the whisky when distilleries have actually put the work in?!

Anyway, this year gave me the opportunity to finally access the festival release from my favourite distillery: Caol Ila. The 22 year-old from last year was so tempting but this year it is a 16 years old finished in Amoroso-treated hogsheads (probably the same used by Diageo to finish their Talisker Distiller's Edition) I have not found much about sherry-treated casks and how they differ from sherry-seasoned casks but I guess both are along the same lines: casks filled with sherry for 1 to 3 years, destined for the whisky industry. The sherry used is then either discarded or used for vinegar.

So let's move on to the whisky itself: 16 years old, bottled at the cask strength of 53.9%, unchillfiltered and natural colour.

Nose: Fresh and fruity with some citrus notes first. Not quite as sweet as I was anticipating. Sea salt, seaweed with some liquorice. There is some peat-smoke but it is not in-your-face. There are also some herby notes (parsley, coriander), hints of caramel/vanilla fudge and Serrano ham. What a start!

Palate: Salty and citric at first before Caol Ila peat becomes more prominent. Ash, pepper, a little more liquorice, hints of ginger, dill and some spicy notes too. Quite creamy still. After a bit of time in the mouth it gets sweeter and fruitier with dried fruit and toffee.

Finish: Even more Caol Ila DNA here, salty earthy peat with spicy citrus, vanilla sweetness, woody and ashy.

With water: Sweeter nose with more dried and fresh fruit, grapefruit and peaches. More citrus on the palate and less spice. It evolves with more malty sweetness after a while. The Caol Ila ashy smoke is pushed back into the finish with some sweet smoked ham notes.

I had read mixed reviews about this one before deciding to open my bottle. At £120 it was not a cheap single malt, but for me it is definitely an experience worth the price. It is not a fully traditional Caol Ila but I guess that's what you want from a limited festival release. One to take your time with and enjoy both with and without water!

Bravo Pierrick for this fruity, salty, ashy little number!

Slàinte all!


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