Chieftain’s 1997 Caol Ila 14 Year Old Jamican Rum Cask Finish – Reveiw

*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Perhaps let’s start with a very brief, hopefully briefly accurate history of rum. Like whisky, hell, like all spirits, rum got its start when some genius, no doubt tired of drinking too many filling yet low-alcohol fermented beverages, decided to distill said same fermented beverage into a more potent libation. In rum’s case, fermented drinks made from sugarcane most likely originated in Ancient China or ancient India, the latter possibly making the most sense as sugarcane itself is native to India. More recently, slaves working on colonial sugar plantations in the Caribbean and South America during the early 1600’s were making a fermented molasses-based beverage and possibly from that, the first sugar-based distillate used for drinking was born. This early version of rum quickly became so popular in the North American colonies that in the late 1600’s, it’s estimated that nearly 14 liters were being drunk annually per person. Those must have been fun times. Unfortunately and somewhat ironically, the dark side of the story is that rum’s success also helped fuel the African slave trade. New England distilleries needed molasses for more rum and England needed more sugar, and the sugar plantations needed more slave labor to satisfy all that demand and to make more money. A neat little triangle that made a few white guys very rich, but made for a miserable existence for thousands and thousands and thousands of enslaved Africans

Two major things helped slow rum’s popularity. 1) once the USA became the USA, England restricted their Colonial Caribbean sugar exports which in turn helped clear the way for 2) the steady rise of homegrown spirits like…corn and rye whiskey. Rum certainly played its part during Prohibition with rum-runners supplying hooch to the deep South’s speakeasies. Until recently, rum has been given a rather unfair shake, as most associate the spirit with way-too-heavily sweetened tiki drinks or marketing pirates asking drinkers to pretend to rest one foot on imaginary footstools or barrels or something. In the last several years, the craft cocktail movement has brought to light the wide range of rum styles and the complexity that exists in the finer aged rums now on the market.

Enough about rum. Good grief, I only brought it up because this independently bottled Caol Ila was finished in a Jamaican rum cask, so I thought I’d take a peek at its history. Next thing you know, I’m practically bored off my soapbox and I haven’t even mentioned the whisky. This cask-strength edition from Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s Range numbers 246 and was finished for an unspecified amount of time in the aforementioned rum cask.

The Nose:  Candied roasted almonds, raisins, a little fried banana, also tarry, slightly ashy, just a hint medicinal notes but those “Islay” notes have a bit more sweetness than I expected. Behind all that, just a touch of soft, sweet fennel, pencil shavings, and a bit of cedar. A bit of water softens the peat and ash, leaving the sweeter fruit and wood notes.

The Palate:  Creamy and slightly syrupy sweet to begin with.  Soon joined by some burnt toffee and zippy wood spice – slightly bitter clove and nutmeg. The tarry peat and ashy wood smoke grow steadily towards the end. Water slows things down here but doesn’t diminish the flavors as well as bringing out more of the sweetened quality.

The Finish:  Still mouth-watering and sweet at first but the peat and ashy woodsmoke outlast it in the end.

Thoughts:  I’m still on the fence as to how much influence finishing a whisky in this kind of cask can have.  I have found rum-finished whiskies to have a little added simple sweetness, but whether that’s the cask or the power of suggestion…who knows? I thought there was an added, nice tempered sweetness here to the nose which continued throughout the palate which still allowed the Caol Ila elements to come forward. I found this to be a little too ashy at times even with water but overall a different, interesting and enjoyable take on one of my favorite whiskies.

Chieftain’s 1997 Caol Ila 14 Year Old Jamican Rum Cask Finish, Islay

55% ABV

Score:  84

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