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Gordon and MacPhail Caol Ila Distillery 2003 (Connoisseurs Choice)

Review: Gordon and MacPhail Caol Ila Distillery 2003 (Connoisseurs Choice)
Single Malt Scotch Whisky    85.5/100
Posted on August 15, 2018

The Connoisseurs Choice is a series of malt whiskies from various Scottish distilleries many of which are no longer producing whisky. Boasting over 40 different single malts available from the Scottish regions The sheer variety of styles and flavours of whisky available from Gordon and Macphail’s Connoisseurs range is staggering.

Caol Ila Distillery is an Islay Scotch whisky distillery near Port Askaig on the isle of Islay, Scotland. Built in 1846, the distillery is famous for its classic Islay style. Their whisky is made with a large percentage of peated malt and because of this the resulting spirit is full of aromatic phenols.

Gordon and MacPhail Caol Ila Distillery 2003 (Connoisseurs Choice) is a Single Malt Whisky which was distilled in 2003 and bottled in 2016. The Spirit was bottled at 46 % abv.

Note: I was invited to a private Scotch Whisky Tasting where I sampled several expressions in the Gordon and Macphail Connoisseur’s Choice line-up including Inchgower 2005, Tomatin 2002, and Caol Isla 2003. As a guest at the tasting, I was given small 50 ml samples of some of the spirit to take home. At the tasting, I took brief tasting notes for some of the spirits and compiled this review based upon those tasting notes as well as from tasting sessions with my small sample of Caol Isla 2003.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

The Connoisseurs Choice range arrives in a beige cardboard box with corner cutouts on the front and back. If the bottle is placed in the box properly, then the one view displays the front label and the other view displays the opposite side of the bottle where the back label tells you many things you might want to know about the bottle you are purchasing. For example, the back label tells me that this particular bottle was distilled in 2003, and bottled in 2016 (12 or 13 years of age). It also provides very a brief summary of whisky notes which hints at what I can expect to encounter in the bottle, (although in many cases the tasting notes provided by the seller sometimes seem to be a work of poetic license on their part).

In the Glass 9/10

Colour: Dirty Straw colour almost to the hue of gold. I couldn’t find any information on the casks used, the pale colour makes me suspect 2nd fill oak.

Legs: Medium-small droplets which develop into  slender legs which fall slowly. This is about what I would expect if my guess with respect to the cask type is correct.

Initial Aroma: Somewhat oily/smokey peat at the forefront but Malt Whisky aromas push through as well with tobacco followed by hints of butterscotch and almond.

Decanted Aroma: The Whisky overtakes the peat which I find delightful. Too many times Peat is the central theme of an Islay whisky. I always say that peat should support the whisky, rather than it being the other way around. Heather and mint can be found, poplar and willow thicket, malt barley and light butterscotch.

I like that  whisky smells and the peat have merged. The Single Malt appears to be very well-balanced.

In The Mouth 51.5/60

Alcohol push and Spice: Somewhat rough as there is quite a bite of alcohol spice. This is 46 % abv so we expect some heat, but perhaps just a touch too much here.

Initial Taste: Herbal flavours of oily peat mixed with mint and willow bark. A light Malt sweetness pushes through as does some firm oak spice.

Follow up: Just like when I nosed the spirit, the whisky begins to overtake the peat, although the oily peat is more resistant this time. The alcohol heat is interfering with my ability to tease out flavours so I am going to add ice.

With Ice: Much nicer with ice as the malt barley gains expression as do flavours of vanilla and almond. Was not expecting the malt sweetness to push though but it does.

Mixed: I mixed a modified old-fashioned with Triple Sec used as the sweetener and a combination of Fees Whiskey Barrel Aged and Fees Aztec Chocolate Chocolate Bitters.  It was tasty and I thought the combination worked particularly well against the backdrop of the oily peat.

In The Throat: 12/15

Body and Length: Medium bodied with a rough heated finish.

Flavours during Swallow: Herbal Peat and wood spice

Lingering Flavours: Light Butterscotch, willow bark, heather and menthol

The finish was rough and heated which caused problems for me. I found ice was needed to control the exit.

The Afterburn  8.5/10

Final Thoughts: The promise on the nose was not realized until ice was added. The high alcohol interfere with the delivery and the finish. This is an indication that the alcohol strength should have been paired back somewhat. On the positive side, I was happy that the herbal peat did not dominate the dram. There was good balance between the peat and the Malt Whisky.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe:

Old Fashioned Cocktail with Chocolate Bitters

1 1/2 oz Glenlivet 12 Year Old
1/3 oz  Bols Triple Sec
1 dashes Fees Aztec Chocolate Bitters
2 large Ice Cubes
Twist of Orange Peel

Add the first four ingredients to a rocks glass over the ice cubes
Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the orange zest into the drink)
Drop the peel into the cocktail if desired.

Please Enjoy Responsibly!

If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


As always you may (loosely) interpret the scores I provide as follows:

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)



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