On Wednesday, I received my Kilchoman Connoisseurs Pack, containing three 50ml samples of new spirit from the Kilchoman [Kil-HOH-man] distillery, established in 2005 on the island of Islay. Their first official whisky, a 3 year expression, will be out later this year, but this sample pack should give a good idea of the Kilchoman profile. In my Wednesday Nightly dram post, I shared some pictures and provided an initial reaction to my small taste of the 2 year old. Tonight, I’m comparing all three samples of Kilchoman new spirit, and sharing some additional information I’ve learned about the Kilchoman distillery and their approach to single malts.
The Connoisseurs Pack contains the following samples:
- One Month New Spirit – 63.5% ABV
- One Year New Spirit – 63% ABV
- Two Years New Spirit – 62% ABV
All three of them are matured in fresh bourbon casks, and are made from Optic barley peated to 50ppm. While Kilchoman does have their own malting floor, they also use malt from Port Ellen. I believe these samples are of the Port Ellen variety, based on the 50ppm peating (more on that below).
On Wednesday, when I tried a very small sample of the 2 years, I tasted it at full proof. Tonight, I’m going to try each of them with water added so as not to kill my taste buds with the first dram. I’m starting by nosing them neat, then adding 1 teaspoon of water to 1/2 oz of whisky.
- One Month: Medicinal, something plasticy or rubbery, and ashy peat on the nose. There’s a little sweetness, but I have to hunt for it. More ashy peat on the palate and finish, with a hot tingly sensation on the tongue. At the end…take a deep breath in and out and enjoy the lingering peat coming up through the nostrils. Very nice!
- One Year: Medicinal and ashy peat, but also some noticeable vanilla. The plastic/rubber scent has subsided, but is still there a little. Very similar on the palate and finish to the one month, including the tingling. I expected it to mellow out a bit, but still very “hot”.
- Two Years: The peat is coming out more over some of the medicinal notes, and there’s a woodiness with the smoke. The vanilla is there, but I have to hunt for it. It’s more prominent on the 1 year [what's up with that?]. Really not getting that rubbery scent at all now. That bodes well for future releases. Similar taste profile on the palate as the others, but not as tingly on the tongue, and I get more sweetness. It’s starting to mellow a bit. That lasting peat in the back of the nose is still there. I love that! [Update Second time around, I'm getting a distinct lemon scent on the nose along withthe smoky peat and vanilla.]
If you like peat, especially dry ashy peat, you should like this. The distillery notes talk about fruitiness, but I’m not really getting that yet, and the sweetness and vanilla is very subdued [Update As noted above, I'm definitely getting citrus/lemon on the 2 year nose now]. In fact, at the end of my tasting session I poured a wee dram of Ardbeg 10, and the nose was like caramel apples relative to the Kilchomans. Much more so than I’ve ever noticed when just drinking Ardbeg on its own. An interesting note about my samples…the 1 year was slightly darker in color than the 2 year. I wonder if this is related to my noticing more vanilla on the 1 year. At this time, while there is lots of peat, I’m not getting any of the tar/oil notes that I recognize somewhat with Ardbeg, and significantly in Laphroaig.
My enthusiasm for this young Kilchoman spirit is a little lower today than it was on Wednesday, but I still really like the peat, and feel that the future is very promising. I’m not expecting to favor this over Ardbeg or Lagavulin any time soon, as this is much more one-dimensional [for now]. However, as a complimentary whisky in my collection, I’ll have no problem buying a bottle of the young Kilchoman each year and following their progress. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an aha! moment a few years from now where the Kilchoman suddenly seems crazy good.
I’m glad I tried this spirit, and I’ve ordered another Connoisseurs Pack to store away for future use (or just to collect for when Kilchoman is hugely popular). I’ll definitely try to get my hands on a full size bottle of the 3 year Kilchoman whisky when it’s released later this year.
Here are some interesting notes about the Kilchoman distillery from the SingleMalt.tv interview with Anthony Wills, Managing Director at the distillery [Interview video links - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]:
- While they have their own peating floors at Kilchoman distillery, a significant percentage of their malt comes from Port Ellen:
- The Port Ellen malt is peated to 50 ppm, and uses the same spec as Ardbeg.
- The Kilchoman malt is peated to 20-30 ppm.
- They’re keeping the malts separate, and will market the home-malted expression as “100% Islay”.
- Based on this peating info, it appears that the samples I tried are using the Port Ellen malt.
- The stills have a tall, narrow neck in an effort to get a light, floral, fruity spirit that matures quickly.
- They also use a ball neck base in case you’re interested.
- Contrast this still shape to the short, stumpy stills at Ardbeg.
- Cask types
- They’re using a 1:1 ratio of fresh and refill bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace.
- They’re maturing a small quantity of spirit in oloroso sherry butts, but have not yet determined what they will do with this.
- As of this 2006 interview, they were planning to bottle their first whisky at 4-5 years.
- This has obviously changed, with their 3 year expression coming out this year.
- They must have been encouraged by the positive early reviews of their spirit, combined with the industry acceptance of younger single malts these days (especially from Islay). It looks like people will pay for a 3 year from Kilchoman, so why not put it out there.
Notes from the distillery web site:
- The in-house floor maltings use barley grown right on the distillery land, and will be bottled on the island for their “100% Islay” expression.
- Annual production of 630 bourbon barrels and 40 sherry butts
- 30% of annual production to use home-grown and floor malted barley
- Link to Tasting Notes by Jim Murray (of their New Spirit)
[Update] Additional links
- Additional Kilchoman-related links have been posted by some helpful members of the Whisky Magazine forums in this thread.
- Tasting notes in the Spirit of Islay Forums (Warehouse No.4). [Thanks Mr. Fox!]
- Distillery page on the Spirit of Islay web site. Check out the Spirit of Islay site in general for great info on Islay whisky!
- Here’s a blog post on the Islay Weblog [another great resource!] with a link to a video showing the preparation of the first bottle of Kilchoman Single Malt, which is being auctioned off for charity.
- Auction press release: Here is a press release with more details about the auction, taking place May 28th, the distillery’s “open day” during the Feis Ile festival.
- Here’s a direct embed of the video mentioned above. Thanks for the Tweet, @hansemalt!