Caol Ila Moch

Caol Ila is a funny animal. It is one of the few distilleries – at least one of the few heavily-peated malts – that I can think of that is almost equally valued by blenders and single malt aficionados. The older and special edition bottlings of Caol Ila accrue much attention, while nearly every popular peated blend contains at least some Caol Ila. Most Caol Ila bottled as a single malt lies on the milder end of the peat spectrum (as opposed to heavy-hitters like Ardbeg and Laphroaig), but it’s definitely a fully peated single malt, and uses the same malted barley (from the maltings at Port Ellen) as the 35ppm peated malt used by Lagavulin.

Caol Ila is shipped via tanker to the Scottish mainland, filled into ex-bourbon barrels, and aged in a Diageo warehouse. This could (might, maybe, possibly) account for its less-briny presentation than island neighbor Laphroaig. 95% of Caol Ila’s production goes into blends.

Moch, meaning “Dawn”, is an attempt by Caol Ila to justify the industry-wide practice of NAS (no age statement) bottling by marketing it as the “first” single malt from the distillery where barrel selection was done by taste instead of by age or other factors. Putting aside the fact that you’d think taste would be of primary importance to barrel selection for every product, it just so happens that going by taste alone leads Caol Ila’s blenders to choose substantially cheaper 8 year-old barrels instead of 12 year-old barrels. Convenient, that. Part of my levity is facetious: most NAS is comprised of younger malt, and some of it benefits from that fact. Still, I’d expect Moch to be substantially cheaper on the shelf than the more-expensive-to-produce Caol Ila 12 year, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Both retail around $50-$60 depending on where you’re getting your deals, although the 12 year seems to sport a $5-$10 premium. I’d gladly lay down 10 ducats for an extra 50% time in the barrel, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Turns out Moch is only available in European markets, so thanks to a generous reader for providing me with a sample!

Nose: Meaty Caol Ila peat wafts from the bottle as soon as it’s opened. Potent, ocean-flecked, smoky peat dominates. An undercurrent of vanilla and light honey balances the peat perfectly.

Palate: Thin body. Sweet, at first, but the sweetness recedes and peat – now a little ashy – pervades. Bitter barrel char, earthy almost-fungal peat, a hint of tobacco leaf, and campfire smoke are the main flavors.

Finish: Long. Many of the flavors drop away, leaving wood smoke and a tingle of menthol and a dollop of black licorice.

With Water: A few drops of water initially mute the aroma. Give it some time in the glass. Even after it comes back, though, the water doesn’t seem to add anything. I wouldn’t suggest water with this dram.

Overall: I mean, it’s definitely Caol Ila. The youth comes through in some slightly-too-ashy and slightly-too-vegetal notes here and there, but I’ve always thought that peated drams benefit from a little youth. Still, I drink this and can’t help but miss some of the more polished elements of the older 12 year. If this were substantially cheaper than the 12 year I could call it a good value… but it seems the prices are similar.

I’m calling this a Try Before Buy because if you have a choice between the 12-year and this, for similar prices, I’d always go for the 12 year. If you find a good deal, though, there is definitely peaty goodness in this bottle. It’s also a good candidate for an “introduction to peat”, if you will, as it’s somewhat lighter than other peated bottlings. Also, truth be told, sometimes I’m in the mood for a gentler level of peat. You don’t always want to be beat over the head with the peat-stick.

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About The Distillery

Pronounced “cull-eela”, this blender’s darling (and the largest-capacity distillery on tiny Islay) only became available as an official distillery-bottled single malt in a regular lineup in 2002, although it was founded in 1846. Caol Ila was actually demolished and rebuilt by owner DCL (now known as Diageo) in 1974. Its success as a blending component and its less “in-your-face” style has won it a reputation as a “milder” peated Islay malt, although the ppm phenols of its malted barley is the same as that used by Lagavulin (both come from the maltings at Port Ellen). Something about Caol Ila’s stills (or its distillation processes) tamps down the peaty character and renders it less smokey. The distillery, which is on the eastern coast of Islay, gets its water from a loch in the hills called Loch Nam Ban. Unlike the water that flows into the southern Islay distilleries over hard quartzite hills, Loch Nam Ban’s source rises out of limestone and glacial deposits, which give the water a vibrant minerality that sets Caol Ila’s whisky apart from its southern contemporaries.
Caol Ila Moch
43% ABV
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Price Range: $50-$60
Acquired: Sample from a reader's bottle. Thanks!

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