Kilchoman tasting with Peter Wills

A 10th anniversary tasting in Sydney

Kilchoman’s Peter Wills (youngest son of founder, Anthony Wills) was recently in Sydney as part of Islay distillery’s 10th anniversary celebrations (gee they’re growing up fast!) I first bumped into him over the weekend at The Oak Barrel’s Sydney Whisky Fair, whilst he was presenting as part of Island 2 Island’s trade stand.

Peter Wills

Understandably he was being mobbed by fans of the young Islay all weekend, so it was great to be invited along to The Wild Rover’s Campbell Corner Whiskey Co-operative the following Monday for an intimate and casual tasting.

Kilchoman tasting

Ten years can sound like a long time. Ten years in the same job is a good stint these days. A ten-year-old mobile phone makes it damn near ancient. Yet ten years in the whisky world seems like nothing, especially when you consider that your next youngest neighbour has been making whisky at least 124 years longer than you. That in itself makes the whole Kilchoman story that much more interesting and exciting to me.

It’s been a good while since we last attended a Kilchoman tasting, so I was quite looking forward to it. First up was a 100% Islay head-to-head, tasting the 4th edition against the 5th edition. Both are solely matured in ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, both are bottled at 50% ABV and both are peated to around 20 parts per million (ppm). The difference then? The 5th edition is slightly older.

Kilchoman 100% Islay

I got soft smoke, a creamy vanilla sweetness and light, fruity malty notes on the 4th edition. This was backed up by an oily, tangy palate of fresh citrus (like grapefruit) and a heavy charred note. The 5th edition is certainly cut from the same cloth, but I found the nose to be brighter, with sharper citrus and acidic notes (like fresh cut pineapple), loads of tanginess with a more ashy char as opposed to soft smoke. This was backed up by a dryer, ashy palate with a bit more of a coastal theme going with tangy saline notes and drying smoked hay on the finish. A really interesting head-to-head.

Kilchoman Machir Bay

Next up was the mainstay in their range, the Machir Bay, which I’ve tasted (and enjoyed) on a number of occasions before. Bottled at 46% ABV with some ex-sherry cask in the mix, I find it softer yet richer, with sweet vanilla on the nose, ripe fruit, bananas, a faint hint of strawberry sponge and light peat. The palate is sweet and mellow at first, with a rich peaty tang at the back. I found it more earthy, combining tropical fruit notes with the peat being slightly less apparent than the 100% Islay expressions.

Kilchoman 2007 Vintage

The 2007 vintage six and a half year old was up next, again bottled at 46% ABV. I found this dryer and ashier again on the nose, but a bit more balanced than the 100% Islay. Ashy hay notes, fresh and zesty. The palate echoed the nose closely with earthy peat notes at the back and fresh zesty notes at the front (tropical fruits like green mango and pawpaw). The smoke wasn’t there, but the peat was evident on the finish, which was longer. This tasted the most mature of the lot.

Kilchoman Cask Strength

We then moved into full-proof territory, with the 59.2% Original Cask Strength. One nosing of this and I was hooked. Super creamy and round on the nose, smooth smoke, buttery vanilla, zesty lemon meringue desserts with a light alcohol prickle. I found the palate oily and rich, loaded with zesty charred flavours. It was ashy, dry and tangy, with salted caramel notes and a long, peat laden, cheek tingling finish.

Kilchoman at cask strength is a very enjoyable thing. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a couple of single casks over the years and now the Original Cask Strength too, and I’m a fan.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm

We finished on the sherry-matured Loch Gorm (which I’ve tasted here and here), whilst Peter shared some great stories; like flooding the floor with new-make as Anthony was showing some potential investors around, to honouring the ‘barley-to-bottle’ claim of the 100% Islay 1st edition by hand-filling thousands of bottles with teapots.

Anniversary bottling?

