KILCHOMAN LAUNCHES LOCH GORM WHISKY 2021 EDITION
When Kilchoman came into the Scottish distilling scene 15 years ago, they were entering an industry that could not have been more steeped in tradition. In fact, they were the first new Scotch distillery on Islay in over a hundred years. So, how could they stand out and create their own identity in a region that had a well-established status? They looked to the past, present, and future and started their own traditions.
They were doctors (a Beaton was the hereditary physician to the kings of Scotland for hundreds of years) who translated medical texts about distillation from Latin into Gaelic. There is therefore a theory (albeit unproven) that Islay was the first place where distillation took place in Scotland – and that Kilchoman parish was where it occurred.
It wasn’t so much this which caused Anthony Wills to build his farm distillery here in 2005 – it was more the fact that there was a spare steading available at Rockside Farm. In building Kilchoman, the Wills family has brought farm distilling back to Islay.
Now surrounded by barley fields, the distillery expanded in 2007 and built new warehouses. In November 2017, an additional malting floor and kiln were built on site.
In May 2019, Kilchoman doubled production with the construction of a new stillhouse containing two more stills, along with a new mash tun and six new washbacks. That has taken production capacity close to 0.5m litres of pure alcohol a year and will enable experimental runs using different yeast and barley varieties.
Kilchoman has done a fantastic job of championing the merits of young whisky. Their first single malt was released in 2009 as a three years old. With that success, they looked to the past and revitalised the once-common practice of farm-scale distilling. Just like 200 years ago, they grow, malt and peat their own barley, and also all distilling, maturation, and bottling are all done within the farm distillery limits. The intended experience is to transport the imbiber to the midst of their barley fields as they sip.
These days 25% of its barley requirements come from Islay (mostly from fields around the distillery). It has two small malting floors and kilns which produce a medium-peated malt – the heavily peated with which it is mixed comes from Port Ellen. Inside the distillery, fermentation is long, helping to create fruitiness to balance the shoreline/shellfish-like phenolics. At the same time, an enlightened (and pricey) wood policy has seen a high percentage of first-fill ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks being used. The result was that Kilchoman hit the start of its mature period at a remarkably young age.
Kilchoman Distillery on Islay has quaint names for its NAS whiskies and is often asked what the names stand for in some of their core range expressions.
Kilchoman Machir Bay: Their first continual release was launched back in 2012 and it seemed obvious to name it after the beautiful beach nearby– Machir Bay. This bay is located on the west coast of Islay, just along the road from the distillery. The area surrounding the Bay is sparsely populated today, but archaeological evidence shows a long history of humans settling in the parish of Kilchoman. There are remnants of two hamlets to the southeast, Dun Neadean and Dun Chroisprig, located on a rocky knoll by the coastline, near the old road between Kilchoman and another small hamlet to the south, Kilchiaran.
Machir Bay is a beach that is equally as stunning on a stormy day in the middle of winter as it is on a warm, sunny day in summer. On bad weather days, storms can be really frenzied. It has had its share of shipwrecks too, three of them in the past 200 years. Perhaps the most famous incident was the wreck of HMS Otranto in October 1918, shortly before the end of WW I. A navigation error caused it to collide with HMS Kashmir. The casualty toll was estimated at 470 men, which makes it one of the worst convoy accidents of the war.
With almost two km of beautiful sandy beach, a fresh sea breeze and stunning sunsets, it is easy to see why it is such a popular place with both locals and visitors. Named after this spectacular beach, the award-winning Machir Bay is the flagship of the Kilchoman Range. It has a vatting of approximately 90% bourbon barrels and 10% oloroso sherry casks.
Now for the spirit. The body of the bottle is round and thick with a gently sloping shoulder that matches up with a relatively short neck. The whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper, and there’s a metal emblem of the distillery embedded in the glass. Be careful; the bottle is very heavy and the neck/cork small. DO NOT lift these bottles by the neck-no point testing your luck.
The labelling here is nice, above average for a Scotch whisky, with a large colour-coordinated label for the distillery name and then a smaller label underneath with the specific brand and bottling details. It’s the right balance: a good thickness to catch the eye and understand what you’re getting, while still allowing you to see the spirit on the other side of the glass no matter how much has ‘evaporated’ over time.
