Caol Ila Moch

$$$ — 43% ABV — ~8 years

You may not have heard of Caol Ila [cool ee-la] but, if you've ever had any Scotch, it's very likely you've tasted some. Johnny Walker and J&B, for instance, are significantly comprised of Caol Ila spirit. It's a smoky, bready, somewhat indistinct whisky, and so hasn't gained a huge fanbase. But only 10% of its massive production goes into bottles bearing the distillery's name, so clearly Caol Ila's own brands are not its main concern.

Named for the narrow strip of water between Islay and Jura (caol is Gaelic for sound or strait) Caol Ila is Diageo's main Islay distillery. Capable of making 10 million liters of whisky per year while running 24/7, they've recently slowed production to a meager 7 million liters. Despite this voluntary slow-down, age stated bottles of Caol Ila are getting harder to find. They're instead playing with "flavor-led" brands, or what would more commonly be called no age statement (NAS) whisky.

Moch, Gaelic for Dawn, is young — eight to 10 years — which is leading fans to snub their noses at it, considering it's priced about the same as the 12. But its youth and mild smoke helps Moch stand out against other more famous Islay distilleries, especially Caol Ila's sister, Lagavulin, whose base expression is twice the age of Moch.

Dressed in a matte gray label; black gothic type; and pale green glass, it's evident Moch isn't trying to pass itself off as something it's not. This is a very solid dram for drinkers who don't like sweet whisky, who want to taste both the malt and the peat. And at $50, it punches its weight. Like most anything made on Islay, it's a niche product — and this time Caol Ila might just find its audience.

Caol Ila is located on Islay in Argyll & Bute in Southwestern Scotland. Established in 1846 by Hector Henderson and renovated in 1972, it is now owned by Diageo.