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Issue 40 - Taking Caol comfort at Islay's biggest distillery (Caol Ila)

Whisky Magazine Issue 40
June 2004


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Taking Caol comfort at Islay's biggest distillery (Caol Ila)

A high proportion of Caol Ila whisky is used for blends. But as Ian Buxton discovered, Diageo is making some excellent single malts available from the enigmatic Islay distillery.

How pleasant is the process of exploration when performed in fine weather and in company with good companions.” So observed Alfred Barnard, the original Colossus of whisky writers, on the occasion of his visit to Caol Ila, Islay in 1887.

Well, my companion (your editor) had abandoned me earlier on explorations of his own, but I enjoyed particularly fine weather for my visit and so I reasoned the loss of company was entirely his. The sun beat down; the Paps of Jura seemed close enough to touch in the crystal air and even the turbulent waters of the Sound of Islay seemed calmer than usual.

But I left Caol Ila feeling momentarily short-changed. After all, I hadn't seen an otter or dolphin; the golden eagles had taken the day off and the killer whales were all at sea. And then I realised I was being ridiculous – after all, where else can you step from one of the industry's largest still rooms into a wildlife reserve? Manager Billy Stitchell interspersed his explanation of the production process at Caol Ila with an introduction to the local fauna and it was a close call as to which was more fascinating. Only the previous week, he told me, he filmed an otter eating his supper on the rocks by the distillery pier. It beats commuting, I reflected.

In his 30 years at the distillery, Billy has seen all the wildlife listed above from his office window making him, by my reckoning, a privileged man indeed. Barnard envied the ‘healthy life' of the workforce at Caol Ila – in these...

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