If you’re wondering whether there’s going to be an anniversary bottling, the answer is yes. But it’s very unlikely you’re going to taste it. Kilchoman filled their first cask in December 2005 and auctioned off one single bottle from this cask when it turned three (the minimum legal age). That bottle sold for 5,500 and they plan to bottle another single bottle from that cask and auction it in December this year. So for those of us with shallower pockets, we might have to wait a little longer for a regular ten year old bottling to hit the shelves.

Happy anniversary Kilchoman

Thanks to Peter for coming all this way to share the story of Kilchoman with us and to The Wild Rover for hosting another great whisky tasting.

Peter Wills Kilchoman

Over the past decade, Kilchoman have achieved a lot and in my humble opinion and they’re making some great whisky. Yes it’s young and yes it rarely has an age statement. But it’s got loads of flavour and character and it’s fun! I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade brings for this youngster, but part of me really hopes that they keep releasing these young, bright and vibrant Islays.

Check out @whiskyledger on Instagram for plenty more whisky and drinks photography.

New World Projects PX Cask

Exclusive to Baranows Lounge in Hawthorn, Melbourne

Well, well well, what do we have here? An Australian single cask whisky? I’ve seen that before. Bottled at full cask strength? I’ve also seen that. An Australian single cask, cask strength whisky, fully matured in an ex-pedro ximenez cask direct from Spain? Now that I haven’t come across.

Baranows PX 1

Being the sucker that I am for whiskies with a heavy sherry influence, I knew this thing had my name written all over it.

New World Whisky Distillery 

If you’re reading this from Australia, you may have heard of these guys before. Or if you haven’t, perhaps you’re aware of their more mainstream whisky brand, Starward whisky. If you’re reading this from overseas, both names are likely to be completely foreign to you (though I’m sure that will change in the near future).

Founded in 2004, New World Whisky Distillery is the brainchild of former IT (e-learning) businessman, Mr David Vitale. Fast forward six years and it’s probably safe to say that Starward Whisky is one of the most affordable, approachable and accessible Australian single malts available in our local market today.

Whilst the brand Starward is reserved for their readily available offerings, David fully appreciates the fact that whisky geeks get all excited about limited release, cask strength bottlings. For that reason, he gave his employees the green light to setup New World Projects.

Think of New World Projects as an experimental department of the New World Whisky Distillery. They’ve released a number of single cask bottlings over the last 12 months or so, including some pretty interesting combinations. Think: a red wine cask with virgin oak lids. Or perhaps a ginger beer cask-finished whisky, where the cask was seasoned with ginger beer they brewed themselves.

The whisky: Baranows Selection #2 

So when I heard about their latest offering – this New World Projects PX cask, bottled exclusively for Baranows Lounge in Melbourne – I knew I had to try it.

Baranows PX 2

In case you thought the colour in the first picture was influenced by the background, here’s another, directly under a desk lamp. This is a serious Darth Vader whisky! Yes, it’s all natural colour as well.

One of the other great things I love about New World Whisky Distillery is that their Distillery Manager, Ian Thorn, keeps immaculate records on everything they produce as well. A short email exchange yielded some great info on this cask.

  • Single cask 110304-06-446 was a 50 litre re-coopered ex-pedro ximenez cask sourced from Montilla (Córdoba) CP in Spain
  • It was filled with new make spirit on 4 March 2011 at 55.7% ABV
  • It was emptied and bottled on 1 September 2014 at cask strength of 59.3% ABV (yes, in our climate water evaporates quicker than alcohol, leading to higher ABVs)
  • The cask lost a huge 26.5% of its contents over that three and a half year maturation period, meaning just 44 bottles of this whisky remained.

So in pictures and on paper, there’s little doubt that this thing looks and sounds pretty special, but as always, the proof is in the pudding.

Baranows PX Glass

Nose

After a short while in the glass, this is nothing but rich and desserty. Did I mention it’s rich? Crème brulee, complete with vanilla notes, caramel and a hint of that banana estery note that I often associate with Starward whisky. Sweet caramelized figs, prunes, brown sugar and some cinnamon. The nose on this is big, young and spritely – nothing closed or dusty about this, as you can sometimes find with older, full-term sherry matured whisky.

