Pronounced ‘cull-eela’, Caol Ila's name comes from the Gaelic name for the Sound of Islay, the stretch of sea separating Islay from Jura and over which the distillery is perched near the ferry landing at Islay’s Port Askaig. Caol Ila was built in 1846 by Hector Henderson, a Glasgow businessman.
The distillery is tucked away near the ferry landing at Port Askaig, the location over a quiet cove was chosen partly because of the water from Loch Nam Ban which still provides its main supply.
Sadly, today only a solitary warehouse survives from the original Victorian Gothic buildings. Its modern 1974 replacement trebled the capacity from two stills to six. The new stills were made to mimic the old so that the character of the whisky would be unchanged. However, Jim Murray, the whisky writer, contends “that the old Caol Ila was much more impressive on the start, with slight Cederwood and pine adding to the fatty complexity, while the new Caol Ila wins hands down on the longer, stronger, oilier finish.” Generally, Caol Ila is considered to be one of the lighter of the Islays combining a peaty nose with distinct floral notes.
A nearby waterfall originally supplied power for the barley hoists and pressure for the fire hydrants. Today, a novel heat exchanger uses the sea to cool hot process water before returning it to the condensers.
This peaty whisky is one of Diageo’s ‘Classic Malts’.