While spirit-driven, the aroma, palate, and finish are developed, tame, and relatively complex. The quality of the craftsmanship is apparent, and the lower peat level compared to other peated Islay scotches provides Kilchoman a unique niche among its Islay brethren.
This is still a relatively young whisky that could use more time in the cask to develop further complexity. It's average retail price compared to other Islay single malts is relatively high.
Kilchoman (pronounced kill-ho-man) is one of the newest distilleries in Scotland, and the newest distillery on the island of Islay (until Ardnahoe opens its doors this May). Founded in 2005 by former-independent bottler Anthony Wills, Kilchoman is a true “farm distillery”. Situated on Islay’s Rockside Farm, Kilchoman has a couple thousand acres of farmland leased that it cultivates and grows its own barley on to use for distilling. This means that along with all the regular distillery trappings (malting floor, still room, kiln, bottling plant, visitor’s center, etc) you will also find a large cow shed (filled with cows) and lots of farm equipment on site. Kilchoman’s goal is to be 100% self sustained – from growing the barley onsite all the way to bottling onsite. At this point in its young career it is very nearly there; to meet supply needs, Kilchoman sources a small percent of its needed barley from Port Ellen, and while its current warehouses are under construction it is borrowing warehouse space from its other Islay neighbors to age its stock.
In typical Islay fashion, Kilchoman produces peated whisky, although it is not as heavily peated as the likes of Ardbeg or Lagavulin. The barley that is grown onsite is peated in Kilchoman’s kiln to 20-25 ppm, while the portion that is sourced from Port Ellen is peated to a more traditional 40-45 ppm (the same level as Ardbeg). Kilchoman ages about 80% of its spirit in first fill ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Buffalo Trace, with much of the remainder aged in first fill Oloroso sherry casks sourced from Miguel Martin in Jerez. Kilchoman also experiments with a number of other cask types such as port, sauternes, and madiera, which are released time to time as limited edition or single cask bottlings. From a production capacity standpoint, Kilchoman is tiny. They operate just one wash and one spirit still, both of which are relatively small, churning out less than 200,000 liters/year (by comparison, Ardbeg has the next-lowest annual output on Islay and is over 1,000,000 liters).
Kilchoman has three core continuous-release whiskies, which are differentiated by their cask type composition:
-Machir Bay: Predominantly ex-bourbon with some ex-sherry
-Sanaig: Predominantly ex-sherry with some ex-bourbon
-Loch Gorm: 100% ex-sherry
- No age statement (likely 5-7 years old)
- Vatting of first fill ex-bourbon and first fill oloroso sherry casks
- Around 25 PPM
- Non-chill filtered & natural color
- Bottled at 46% ABV
Nose: Initially bright and phenolic; crisp and peaty with enough cask influence to avoid smelling “young” or “brash”. The frontline of the aroma is a mix of maritime notes and woodsy campfire smoke. Behind this are layered notes of smoked meat, zesty lemon, and pastry dough. The aroma has great balance to it.
Palate: Upon entry, classic peaty Islay notes of smoked paprika, grilled fish, woodsmoke, and fresh biscuit abound. As the dram develops, it brightens considerably as the savory peat notes give way to crisp lemon and white fruits. The flavor is very spirit-driven, but is dense, developed, and complex.
Finish: Lemon peel, sweet rolls, lime syrup, and flecks of leftover peat smoke. The barley shines here, with the peat playing second fiddle.
Water? A few drops of water kick up the white fruits on the palate, considerably sweetening the dram and dulling the peat. To me, it knocks the balance out of whack. I’ll be skipping the water with this one.
Buying Recommendation: Must Try! This whisky is a tremendous example of quality ingredients, distillation, and cask selection overcoming relative youth. The cask influence neither dominates the spirit (over-oaks), nor allows it to run wild. What you get instead is a spirit-forward dram that has been excellently tamed, mellowed, and developed during its time in the cask, and the overall result is an excellent whisky.
While I’ve recommended this be a “must try” for any whisky enthusiast opposed to an automatic “buy it now”, there will likely always be a bottle of Machir Bay in my cabinet for two reasons: 1) by being moderately peated rather than heavily, Machir Bay distinguishes itself from other Islay stalwarts like Ardbeg 10 year or Lagavulin 16 year, making it a refreshing option for when I want Islay but not peat-bomb. 2) I love everything about Kilchoman. How can you not root for these guys? From the farm to bottle approach to the extreme transparency to the quality cask sourcing to the craft presentation (never chill filtering and bottled at 46% minimum), Kilchoman pretty much embodies my ideal whisky making philosophy.
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: Truly Exceptional
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