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20 Year Scotch Sensations - Caol Ila & Bowmore - 11/29/2017 - Single Malt Scotch

With the gift giving season just around the corner, we’re rolling out a pair of 20 Year Islay bottlings that are sure to impress the Scotch lover in your life. Bowmore and Caol Ila are two of the more recognizable names in the world of Scotch, each known for their own distinctive style and approach. These single barrel bottlings were hand-selected by our spirits team and are priced at a fraction of what you’ll find elsewhere. But the remarkable price is only part of the story here, as this pair count among the best we’ve had from these illustrious distillers. The Bowmore leaves you awestruck with its potency, richness, and depth. The Caol Ila for its part offers a magical infusion of smoke, maritime notes, sweet vanilla, and orchard fruit. Both deliver impeccable balance and charm from the very first sip to the last. Perfect for gift giving (or as a special treat to yourself), these limited production bottlings are welcome additions to any collection.

Vintage Item Name Score Retail Link
1997 Bowmore 20 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) $149.99 View
1996 Caol Ila 20 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (750ml) $129.99 View


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1997 Bowmore 20 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (750ml) ($149.99)

There are two things that are consistent about Bowmore: the whisky is almost always awe-inspiring and rare editions will most often cost you a pretty penny. The stalwart of Islay is the spiritual home of smoky whisky, known equally for its grace under a peat fire. The Bowmore 25, one of the distillery's most magical expressions, routinely hovers between the $400 -$500 price point on the open market, but for this holiday season we set out to find a more affordable version for our customers who want something special, but not quite that expensive. This cask strength 55.7% 20 year old single barrel edition, while lacking any sherry influence, still manages to offer an incredible amount of sweetness from the refill oak hogshead, coupling with the clean flavors of malted barley and vanilla. The richness overtakes the palate initially, which is rare in an Islay whisky with this much smoke, dominating the flavor profile right off the bat. The peat and campfire notes don't begin until almost halfway through the process, combining sea salt and maritime elements with caramel and ash on the finish. There's plenty of Islay influence here, but it's beautifully balanced by the whisky's inherent maltiness. In a nutshell, it's textbook Bowmore with maturity and power for a fantastic price. It tastes exactly the way the distillery itself smells when you enter it, haunting the senses with equal parts malt and smoke. Our cask is a chance at true single malt royalty for a reasonable entry fee.

Staff ImageJeffrey Jones | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 03, 2017

What I like about the Bowmore offerings is that they are balanced and nuanced. This single cask is no exception. It begins with nice smoke and sea aromas that are not heavy or over-powering. In the mouth this Bowmore is concentrated and complex, with rich and round flavors and hints of smoke coming through. There is a nice long finish. I tasted this with a splash of water.

Staff ImageDavid Driscoll | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 03, 2017

I've tasted old Bowmore whiskies with heavy peat, heavy sherry, heavy smoke, and heavy funk, but I've never tasted one with this much sweet malt and vanilla. That's not to say this edition goes easy on the smoke, however, because there's definitely plenty of phenolic goodness to light the way home on the finish. This 20 year cask is maritime whisky at its finest. It reminds me of walking the streets in Bowmore near the distillery for the first time years ago, grabbing a plate of fresh oysters at the Harbour Inn across the street, then ducking into Duffie's for a quick dram. In a sense, it's a nostalgic whisky. It reminds me of what got me into whisky in the first place, a sense of wonder and complexity at how a golden liquid like this could taste so damn good. If you're in search of that feeling, that sense of excitement that may have been lacking from your single malt consumption as of late, I invite you to find that feeling again in this bottle.

Staff ImageAndrew Whiteley | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 02, 2017

Getting single casks from major distilleries like Bowmore just makes me so happy. It's a unique way to look at the components of a particular distillery and dive into what makes them so special. This 20 year old Bowmore is no exception. The nose is exquisite. It's loaded with sea spray, sweet fruits, and extinguished campfire. I feel like I can reach out and touch the wet malt on the floor just as the dry smoky air starts to fill the room. It's clean and pure, powerful whisky. The barley song is loud and clear. All off the pieces are there to be examined, yet harmoniously balanced into a whole single experience. This whisky perfectly shows why single malt are so compelling. They are a fascinating way to watch the whole movie, frame by frame, as they age.

Staff ImageGary Westby | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 02, 2017

This fantastic refill hogshead of Bowmore has all the complexity that one would expect from a 20 year old Islay, balanced by fresh sea air. This is not a heavy dram, but rather an expansive one, and has the rare peacock's tail finish that I prize in the finest of drinks. It seems to expand after each sip, with the flavor coming on stronger after each sip. I like this best diluted down to about 40%, so I'll get almost a liter of pleasure out of my bottle!