The foremost thing you’ll notice is that this is definitively on the lighter side of the colour spectrum when it comes to Scotch whisky: a hay-coloured liquid, almost light gold. This whisky does not use artificial caramel colour, e150A. Moreover, at 46% ABV, it is not chill-filtered and states so on the label.
The first immediately noticeable aroma is the peat smoke note that you would expect from an Islay scotch, but with an unusual and unmistakable tang. That will be the maritime air buttressed by a citric influence mixed with some honey and flower blossoms. The excellent nip stays on, showing a little bit of tangy fruit in there —peach, lemon, orange, kinoo, pear and just a touch of nuttiness.
The taste is intense; not as big a hammer as Ardbeg but close to a Lagavulin 16. The known ppm is 50, making the taste something to remember. There’s the peat smoke up front but there’s also much more to it than that. The citrus of the lemon and the peach as anticipated from the aroma, some vanilla off the oak, a bit of maltiness from the grains, and a heavy helping of minerals — the salty note from the sea breeze.
The finish is graceful and the first time you get a trace of bitterness, rounding off the overall profile.
ICE: If you add ice, the bitterness withdraws, reducing its complexity. It becomes too smooth. Some may like that experience. But, on the other hand, the peat smoke is significantly diminished. This version of the spirit becomes more fruity and floral-forward, with friendly peat to balance things out, making it closer to a Highland scotch than an Islay product. What cannot leave are the mineral notes. It retains that briny note that you always note in spirits aged by the seaside, very Talisker-like.
Kilchoman Sanaig: Sanaig, the second continual release which was launched in 2014, is named after a rugged coastal inlet north of the distillery.The west coast of Islay is regularly battered by strong Atlantic storms. These high winds and rough seas have carved into the coastline to dramatic effect, none more so than at Sanaigmore, the north-western tip which is where their Sanaig release has gained its name. With clear waters and white sand, Sanaigmore is a beautiful place to visit. With stunning views from the clifftop, you can see the hills in the northeast of Islay and the Paps of Jura in the far distance. On a very clear day, you can even see as far as the islands of Mull and Colonsay 30 km to the North.
This predominantly sherry cask matured scotch whisky consists of approximately 70% oloroso hogsheads and 30% bourbon barrels, imparting a balance of dried fruits, dark chocolate and rich peat smoke into the spirit.
Sanaig neatly balances the contrasting influences of rich sherry maturation, bourbon barrel finesse and Islay peat smoke
This Kilchoman is more towards sherry casks, as opposed to the bourbon-forward Machir Bay. In Sanaig’s case, it’s a 70:30 ratio between sherry and bourbon casks, an extra 25 months of ageing in oloroso sherry casks. Sanaig is also bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration or added colour, a classical craft presentation. It’s a 50 ppm whisky, so one can expect a punch.
There is a curious mixture of sweet peat and ashes in the aroma plus prickly warmth from the wood. A hint of incense. Once the smoke fades, fruitiness clearly develops along with black pepper and strong woody peat. There are persistent notes of lime peel. Sherry notes come in somewhat late, seconded to the peat.
In the mouth, the peat is more forward, half sweet and half smoke. A medium to lightweight texture – it’s not especially viscous, but still pleasant. Not much tongue burn. A good balance between peat and sweet notes. Again, the peat appears to be more Highland peat style with more green notes and few seaweed and iodine medicinal notes.
The finish is long, bordering on savoury, like seafood with Limca. Ends with dry peat and oak tannins.
Overall: An elegant, if straightforward peated malt with sherry in the background. You have to let the Kilchoman Sanaig breathe. When it first rolls out it’s an unruly ball of char and smoke, but let it breathe and good things begin to happen. Sweetness, oils and earthier notes arrive and get pinned together with the peat. It’s an exercise in patience. This is a good whisky after it’s had a moment to wake up. It’s truly a marvel of what they’ve achieved for it to overshoot Machir Bay.
Despite the utilisation of sherry casks, Kilchoman Sanaig remains a particularly coastal whisky. There’s certainly a fair amount of sweetness here, but this is played off against some sharp mineral aromas and flavours, making for a balanced and well-integrated expression. Those searching for big overt sherry-driven flavours from Kilchoman should probably focus on either Loch Gorm or on one of the distillery’s single-cask releases. Sanaig offers more gradation – its vatting of casks creating an expression where the sherry influence is supporting the wider array of spirit and peat flavours, rather than taking charge.