There is some alcohol (after all, it’s 59%), but it’s not as fierce on the nose as you might expect from something this young. I could seriously spend half an hour nosing this one. A true after dinner dram.

Palate

On first sip I got an instant burst of salivation – no avoiding the alcohol here, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s viscous, thick and full on the palate. There’s an initial burst of sweetness, but it’s a fair bit drier on the palate than you’d expect from the nose. More of that classic PX cask comes out now, with dried red fruits and those classic Christmas cake flavours (raisins, prunes, spice and a slight bitter nuttiness).

Baranows PX tears and legs

Putting the glass back down I couldn’t help but stare at it – check out those fat lingering legs! (that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?)

Finish

Really quite long and warming on the finish. It remains sweet throughout the mouth with lingering warmth, but minimal spice. I found a fairly strong vanilla note rolling in after a few seconds as well. Give it some time and there’s some bitter oak towards the end – call it pencil shavings or dusty, high cacao dark chocolate if you will.

With such an enticing nose and clean tasting palate, to me, this comes across as a really clean sherry cask. I didn’t come across any off-putting notes of rubber or sulphur what-so-ever.

When, where and how much?

The remaining bottles (and there aren’t many of them!) are available now, exclusively through Baranow’s Lounge in Melbourne at an RRP of AU$299. See here for more information.

The bottle reviewed was purchased by The Whisky Ledger.

SMWS + Shirt Bar Sydney

The other week the Shirt Bar in Sydney held a very special Scotch Club event in conjunction with the Australian chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).

Shirt Bar sign

I’ve been to a few Scotch Club events before (here and here) and I’m also a member of the SMWS, so I knew this would be a winning combo. Even more so as the evening was being hosted by SMWS Australia’s Cellarmaster, the affable Mr Andrew Derbidge.

ShirtBar

For those who’ve never met Andrew, he has to be one of the most knowledgeable and approachable whisky figures I’ve come across. His presentations are always jam-packed with interesting info, yet never bore – irrespective of your level of whisky knowledge or interest.

What you need to know about The Society

If you’re not familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, who they are and what they do, their website should be able to help solve that problem for you. In my opinion though, here’s what you really need to know:

  • All of their whiskies are bottled from single casks,
  • They’re all cask strength, natural colour and non-chill filtered.
  • Bottles will never be repeated, so when they’re gone – they’re gone!

SMWS pack

In the images to follow, you’ll note that the labeling contains an odd numerical code. Quick intro if you’re not familiar with the SMWS’s labeling system – the first number represents the distillery the whisky came from and the second represents the number of casks that have been bottled by the Society, from said distillery. The brilliant names? Well, that’s the domain of the chaps in the Society’s creative department I guess!

Table

On to the whisky then

The line-up consisted of six pretty special bottles, including two not previously seen as part of Australia’s quarterly outturn (yes, think yourselves lucky my UK friends, we’re a long way away from Scotland, so our Outturn is only quarterly).

Tasting mat

41.59 Appetizing and tantalizing

First up was this ten year old whisky from a Speyside distillery by the name of Dailuaine. You may not have heard of them, but chances are you’re consumed their whisky before. Dailuaine is owned by Diageo and the majority of their output ends up in the various Johnnie Walker blends.

A super small amount of this stuff is bottled as a single malt – let alone singe cask, cask strength – so it was pretty special to have this.

SMWS 41

Very fruity and quite light on the nose. Summer fruit salad, pineapples, pears, apples and some tart piney notes dominated, while some softer vanilla and sweet floral notes hid up the back. Quite a light nose with a decent amount of spirit prickle.

Light on the palate as well, yet rather oily at the same time. I found that it initially sat quite high before unleashing a decent amount of spice and some big tangy and tart pineapple notes that sent the saliva glands into overdrive. The finish was long with quite a bit of heat and some oaky spice, somewhat balanced by a noticeable vanilla note.

