During an impromptu visit to Ardnahoe’s Distillery Shop on the Isle of Islay, I discovered Hepburn’s Choice. With the distillery under construction, parent company Hunter Laing & Co had been releasing a number of expressions that showcased each of Scotland’s unique whisky regions.
I was warmly welcomed by a softly-spoken English gentleman who introduced himself as Richard. Being new to the brand, he gave me a full overview of Ardnahoe’s progress as well as their myriad of beverages as well as a cheeky taste. Although overwhelmed by their sheer volume, a pale bottle caught my eye. Therefore, I couldn’t resist but take it home with me to try!
In this review, you will discover the Caol Ila 7 Year Old 2010 Hepburn’s Choice Single Malt with me as we explore the following topics:
- Whisky Overview
- Appearance & Visual Analysis
- Nose & Aromas
- Palate & Mouthfeel
- Ideal Pairings
- Overall Experience & Value For Money
Overview Of Caol Ila Hepburn’s Choice
- Distillery: Caol Ila
- Expression: Hepburn’s Choice
- Region: Islay [Hebrides]
- Age: 7 Years
- Casking: Ex-Bourbon
- Cask Strength: 46% ABV
- Chill-Filtered: No
- Pricing: £60
- Bottled By: Langside Distillers
- Parent: Ardnahoe [Hunter Laing & Co]
Like the Laphroaig Cairdeas Fino in my last review, the Caol Ila was released in 2018 for during Islay’s Fèis Ìle. Distilled by Caol Ila, this Hepburn’s Choice expression was one of only 282 bottles from a single cask.
In fact, its story is quite interesting in that it’s the product of collaboration between three different brands. After being distilled in 2010 by Caol Ila, it was then aged in ex-bourbon casks before being bottled by Langside Distillers for Ardnahoe. Whilst both Ardnahoe and Langside are owned by Haunter Laing & Co, Caol Ila is a Diageo-owned distillery.
As previously mentioned, each of the Hepburn’s Choice expressions are made to showcase the particular characteristics of Scotland’s various whisky regions. In this case, Caol Ila was chosen to represent Islay, which can be found on the eastern coast of the island just north of Port Askaig.
Hepburn Choice’s Appearance
- Hue: Chardonnay
- Transparency: Semi-Clear
- Body: Light-Bodied
What first intrigued me the most by this expression was just how pale it was. With a hue that resembles white wine, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually a whisky. Having not been coloured using spirit caramel, this may contribute to its paleness but it’s perhaps an indicator of its young age.
A quick swirl of the glass shoes moderately thin and speedy little tears that trickle down the glass. By this, we can presume that the whisky will be relatively light in body and texture.
Finally, the Coal Ila’s Hepburn’s Choice hasn’t been chill-filtered so adding a few drops of water shows off the viscometric potential with explosive little whirls.
Hepburn’s Choice Caol Ila’s Nose
- Notes: Butter, Vanilla, Sea Salt
- Nosefeel: Eucalyptic
Firstly, the nose is refreshing and tingles the nostrils with a youthful eucalyptic sting. In terms of aromas, it’s surprisingly low in peat and smokiness even if this can be picked out. However, it’s actually very creamy instead with soft notes of butter and vanilla with a slight sea breeze touch.
Hepburn’s Choice Caol Ila’s Palate & Mouthfeel
- Primary Tastes: Salty
- Notes: Seaweed, Smoked Salmon, Lemon, Mirabelle
- Mouthfeel: Mentholated, Dry
- Finish: Medium [Lapsang Souchong Tea, Marmalade]
Hepburn’s Choice features a palate that’s rather coherent with the nose’s character. The overall taste is remarkably salty and evokes flavours of seaweed, smoked salmon with a zesty touch of lemons and mirabelle plums.
As a crescendo of flavours, the Caol Ila offers a tableau of savoury notes followed by sweeter aromas. I’d actually liken a single dram to a light meal of smoked kippers followed by a lemon meringue pie.
Meanwhile, the mouthfeel is only slightly dry but leans mostly to a mentholated texture. As for the finish, it’s not particularly long and somewhat medium in length. As the main notes subside, there’s a mildly smokey lapsang souchong tea note as well as zesty marmalade.
Best Pairings With Caol Ila Hepburn’s Choice
Firstly, I find this to be a whisky that’s just as easy to drink neat as being cut with a few drops of water. Being an already mild expression, it only needs a few drops to reveal more aromas.
I’m not sure where but I read that this was something of a breakfast whisky. Channelling the maxim that it’s passed noon somewhere in the world, I thought I’d pour myself a cheeky dram with some Speyside Rollmop herrings and test the theory.
It was actually quite refreshing and probably more effective than my usual triple espresso! The briny herring flavours were extended by the whisky’s flavour profile and added a slight citrus zest. That evening, I paired it with whisky-marinated smoked salmon and found that this was a perfect combination.
Being a light-bodied and refreshing whisky, the Caol Ila by Hepburn’s Choice is an excellent option with smoked seafood. Furthermore, the light profile makes it ideal as a table whisky that pairs well with a number of dishes without ever being overpowering.
With regards to cigars, I found that this expression was particularly enjoyable with shade-grown tobacco. My cigar of choice was the Nub Connecticut. As both the cigar and whisky were quite buttery in character, this turned out to be the perfect pairing.
Overall Experience & Value For Money
Hepburn’s Choice expressions come in very attractive tubes with silver scrolling on the top and bottom. Meanwhile, the label on the cardboard is the same as on the bottle’s clear glass and presents a host of information about the brand and the expression itself.
Given that Hepburn’s Choice isn’t quite as famous as other Single Malts, it’s a useful reference and helps understand their philosophy.
As for when to drink this whisky, it can be something for casually dipping your tongue or a more formal choice to share with friends at any given time of day. Given that this is remarkably mild for a Scotch, it’s actually a great whisky for newcomers.
Although it’s quite a peaty whisky with the sea breeze notes that you’d expect from the isle of Islay, it’s not quite representative of the island’s typical expressions. In fact, it’s a refreshing change, which makes it very accessible for those who usually aren’t fond of the region’s peated malts.
If I don’t give in to temptation, this might be one to save for Paul Anthony as he’s not as keen as the rest of the team on peaty whiskies.
An original expression that offers a unique take on Islay single malts, the Caol Ila by Hepburn’s Choice is a whisky that offers a new perspective on the island’s whiskies. Those who are usually coy when it comes to peat ought to consider trying to grab a bottle if they’re ever on the island as it offers an excellent introduction.
Otherwise, enthusiasts of the island’s whiskies may either love this as a mild alternative or shun it for being just too unorthodox. Either way, it’s currently among my favourites as something I’d reach for when not quite in the mood for fuller whiskies.