Kilchoman 100% Islay 10th Edition: Kilchoman’s 100% Islay range is the world’s only Single Farm Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It represents the revival of traditional farm distilling; growing their own barley before malting, distilling, maturing and bottling every bottle of their 100% Islay range on site. The 100% Islay 10th Edition 50% ABV was distilled from their 2007, 2009 and 2010 barley harvests before being matured in 39 bourbon barrels and 2 oloroso sherry butts for a minimum of 9 years, resulting in a release of 12,400 bottles in 2011.
One can even trace the origins back to the barley variety, field and farmer who planted it. This edition was matured in the on-site dunnage warehouses before it was bottled at 50% ABV. As with all 100% Islay releases, it only weighs in at 20ppm compared to Kilchoman's usual 50ppm, allowing the tropical notes from the bourbon barrel to really shine through. 100% Islay still packs enough peat to fully satisfy your cravings. The fumes and plumes form a wonderful union with the other notes, which are predominantly fruity, grainy, creamy and sweet. Tremendously approachable and full of character.
Nose: Floral notes with citrus sweetness, light peat smoke and apricots.
Palate: Prunes, cinnamon and cooked apples & pears with hints of fresh smoke.
Finish: Waves of mildly spiced peat smoke, lasting sweetness and rich sherry notes.
THE LOCH GORM 2021 50% ABV
Loch Gorm is the name given to Kilchoman’s annual sherry matured limited edition. Named after Islay’s largest freshwater lake neighbouring the distillery, the dark, peat-coloured murky colour of the loch’s water is reflected in the rich coppery tones of the sherry-matured Loch Gorm release. Loch Gorm is also Islay’s biggest freshwater loch with an abundance of wildlife. The Allt Gleann Osamail burn, from which Kilchoman collects their production water, is one of the loch’s major tributaries.
Overlooked by the distillery, Loch Gorm is situated less than a mile from the Atlantic coast, roughly between Machir Bay in the south and Saligo Bay in the west. With a four-mile circumference, it is Islay’s biggest freshwater loch with an abundance of wildlife and dark peat-coloured waters. The Allt Gleann Osamail burn, from which we collect our production water, is one of the loch’s major tributaries. Loch Gorm also has a very interesting history. An example of this is the small island in the southeast called Eilean Mor. There are overgrown remains of a castle which dates back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
|LOCH GORM 2021|
The Oloroso sherry maturation of Loch Gorm gives it a neat balance of big rich sherry flavours which pair very nicely with the peat smoke, soft fruits and typical sweetness of Kilchoman
The always hotly anticipated Loch Gorm release for 2021 is a vatting of 24 oloroso sherry butts filled in 2011 and 2012. It is thus a minimum of 9 years old. Jam-packed with juicy-fruit and dry barbeque smoke, excellent as usual from the Islay farm distillery.
The 50 ppm Kilchoman Loch Gorm is exclusively matured in oloroso sherry casks from the renowned bodega, Jose Miguel Martin. It is common for distilleries to use a variety of sherry producers but for consistent quality and character, it is vital that Kilchoman sources them all from just one bodega. They select a combination of sherry butts and hogsheads from Jose Miguel Martin that provides two separate styles of maturation.
These ex-oloroso sherry casks impart a combination of heavy sherry notes, spicy dark chocolate, rich fruits and burnt sugar. This balances beautifully with the Kilchoman peat smoke and citrus fruits found within the farm-crafted spirit.
Nose: Macerated lemons, buttery shortbread and Moroccan spices give way to rich sherry notes and faint notes of peat smoke.
Palate: Cloves, dark chocolate and juicy prunes with waves of roasted almonds, sultanas, nougat and peat embers.
Finish: Herbaceous, earthy and maritime with liquorice, leather and a distinctly dry sherry-soaked finish.
"Although we have always filled the bulk of our spirit into ex-bourbon barrels, the Loch Gorm releases have shown how well our peated Islay spirit can combine with sherry casks, which is not always an easy task. Rich bold flavours with a breadth, depth and balance of character that sets it apart, the 2021 edition is packed with juicy fruit, macerated lemon and sweet char-grilled BBQ smoke” says Kilchoman.