Scotland is an ancient and historic land, filled with ancient and historic distilleries. There are arguments and snarky comments a-plenty going on between the different factions as they vie for supremacy (the story of Lagavulin’s spat with Laphoraig springs readily to mind). But there’s a new player in the mix — the newest distillery to open on Islay in over a century, and they’re trying to carve out a niche by using authenticity instead of age.
As I’ve said: in Scotland, a world of long and storied distilleries, Kilchoman is a wee baby.
Anthony Wills is a spirits industry veteran who saw an opportunity. In 2005, he and his wife Kathy purchased a collection of small derelict farm buildings on the island of Islay and founded Kilchoman Distillery — the first new distillery on the island in 124 years. Their vision was to create a true grain-to-glass whiskey, growing barley on-site at their distillery that they would then use to make their craft spirits (currently their 100% Islay release).
The distillery filled its first barrel on December 14th, 2005, issued its first finished bottle in 2009, and remains family owned and operated to this day.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
While some of their releases use the aforementioned on-site grown and malted barley, this version uses commercial malted barley from Port Ellen that the distillery then mashes and ferments.
That fermented liquid is distilled at least twice through the distillery’s four pot stills (two wash stills and two spirits stills) before being placed into a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry butts for maturation. They stay there for at least three years before being blended together to achieve the right flavor profile, proofed down with water, and bottled.
What’s notable there at the end is more about what you don’t see: this distillery apparently doesn’t chill filter its whisky (meaning some of the fatty acids remain in the bottle) and there’s no coloring added (a common step with scotch distillers, even with highly prized single malts). What you get in the bottle is pretty much exactly what came out of the barrel.
While the distillery may still have that “new car smell” going on, the bottle is definitely a style we’ve seen before with Scottish spirits.
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. If you’ve seen a bottle of Monkey Shoulder, it’s pretty much the exact same thing with some minor changes.
The labeling here is about average for a scotch whisky, with a large color-coordinated label for the distillery name and then a smaller label underneath with the specific brand and bottling details. It’s the right balance in my opinion: 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 as “evaporated” over time.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this is definitively on the lighter side of the color spectrum when it comes to a scotch whisky. That might actually have more to do with the other manufacturers’ additions, though, as opposed to a reflection on the maturation process here — caramel coloring is a common and legally included ingredient in most single malt scotch, and this is much closer to what you actually get out of the barrel: a hay colored liquid, almost like a light gold color.
The first immediately noticeable aroma is the peat smoke note that you would expect from an Islay scotch, mixed together with some honey and flower blossoms. There’s also a little bit of fruit in there — melon, pear, peach, lemon, and just a touch of nuttiness.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really expecting the intensity of the flavor profile I got here. I was anticipating something closer to a Glenmorangie, but instead I got a Lagavulin. There’s the peat smoke up front, like you just stepped into a warm Scottish pub on a cold day, but there’s also much more to it than that. There’s the lemon and the peach from the aroma, some vanilla, a bit of maltiness from the grains, and a heavy helping of minerality — like licking some slate, or almost a salty note. Overall, it’s very similar to other expressions from the island.
The only complaint I have comes at the end: there’s just a hint of bitterness near the finish that sits on the top of your tongue. It quickly fades away but, for the moment it’s there, it really isn’t welcome.
I feel like adding a little bit of ice here is a double edged sword.
On the one hand, the bitterness has been eliminated. It’s a smooth and delicious experience from start to stop.
But on the other hand, the peat smoke is significantly diminished. This is a version of the spirit that is more fruity and floral-forward, without the heavy handed peat to balance things out quite as well. It’s closer to a Highland scotch than it is an Islay product.
The one thing that hasn’t left, however, is that minerality. It still has that almost briny note that you usually see in spirits aged seaside.
I’m loving the vibe here. There are some great flavors in this spirit, from the traditional (and almost required) peat smoke and minerality to the light floral blossoms and honey notes that they pull off very well. It’s a wonderful first showing from a new distillery, and shows much promise for what future bottlings will bring.
If I have one note on it, it’s the slight bitterness or roughness near the finish. Not really enough to keep me from going back for more, but mostly just an unfortunate tarnish on an otherwise outstanding offering.
|Kilchoman Machir Bay|
Produced By: KilchomanProduction Location: Islay, Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $55.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious single malt scotch from the new kid on the block (by Scotch standards, anyway).
Remarkable dram that tingles the lips like no other Islay malt 🥃 whisky. Silly review listing so much review vernacular, but not that one key characteristic. Sip it in the cold fields with the cool views of Machir Bay behind the distillery, and you understand why this is the perfect Islay drink for those looking for that extra tingle.
A new favorite Islay malt of mine. Remarkably rich and unctuous on the palate with beautiful aromas of peat smoke, candied orange peel, apricot and honey. Tried neat and then my favorite approach: pour over a large cube, let sit about 1 minute then remove cube. Either way, the bitterness mentioned in the review did not present itself. An outstanding malt that can stand next to distilleries decades (if not centuries) older.