Caol Ila Distillery is the largest producer of whisky on Islay, capable of distilling around 6.5 million litres of whisky every year, 85% of which will go into blends such as Johnnie Walker. Caol Ila is purpose-built for blending; the distillery has seen several refurbishments since its establishment in 1846, all with the purpose of increasing production.
Most of the original, ailing buildings were torn down and rebuilt in 1972-74 to allow for greater efficiency in the layout, and further upgrades in 2011 resulted in modernisation of the mash tun and control equipment, and two additional washbacks (bringing the total to ten).
Caol Ila Distillery didn't release a Caol Ila single-malt until 2002, with the introduction of the Caol Ila 12-year-old (1), Before 2002, single-malt Caol Ila was the domain of independent bottlers.
Located on the Sound of Islay ("Caol Ila" is Gaelic for "Sound of Islay"), Caol Ila Distillery is a short drive or leisurely walk from Port Askaig, and the magnificent view of the Jura Paps from the still house is hard to beat.
How to Pronounce Caol Ila
Caol Ila Whisky
Caol Ila is the largest producer of whisky on Islay, capable of pumping out a massive 6.0 - 7.0 million litres per annum. The vast majority of the whisky produced at Caol Ila distillery is lightly peated, kilned at around 38ppm, compared to Ardbeg and Laphroaig kilned at 55ppm. Caol Ila ship all their whisky to the mainland for maturation and 85% of Caol Ila is used for blends like Johnnie Walker.
Ralfy notes of the Caol Ila 12 year-old, in Whisky Review 649 (below), the nose is "fresh herbal herbage, twiggy, peat smokey with fire (twig fire, leaf fire, with a bit of moss) ... not as smokey as Lagavulin and certainly not as minerally TCP/antiseptic as Laphroaig.Tequila, jalapeno pepper, English mustard, fresh ginger, definitely pepper - spicy white pepper. Green notes ... celery with a touch of grapefruit".
Of the initial taste he says the Caol Ila 12 year-old "builds up gradually, quite intense, citrus and sour arrival of twiggy peatiness - like a moor fire. [There's] a maritime note - a touch of saline solution." A few moments later there's a "rich sultana note, peatiness comes on and doesn't change much, little citrus notes and hot spicey notes - initially, a bit harsh - but softens up once its got a little bit of air in the bottle ... a growing tea note: black gunpowder Chinese tea, lapsang souchong and redbush tea, coming from the sultana rather than the peaty-ness". The finish is peat-infused vanilla, grapefruit oil, and lime leaf.
Where is Caol Ila Distillery?
Caol Ila Distillery is on the east coast of Islay, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Port Askaig Ferry Terminal, not far from Ardnahoe Distillery (2.9 mi) and Bunnahabhain Distillery (4.3 mi), overlooking the Isle of Jura.
Caol Ila Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings
For bookings Tel: 01496 302769 or email: [email protected] Bookings are highly advisable to avoid disappointment and tastings must be booked at least an hour in advance.
All Tour and Tasting Options include a £5 discount voucher off the purchase of a 70cl single malt whisky.
Caol Ila Distillery Tour: £6, duration approximately 1 hour. Journey through the Caol Ila production process whilst enjoying panoramic views of the Paps of Jura from the still house.
Chocolate and Whisky Tasting: £23, approximately 1 hour duration. Enjoy a selection of Caol Ila whiskies served with a selection of luxurious chocolates crafted by the award-winning Highland Chocolatier.
Cask Strength Experience: £26, approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes duration. After brief distillery tour, head off to the old Caol Ila cooperage to taste a selection of the finest Caol Ila whiskies, including one or two cask strength expressions. This would be my pick of tour & tasting as you can sample Caol Ila whisky before it has been chill-filtered and caramelised.
As with all Diageo distilleries, photos are not allowed in production areas, which is most of the distillery. No, it’s not because they think you’ll try and steal their ideas or equipment design! Ethanol is highly flammable, and electronic equipment poses a potential source of ignition. As such, they’ve implemented a policy on all their sites – no electronic devices to be in use in production areas, or where ethanol is likely to be in higher concentrations (like warehouses).
There will be a different tour and tasting programme during the Feis Ile (Islay Whisky and Music Festival). For more information see https://www.islayfestival.com/
As Caol Ila is a working distillery, it is possible they may have to cancel tours at short notice due to maintenance needs. Always contact the distillery before you visit to avoid disappointment. There is a scheduled maintenance period from around the end of September into October every year. During that time, Caol Ila cannot offer tours around the distillery, but tastings are still available.
For health & safety reasons, children under eight years old are not permitted in the production areas of the distillery.
For more information on tours and bookings see https://www.malts.com/en-row/distilleries/caol-ila/
Caol Ila Distillery Images
What Else Is Nearby
References & Further Reading
- Alfred Barnard, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 2008 Edition, first published in 1887 by Harpers Weekly Gazette
- Ian Buxton, Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries, 2018 Edition
- Neil Wilson, The Island Whisky Trail : An Illustrated Guide to the Hebridean Whisky Distilleries, 2003 Edition