Back to where it all begins  

Before moving on to dram number two, Andrew paused for a moment to take us back a few steps, presenting whisky in its naked new make spirit form.

New make

He busted out this small sample of Glenmorangie new make spirit, which comes off the stills at an industry average of 63.5% ABV. I didn’t spend too long with this, but as you’d expect, it was very grassy, slightly dusty and botanical on the nose (they often remind me of Mezcal) and hot and saliva-inducing on the palate.

I had to have a chuckle when a guy near me nosed his glass and exclaimed to his mates ‘oh man, that’s smells like unleaded petrol’.

Not the most interesting new make I’ve tired, but I always find it really interesting to sample the building blocks of whisky, and trying new make from a hugely popular Scottish distillery is not something you get to do often!

121.68 Harvesting fruit on an Indian summer’s day

Next up was this 14 year old dram from a fairly young island distillery, Arran, which opened in 1995.

SMWS 121

A noticeably heavier nose on this one compared with the Dailuaine. Sweet esthery polish notes, sour green grapes, caramel – almost on the verge of burnt bitter caramel. Initially the nose seemed quite closed, but given some time it changed quite a bit, developing some meaty fermented grape notes and gummy lollies, in particular, strawberries and cream.

Creamy and oily on the palate, straight off the bat. Tropical fruits, sweet spice and overall, a very round profile. The back of the palate became almost drying, with a hint of kiwi and some slight salty notes. A long fruity finish (reminded me of tinned tropical fruits).

123.8 In the Spanish mountains

As far as I can tell, the Society has only ever bottled eight casks from this distillery, making it somewhat of a rarity and indeed a priviledge to be tasting. I’m talking about Glengoyne and this particular bottle was matured for 12 years in a refill port pipe.

SMWS 123

Quite a dense, heavy nose on this dram. Spice, Vegemite, a touch of salt, tart plum jam or plum butter (reminded me of my favourite Polish powidła) and some hazelnuts. Not overly sweet or sugary, but also not overly fruity. A very interesting nose, though I’m still not sure how much I really liked it?

Lovely oily mouth feel which was both rich and winey. Spice developed quite quickly, but a winey sweetness remained the whole way through. The finish is where I felt the port notes really showed, with some lingering plummy prune flavours, more spice and a decent oakiness.

An enjoyable and really interesting dram, but if I’m being completely honest, I think I prefer Glengoyne’s spirit when it’s been bourbon or sherry cask influenced.

132.5 Sweet and darkly beguiling

Not actually a Scotch, this next whisky hailed from one of Japan’s most revered and lauded closed distilleries, Karuizawa.

Big, rich and syrupy on the nose. Sweet raisins, stewed plums, figs and Christmas cake. So rich, yet surprisingly clean. I’m not sure how to describe exactly what I mean by ‘clean’, but despite the heavy sherry influence, the nose came across as really quite bright and active.

SMWS 132

The theme continues with a rich, creamy, syrupy palate. Tangy raisins and dark red fruit, there’s some spice, but I found it somewhat restrained for such a heavily sherried whisky. Slightly prickly, dense and a hint of old char smoke. A long and warming finish remains sweet and fruity with some oaky spice showing at the tail end. Such a clean sherry cask in my opinion.

I wondered whether this dram had star status in my eyes because I knew it was from a closed distillery and knew it was rare. But I’ve been fortunate enough to try it on two or three occasions now – on its own and up against a number of other whiskies I regard quite highly – and each time it has stood out as something pretty special.

If you’re a big Glendronach or Glenfarclas fan, this isn’t one to miss. A hugely enjoyable drinkers whisky (ie. collectors/investors, you’re seriously missing out!)

Time to bring on the peat!

It was around this time of the night that Andrew revealed his last sensory item for the evening, some freshly peated Ardbeg malt.

