November 14th was the night Islay came to Woodchester. For our 2nd distillery tasting of 2017 we were lucky enough to host the fine fellows of Kilchoman. Introduced to SWC through Vinotopia in Tetbury, we were able to secure a tasting which will stick in the mind for a long time.
George Wills led the tasting. As a son of the owner he has grown up with the distillery and is very much part of its history and its future. His knowledge of the production process is second to none.
Kilchoman is the first distillery to be established on Islay in over 124 years. The distillery was built in 2005, with the first run of new spirit coming off the stills later that year. It is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland with an production of approximately 200,000 litres of alcohol in 2017. To put this in perspective Bruichladdich produce 1.1 million, Caol Ila 6 million and Macallan 20 million litres.
That being said, to try to keep up with the phenomenal demand they are planning on doubling the size of the distillery within the next 18 months. The plan is to mirror the still house next door to the existing one to duplicate everything exactly.
They are also one of only six distilleries to still carry out traditional floor maltings, but the key difference at Kilchoman is that the barley is grown there on the farm, whereas other distilleries purchase barley from around the country. So when they say they produce a bottle of 100% Islay, you know every part of the process is completed right there on site, even the bottling. The only element that is not from Islay are the Buffalo Trace (batch 2) bourbon casks. These are shipped over whole from Kentucky to keep as much bourbon influence in them and keep them as fresh as possible.
- 100% Islay – 50% ABV
Light gold in colour with a punchy nose of salt, peat, sweet vanilla, light smoke with floral notes. The palate is light and fresh delivering salty, sweet, creamy butterscotch. Vanilla follows with floral notes then comes the peppery bite and waves of smoke. It has a soft mouth feel and is a fantastic dram.
The finish is loooong, smoky and lingers with a gum tingling pepper.
For the nerds out there we can also tell you that the spirit is matured in 100% ex bourbon casks. 80-85% are fresh casks, 15-20% are refill casks. It is peated 12-15ppm
2. Machir Bay – 46% ABV
This is again a non chill filtered non age statement. It was launched in 2012 and is a heavily peated single malt to around 50ppm. The barley for this expression comes from Port Ellen and is matured for around 5 – 6 yrs (shh, this is unofficial) in 90% bourbon casks and 10% Miguel Martin Olorosso sherry casks.
The nose delivers peat, sweet smoke, citrus and sherried fruits. The palate is very similar to the nose which is good news. The smoke rolls in and then with the finish you get a long lingering smoky, peaty wave with a pepper bite on your tongue.
3. 2009 – 46% ABV
A new release from sept/Oct 2017 this is a great addition to the line up. Matured in 80% first fill 300l bourbon casks and 20% olorosso sherry casks it has been matured for 8 yrs (2009-2017). It is similar to Machir Bay but with more sherry influence and limited to 11,000 bottles.
The nose is fruity, soft with peat, smoke and salt. The palate brings more of the same. Smoke comes on more but it has a soft mouth feel and the dark fruits (raisins and cherries) shine through. The finish is long and lingering and the pepper bite and mouth watering.
4. Sanaig – 46% ABV
This is a non age statement but we have it on good authority it has been matured for around 5 yrs in mainly sherry hogs heads. These casks make up around 70% with the rest bourbon. The maturation time is about the same as Machir bay and this gem of an expression was launched in 2016. It proved extremely popular on the night.
The nose presents a lot of sherry as you would expect, there are malty notes, raisins,sherry and a waft of smoke. The palate brings a big, sweet, spicy punch to the tongue with peat and smoke following up but not over powering. The finish is long as you would expect but very fruity, pepper bite but not overly smoky. The high proportion of the Miguel Martin Olorosso sherry casks are a quality touch and are the same as used by Glenfarclas. Nice touch.
5. Loch Gorm – 46% ABV
So this is where things get interesting for those who like sherry. Loch Gorm is a new release for 2017. Matured since 2009 in 100% olorosso sherry casks. These are predominantly 1st fill with some refill casks. They have released 10,000 bottles this year.
Big sherry nose, cocoa powder, sweet raisins, salt and peat.
The palate brings smoke peat and pepper, The sherried fruits are still right in there and are going nowhere.
The finish is long and the fruit fades to sweetness & smoke and a very light touch of pepper.
6. Original Cask Strength – 56.9% ABV
In 2010 Kilchoman bought 125 litre bourbon quarter casks. These were used to mature spirit for 6 yrs and the resulting expression was bottled on 2016.
As it is cask strength the nose is as punchy as you would expect. Citrus notes, vanilla and peat. The palate brings more smoke and more vanilla with the peat taking a slight back seat. Long punchy, smoky finish which just goes on and on. This is a beast of a whisky in all the best ways.
After 6 fantastic expressions we had bee on a real journey. The intimate knowledge, the passion, the stores (ikea teapots and the fire to hint sat just 2) and the whisky made for an evening those who attended will remember for a long time.
To whet your appetite for what is to come they gave us an isight to what is in the warehouse. Around 70% of the casks currently maturing are bourbon, 20% sherry, the rest are red wine, port, Madeira, rum, wine and even 18 cognac. What they are going to do with these we will have to wait and see.
Thanks to Kilchoman and Vinotopia and all those who attended to help make a special evening. Also, a special thanks to Sean who despite his enormous efforts it making the evening possible was eventually unable to attend.