Bang for your buck: Kilchoman Sanaig

If you visit your local Australia bottle shop as often as I do, chances are you would have noticed that there has been a dramatic price drop on the Kilchoman range, in particular the Sanaig which only came to Australia earlier this year.  Still, priced between $110- $140 at the moment, the Sanaig is exactly everyone’s idea of an entry level Islay whisky.

In the age of NAS, it does feel like whiskies with age labels are inherently the valued picks, though one can argue that Sanaig doesn’t actually need an age statement when the distillery itself has just celebrated its tenth year of existence.

It’s of course worth noting that most whiskies available in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s were young whiskies, mostly 10 years of age, rarely older than 16; this is especially true for peaty whiskies, one theory is that they really don’t need that much maturation since the cask influence tend to diminish the characters of the spirit.

Back to the Sanaig, it really doesn’t feel young at all despite the lack of an age statement, the spirit comes across as being rather mellow with none of those volatile new make characters. The peat smoke is akin to smoked bacon, oily with the milky and peppery notes giving it enough strength but keeping everything at bay, nothing offensive jumps out at all.

The peat is full-flavoured despite being compressed by other sweeter, fruitier characters, not much has been stripped off or diluted despite not being bottled at cask strength. 46% feels just about right, striking a balance that’s quite a rare sight for contemporary expressions that largely focus on either hiking up the rough, peaty profile or providing something utterly inoffensive.

The finishing however is really the highlight of the dram, lengthy and far exceeding one’s expectations of a young whisky. Also, the finishing feels natural, it’s one continuous motion that seamlessly transitioned from the palate, with just nicks of dark chocolate dust that makes one salivate without either proving to be overly complicated nor a let down.

The Sanaig was said to have contained “predominately sherry (Oloroso) cask influence” (vatted along with bourbon casks), but it really doesn’t feel as though the casks have been particularly loud. The dram feels like a genuine homage towards how whiskies were like in the old days, crafted to please rather than to excite.

During Whisky Live Singapore, I got chatting with an independent bottler and one of the organisers of the event and we were discussing the three key components of whisky making: fermentation, distillation and maturation. They have of course been drinking well made whiskies for decades and they were adamant that the fermentation and distillation processes from the past were superior.

I was curious as to which distillery still manages to produce new make on par with the old. They nominated Glendronach and Kilchoman.

If you are still not convinced, the Sanaig is and will be a “continuously available release”, a phrase that has been used too scarcely these days; and this is really what bang for the buck is about, something you can get for a good price from just about any shelf.

[46%・2016・NAS・Original Bottling・General Release]

Nicholas

For my previous quick thoughts on the Kilchoman Sanaig, click here.