Caol Ila 10 Year (2010) SMWS 53.381 “A Trip to the Seaside”

Refill Hogshead Introductory Society Tasting Kit

The first review from my recent Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership and also the first I will be cross-posting to the newly minted Malt Runners website!

What does this mean for my reviews here? I will still be posting everything here as my personal archive. I started this website mostly for myself to have a database of my thoughts that could be searchable and recall precisely what I’ve tasted over the years. This is a fun hobby but after ~135 reviews now, I need that reminder on occasion.

What will change? My scoring system. I am going to start assigning a number grade to my reviews. This will take some effort and time to naturally develop. I may go back and score some previous spirits but going forward I will have a new point scale that I’ll point to here.

Onto the review of this Caol Ila!

Tasting Notes

Tasted neat in a Glencairn with 15+ minutes of rest. Dilution was added for the second half of the tasting with additional rest of upwards of an hour.

Bright, sweet, and fruity nose with alcohols that remind me of a light-bodied Moscato. Orange blossom honey paired with a bitter apéritif like Aperol. After you get past the honeyed aromas, you find the peat bringing a savory element to the glass. Avocado oil, nori, California roll vibes. Lactic qualities with movie butter popcorn and tangy Oaxacan queso. The funky brine and elote notes really set themselves apart from other Caol Ila’s I’ve had. Dried sardines, almonds, and dehydrated black limes. The peat reminds me of glowing red charcoal in a bbq chimney, ready for the grill.

Dark fall honey sweetness coats your palate with your first sip and the peat fills your nose with a smoked honeycomb flavor. Woody cinnamon and vanilla, along with the lactic notes, have me recalling Tres Leches cake. Additional air is recommended with this dram as water began to push the spirit in a poor direction. Weak, lukewarm, coffee in a plastic red solo cup. Musty oak and wilted bitter salad greens. Framing lumber, flat contractor pencil graphite, aluminum speed square. While this is a well-seasoned and brine-forward dram, there’s a roasted, unsalted legume quality to it.

Sweet and woody finish. Honey hard candies with a drying kindling medicinal smoke. A starchy, flavorless, tapioca quality with a chewable calcium tablet chalkiness. Gravel and slate minerality. Water brings those unpleasant chemical notes that I can only describe as a sun-bleached plastic tablecloth. Imagine a crab or seafood boil strewn across a wooden picnic table. Charcoal grill and lighter fluid. With additional air time, some familiar citrus notes pop up with some orange oleo flavors and lemon pith.


This is a safe and comfortable Caol Ila expression and one that really doesn’t represent the distillery favorably. The refill oak has been used past its prime and you are left with but faint recollections of the sweet, brown sugars of the bourbon cask.

The refill oak cask lacks the sweetness needed to balance the dry lumber quality this spirit has. Some additional age could have helped or possibly even a light re-charred and toasted finish to extract those sugars from the wood.

I suspect this cask was specifically selected for this tasting pack as more of an intro into Islay peat. It’s noticeably less peaty to me but I may be a bit of a peat head at this point. The neutrality of the smoke furthers my belief in an introductory Islay to a new SMWS member. And you know what? That’s ok.

For everyone else who is fully aware of Caol Ila’s potential, the SMWS tasting pack is not going to entice you further into their catalog. A casual drinker that is a bit more interesting than the standard 12 Year bottle.