“Number rules the universe.” – Pythagoras
Pythagoras’ quote seems to ring true in the alcoholic beverage world. Aside from pricing, which matters to almost everyone, consumers look out for different numbers across the various categories of booze. The casual drinker – who may be afraid of strong flavors or doesn’t truly understand how alcohol works – will look for low ABV drinks as they’re “smooth.” Vintages are almost always a concern among wine enthusiasts. I’m not a huge beer geek, I (and others) prefer stouts with at least 10% ABV. Most brown spirits drinkers care about the number of times distilled, age statement, and ABV.
I’ve reached a point in my exploration of spirits where age statements really don’t matter to me anymore. Spirits such as Mezcal (which are mostly unaged) and unaged rum have taught me that aging in barrels is not all that matters. Much like the age of a person doesn’t guarantee his or her maturity, the amount of time a spirit spent in a cask doesn’t guarantee its quality.
Despite me breaking away from the usual numbers typically sought after by consumers, I realize that our lives are still ruled by numbers. The geekier spirits enthusiasts can surely relate to this. These days, I usually look for specs such as length of fermentation, resulting ABV of the wash, at what proof the distillate leaves the still, and barrel entry proof. However, I usually only look for those details in contemporary bottlings, mainly because information is easier to get a hold of now. It’s harder to find more technical information on spirits distilled decades ago. More and more producers are slowly understanding that a small part of the market asks for technical details.
Sometimes, though, independently bottled spirits that share their vintage still make me feel compelled to buy them. This is especially if they’re being sold at a good price, and they’re from my birth year, or are from the 80s and earlier. Spirits like these give me the impression that I’m drinking time.
For example, this Caol Ila sometimes makes me wonder what global events happened in 1983. Aside from having a 31-year age statement, this whisky has also been in existence for 38 years. The 80s, being a decade when a lot of Scotch whisky distilleries ended up closing, leaves me to wonder how different the production process was from then to now. What was it like working in an industry where your competition and neighboring distilleries were closing in large numbers?
Because I also like comparing contemporary spirits to ones made decades ago, I also wonder: What variety of barley were they using? What kind of yeast were they using? How long was the fermentation? How fast was the distillation? What was the barrel entry proof?
This is a bottle I found and bought at a random store outside the proper city limits of Osaka back around 2016 or 2017. It was a pleasant surprise, as it only cost me around USD $220; I’m sure this would cost at least twice the amount these days. If you’re wondering why this was so cheap, either the store wasn’t up to date with prices, or they just didn’t care to give it a price hike. Either way, finding good and unexpected whisky is a perk for those taking the roads less traveled. I only opened this last month because I felt it was the right time to do so.
Signatory Cask Strength Collection 1983 Caol Ila 31 Years Old – Review
49.6% ABV. Distilled 08/11/1983. Bottled on 09/02/2015. Matured in a Hogshead. Cask #5298.
On the nose: Initial medium aromas of pepperiness, a stretched-out BBQ smoke, and a quick singe of grilled nori. The BBQ smoke has light bursts of strawberries, BBQ sauce. and burnt herbs. After that is a quick display of a mixed bag of nuts. I get crushed almonds, hazelnut, toffee, and peanuts. The pepperiness, BBQ and nori make another appearance. This time, they’re followed by a medium and lasting mix of pickled seaweed, lemon shrub, grilled lemons, and grilled peppercorns. At the end is a slightly more pronounced aroma of burnt peppers.
In the mouth: An oily but thin texture to welcome me. It’s full of light flavors and toned down peated Islay tastes like burnt nori, peppers, grilled lemons and BBQ. I get a certain BBQ sweetness which is followed by light and quick appearances of strawberries, honey and tomato paste. The mixed nuttiness comes and goes. Like on the nose, it makes me think of crushed peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and toffee. Then tastes of burnt peppers, peppercorn and grilled lemons come out at the end.
The price I got this for automatically gives this a score of + 1. How often do you find single malt Scotch that old yet affordable? I understand that would be a normal price had I bought it about a decade ago. But I already bought this well into the single malt craze; I also bought the bottle in Japan, which is usually up to date when it comes to alcohol trends.
I like the variety of different flavors I get, as well as how they all last in different durations. It’s like with age, the different flavors have learned how to take turns in presenting themselves. However, I was expecting a more complex array of flavors. Maybe more shades of nuts and uncommon flavors of fruitiness due to how old this peated whisky has gotten. Although, it might be unfair of me to compare this to another well-aged Caol Ila I’ve had. It was a 28 year old bottled by Douglas Laing under the XOP range. The sauteed crab note is still one of the most memorable tasting notes in my life. I’ve also had older Laphroaigs, which are notably a lot more nutty.
All-in-all, I find this to be a good experience. Although, I’m pretty sure this review will disappoint the peatheads who haven’t had any old peated Islay whisky yet, since the peat and smoke in this isn’t as fiery as its younger counterparts. This would be a good bottle to share for educational purposes amongst those eager to learn more.