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Caol Ila Whisky

In our passion for single malt whisky we often forget that 95 percent of it goes into blended varieties and much of it only exists for that purpose. There are many distilleries that bottle little or no single malt whisky; among them is Caol Ila on the island of Islay. Indeed, pronounced "cull-êla," it is Islay's biggest distillery and is owned by Diageo. Its output is used mainly for Diageo's biggest blends, including Johnnie Walker.

But Caol Ila single malt has recently begun to appear, and it is exceptional. Three versions, twelve-, eighteen- and twenty-five-years-old, are available in the U.S. ($35–$175; malts.com), but if you are in the U.K., seek out the Cask Strength ($54–$70). It's a light-colored whisky with a distinctive green tinge and is a classic example of the island style, with strong peat, seaweed, fish and medicinal notes. It's softer and more rounded than some of Islay's bolder products, so ignore the advice on the label about how much water to add: This is a peaty whisky with all the dials turned up. And it's a cracker.

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