Ardbeg malt

I love the smell of Ardbeg, but this was something else. Burrying my nose right in there, the glass was full of cereal and grainy notes but they were overlayed with that amazing smoky sweetness. I know it would probably taste like rubbish, but in that moment I could have eaten that glass full of malt with a spoon. A rare treat to encounter Ardbeg malt in Australia, that’s for sure.

I have no idea how he got a big zip-lock bag of malted barley past Australian Customs on the way back in from his recent trip to Scotland, but I’m glad he did. Andrew – if you smuggled this in your jocks, I don’t want to know about it.

53.198 Wasabi on a California Roll

The last dram of the evening was also the oldest of the night, a lovely 18 year old coastal dram from Caol Ila.

SMWS ShirtBar

On the nose, I found this to be rather tangy and salty up front, with fragrant peat and a fairly light smokiness. A hint of iodine, but nowhere near as medicinal as the likes of Laphroaig. In a moment of poetic wankerism, I wrote down ‘a coastal BBQ with sea spray’.

More smoky on the palate than the nose, a lovely oiliness to the mouth with some spice, saline and drying hay. It had a certain fruity quality to it as well though, with grilled peaches (burnt perhaps?) and a tangy peat, sweet and savoury finish. Really quite lovely and balanced.

Phone picture

In true Shirt Bar fashion, the evening’s Scotch Club finished off with their trademark antipasto board & pies.

Antipasto

This round of Scotch Club was perfect for those who’d never been to an SMWS event and wanted to see what all the fuss is about. As an existing member, I took it as a perfect opportunity to get my SMWS whisky fix between Outturns and taste a few new expressions I hadn’t come across before. A seriously enjoyable tasting.

If you missed out

I was originally going to write something along the lines of ‘if you missed out, not to worry – there’s another one being held on August 13th’.

Group 2

But you can forget that. It went on sale the other day and completely sold out – in less than 24 hours! If you do have a ticket, I’m not sure that you’ll be tasting the above, but whatever Andrew brings, they’re bound to send those taste buds into overdrive!

If you didn’t manage to get yourself a ticket and want to find out more about the Society, head over to their website and keep en eye on their tastings and events page to see when an event is being held in your capital city.

Kilchoman tasting with Anthony Wills

Five expressions from Islay’s newest distillery

It doesn’t matter quite how busy my week gets, I always look forward to the whisky tastings held at the Oak Barrel in Sydney. The other week was no exception, so as soon as 6.30pm hit, into the tasting cave we ventured for a rather special Kilchoman masterclass.

Kilchoman brochure

The Oak Barrel’s whisky expert, Dave, normally runs the tastings. But occasionally he takes a seat with the rest of us and invites someone along to present instead. It’s fair to say that he keeps pretty good company, because the other week we were privileged to have someone pretty special presenting for us – the founder and owner of Kilchoman Distillery, Mr Anthony Wills.

Kilchoman: The story 

You may know of Kilchoman as the first new distillery to be built on Islay in 125 years, but here are a few things you may not be aware of.

Kilchoman (pronounced kil-ho-man) is the brainchild of former independent whisky bottler, Mr Anthony Wills. After finding that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to get his hands on quality single cask whiskies to bottle, Anthony came to the conclusion that there was only going to be one way for him to secure his own supply of whisky well into the future. How? To build his very own distillery of course!

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who’ve had similar dreams, but the number who’ve actually turned that dream into reality? My guess is that you can probably count them on one hand.

Kilchoman - Brochure Anthony

With the financial and moral support of his family, in 2005 Anthony & Co. sunk a million pounds into refurbishing and rebuilding the distillery’s buildings and purchasing the required equipment.

With no money left for production (and no actual distilling experience), Anthony managed to convince John Maclellan to leave his secure, long-term job as Master Distiller at Bunnahabhain and come and work for him. He was joined by Dr Jim Swan, whom Anthony brought on-board to help define and craft a specific spirit for Kilchoman, one Anthony describes as ‘clean, floral, sweet and peaty’. And so by the end of 2005, the stills were run for the first time and Kilchoman’s very first American Oak cask was filled on 14 December 2005.

