Prior to the tasting at the Wild Rover, I have only had the Machir Bay, a SMWS bottling and the Port Cask Matured on a handful of occasions. I knew that Kilchoman is a young distillery doing some good stuff. But there are quite a few distilleries on Islay consistently doing some great stuff, and it’s easy to overlook a smaller distillery that hasn’t been around for a long time. Nevertheless I was excited to attend the master class, hosted by Mr. Peter Wills.
Mr. Peter Wills has been working for Kilchoman for about 10 years, since it all first started in 2005. His father, Mr. Anthony Wills, a Bristol native, moved to Islay to build the first distillery on the island in 124 years. In retrospect, it was probably the perfect time to catch the wave of the current whisky boom.
Peter takes pride in working with his family in the small-scale farm distillery. The kind that I imagine Mr. George Grant still holds about his family’s distillery.
We were offered a vast insight into how Kilchoman is run by Peter in between sampling 6 whiskies; the 100% Islay 4th Edition, the 100% Islay 5th edition, the Machir Bay 2014 release, the 2007 Vintage, the Original Cask Strength and the Loch Gorm.
Peter possesses the kind of in-depth knowledge only a person who has been working at the distillery would have. He explained that the zesty fruity new make was due to the longer than usual fermentation they allow, approximately for about 100 hours. This effectively limits them to being a boutique distillery, only producing 150,000 litres of new make a year but Peter said it also gives them a more unique flavor profile. Not to anyone’s surprise, Kilchoman whiskies are non-coloured and non-chill-filtered, the way how people like it these days.
This release was produced using only barley farmed on Islay, hand malted, peated to about 20 ppm and filled in Buffalo Trace barrels.
On the nose, sandalwood smoke, sandpaper and clean peat. Lemon jam and vanilia custard coming through. Citrusy green fruit with a subtle white floral note.
Citrusy nectar on the palate. Creamy and sweet.
A lengthy finish of light smoke and white pepper. It leaves a peaty aftertaste with traces of barley notes.
I was told the 5th Edition contains 5 year-old whiskies, spending roughly 6 months to a year longer in the barrels than the 4th Edition.
It has a vanilla and honey nose. More wood influence and slightly more waxy. Ripe fruits with an underlying peat that is slightly rubbery and a hint of burnt barley.
Sugary chewy caramel slices on the palate, coconuts and ripe zesty oranges. Blood oranges with a dose of peat spices.
A chewy finish, slightly sugary with a soft peppery smoke.
The Machir Bay is the result of Kilchoman injecting sherry influence to their bourbon barrels, adopting different approaches for each release. For this particular release, the bourbon barrels were finished for four weeks in Miguel Martin Oloroso casks.
Smoked fish with a sea breeze influence on the nose. It is sugary with rich fruity notes, hints of soft raisins and pear drops. Still there is a dose of vanilla with traces of pineapple notes.
Sugary and definitely a sherry influence on the palate. Syrupy raisins, not a thick mouthful though. Chocolate sauce with a hint of nuttiness. Melted vanilla ice cream with an underlying vegetative peat.
Smoky in the finish, grounded pepper and caramel slice.
Peter attributed the early success of Kilchoman to Dr. Jim Swan’s involvement in the initial stages of planning. Between Kilchoman and Kavalan, Dr. Swan is certainly playing a vital role in helping young distilleries discovering their identities; and Kilchoman has certainly arrived.
(to be continued)