As some of you are aware, I am a great Islay whiskey lover. The peat and malt taste that brings about a smoke to the pallet, where you can almost literally still taste the burning embers… Just over-whelms me when accompanied with a good stogie, like a Bolivar, and some good sumo! With the onset of the Sumo & Stogies gathering that takes place in the hinterlands of Japan, what better way to pre-test myself – to ensure that I am ready and prepared – than to have a tot. I browsed the shelves of the local offy, when I came across this whisky: Hidden in the back of the shelf, draped in shadow and gathering dust… to the untrained eye, all but forgotten. Coal Isla the label read. No, I was wrong, the jet black box perverted me – Caol Ila, 12 year Islay Single malt. It boasts that it is a “hidden gem” of the Islay malts, found in a dark cove… How true such words are spoken. And how apt this description is, when soon to be embedded within a more remote and desolate inaka region of Japan.
I open the bottle, and am completely shocked. I barely smell anything, other than a slight and sweet burn to the nose, as if the true flavours remain hidden in “the cove”, in the shadows – enticing me to enter. Dare I? With two rocks for protection, I fill the glass. Again I am slightly astonished, the colour of the whisky is light, more akin to Lowland – but surely this cannot be? Am I but a fool in my purchase? I take a hard fill…
The first thing that hits is the peaty taste, easily recognised by Islay connoisseurs, but with a difference, it’s a full body flavour that coats the entire mouth like a warm blanket on a cold, dark, winters night – but it is not a strong taste. The whisky hits the back of the throat… entering the shadows, its more familiar ground of whence it came… Then it hits – like a bomb exploding, and I ask myself a somewhat peculiar question (and this is where the whisky gets interesting, and differs from others) – a question that is rarely spoken from a Nordic mouth such as mine, but perhaps well engrained within the rituals of de Gama of Spain… Have I just drunk raw AssKicking hot sauce? Jalepeños even, forsooth! For the kick is like no other I have tried – it doesn’t kick you in the jaw, then leave. Rather, it burns as it goes down deeper into the depths of the darkness – in shadows is where this drink finds its strength! And all the while, in the hue you can taste the peats, the malts and the bullion to be had, hidden within the cove.
Should you ever browse the shelves, and in the shadows see a slight (ever so slight) glimmer and twinkle: Pray look again my brethren, for if it is only by looking twice that you will be lured into the cove. Yet a question that only one’s inner strength can answer… Dare you enter?