Staff ImageAlex Schroeder | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 02, 2017

Im a huge fan of the Bowmore whiskeys, mostly because they display their Islay characteristics with subtlety and grace. The peat is always a soft undertone to the malty complexity. This single cask from Old Particular is faithful to that mission. Flavors of toasted cereals, orange citrus oil, vanilla and briny smoke are robust and sweet on the palate, with incredible integration. Normally sensitive to higher alcohol levels, at 55.7% abv this was very enjoyable neat for me. If you enjoy these Old Particular single cask offerings, this is definitely a winner.

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1996 Caol Ila 20 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (750ml) ($129.99)

Caol Ila's whisky can be as transitive and unpredictable as the Islay weather itself; sometimes it's light and breezy, while other times powerful and thunderous in its character. At cask strength, the salt, smoke, and peat aromas often leap out of the glass, but when tempered the creaminess and fruitiness of the spirit itself is allowed to shine, fat and unctuous in its texture. With this cask of 20 year old Caol Ila, we have the best of both worlds: a full proof, no-water-added single barrel whisky that has naturally proofed itself down to 46% after two decades in wood. The nose is an absolute dream: sweetly-tinged smoke, burning embers, with faint aromas of peach and apricot in the background. The palate is simply perfect: sweet vanilla intermixed with peat, salt, and ash, but always with a roundness of texture that's a product of the distillery's wide-necked pot stills. It's a perfect Caol Ila specimen, highlighting the strengths of the Islay distillery's personality, each with equal concentration and intensity, all in harmony and balance.

Staff ImageAndrew Stevens | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 22, 2017

If you are a fan of Islay whisky just buy this, seriously this is just absolutely beautiful Islay at a wonderful age. I have said on more than one occasion that Caol Ila may be my favorite Scotch once it has had a chance to age because it just always seems that somewhere right around the 20 year mark this whisky just all comes together and sings. This bottling is no exception and the price is fantastic for what you are getting. Light fruit, honey, ash and smoke on the nose lead to an incredibly balanced palate. Here an immediate strong core of just doused campfire smoke carried the young sweet fruit, honey, and seaside notes effortlessly. The balance is amazing and the finish is surprisingly soft and mild. Just delightful!

Staff ImageJeffrey Jones | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 22, 2017

This cask of Caol Ila was a lucky find because it has so much to offer. There are pleasant smoke aromas that should please any fan of single malts from Islay. My first though when I tasted it was that this cask is really something special. There is such a nice mixture of smoke, sea like flavors and malt , and it is concentrated and intense. I tasted this with no additional water because it was 46% alc/vol. when bottled which probably helps explain the lovely concentrated flavor.

Staff ImageAndrew Whiteley | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 22, 2017

It's my favorite time of year here at K&L. Not only are we hitting our stride in the busy season for wine, but it's finally whisky season. I wait all year to see what David has hidden up his sleeve. As the market for fine malts gets tighter and tighter we still manage to procure things like this. 20 glorious years in barrel has brought the full proof down, integrated the smoky and salt, and let the barley shine through. The end result is one of the most approachable and lovely Islay whisky's I've tasted this year. The big brash smoke of Caol Ila's youth has been tempered with age into an assertive and confident dram, the salt air of Islay permeates the glass. Fresh fruits of a distant land waft in and out. The palate is smooth and lingering. There is a touch of sweetness on the back end and a little piquant spice. This is a no brainer for the whisky lover in your life during the holidays...even if that whisky lover happens to be yourself.

Staff ImageAlex Schroeder | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 16, 2017

This might be the deal of the holiday season in Scotch whiskeys. After tasting it, Im almost tempted to use the word perfect to describe it. It showcases the beautiful Islay brininess and smoke as a subtle undertone to the rich, sweet malt profile. The flavor punch from the full strength, single cask is incredible but balanced and fully integrated. Definitely my top pick for holiday Scotch.

Staff ImageDavid Driscoll | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: November 15, 2017

One of my all time favorite whiskies was the old distillery edition of the Caol Ila 18 - a beautiful rendition of the Islay single malt that packed equal weight and richness of texture with all that peaty goodness. It wasn't a cask strength edition, which is what really made the difference for me. If a distillery can manage to find the sweet spot with water, I'm all for reduced spirits in bottle. The beauty of this 20 year old Caol Ila is that it's at cask strength, but has naturally reduced itself to the perfect 46% ABV (exactly where many distilleries will reduce to). The result is the closest thing I've ever tasted to that legendary 18 year bottle that is now just a memory. The nose is simply haunting; an enticing combination of vanilla, creme brulee, and campfire embers. The whisky rolls over your tongue with creaminess and texture, but it leaves a trail of peat smoke in its wake. If you want the perfect Islay whisky, this is it. It doesn't get much better than this. Buy three if you can afford it.