Kilchoman managed to make a trading profit after just five years in business and last year they produced over 130,000 litres of spirit – coming a very long way from their first year of production where they produced 50,000 litres of spirit and filled just 12 casks a week!

Edit: I’ve been reliably informed that John Maclellan didn’t actually join Kilchoman until 2010, well after the stills started running. Thanks to Andrew for clearing that up for me!

Kilchoman: The whiskies

After Anthony delivered this interesting and informative intro, it was time to get down to business and taste some whisky.

Kilchoman tasting glasses

Before we get into each one though, here are some Kilchoman fast facts:

  • The barley for all of their expression (except 100% Islay) comes from Port Ellen Maltings (who also supply to the likes of Ardbeg and Lagavulin).
  • The barley from Port Ellen Maltings is malted to standard Ardbeg specs, which is around 50 PPM
  • Kilchoman fill their barrels at 63.5% ABV
  • All of Kilchoman’s first fill bourbon barrels are sourced from Buffalo Trace in Kentucky
  • Their sherry casks are all from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain (the same supplier Glenfarclas use for all of their casks)
  • All Kilchoman bottlings (which are bottled on-site mind you) are Non-Chill Filtered and natural colour.

Summer 2010 Release 

You may have guessed it from the name, but this expression was released in the Summer of 2010 (Winter, if you were in Australia at the time.. it was probably the same temperature as a Scottish summer!) This release was matured in first fill bourbon barrels and after three years was bottled at a respectable 46% ABV.

Kilchoman - Summer 2010 

Quite fresh and light on the nose with some floral notes, light sweetness, hints of citrus and maybe some pineapple. Quite crisp and not overly peaty. This translated to a medium oily palate, with some sweet creamy floral vanilla and a big wave of fresh peat that hung around for a good while. A light salty tang on the finish. Delicate, but not my favourite. 

Interestingly, this expression was bottled in their original generic style bottle, before they had their own bespoke bottle mould produced. Ever wondered what a bottle mould costs? Kilchoman paid a cool 20,000 pounds! 

100% Islay 2nd edition 

The second expression personified what Kilchoman was all about when Anthony originally envisaged it – making a whisky that was 100% Islay. And so from the barley grown at Rockside Farm next door to the distillery, to the in-house malting using local peat, to the distilling, maturation and eventual bottling – it’s all done on Islay.

Kilchoman - 100 Islay

Does that actually give it a different profile though? You bet it did. A vatting of three and four year old whiskies, bottled at 50% ABV, 100% Islay had a noticeably different nose.

I got some malty grassy notes, vanilla, crème caramel and bananas nicely balanced out by the peat. This carried through to a lovely creamy and oily palate, vanilla and floral with peat sitting at the back of the palate. It finished with waves of warmth and hints of spice.

In case you’re wondering, the Rockside Farm barley is peated on-site using local peat for around 20 hours. This results in a level of around 10-20 PPM (parts per million). The barley is malted in two tonne batches and the whole malting process takes around 12-14 days. 

Machir Bay 2012 edition 

The first of Kilchoman’s core expressions, Machir Bay was released in 2012 as a vatting of three and four year old whiskies, with ‘a splash of five year old’ as Anthony put it. All came from first fill American Oak ex-bourbon barrels, however the vatting was finished in 20 year old ex-Oloroso casks for a couple of months prior to bottling.

Kilchoman - Machir Bay 

This has a noticeably heavier nose to the two before it – I got some hints of kiwi, a pleasant sourness, some fruitiness, light peat and hints of spice (presumably from the sherry finishing). Slightly thinner on the palate, but still creamy and sweet followed by a pronounced wave of vibrant peat.

Still a remarkably fresh and bright whisky, with none of the tarry medicinal notes often associated with bolder peated whiskies. 

Loch Gorm 1st release 

First released in 2013, Loch Gorm is a five year old Kilchoman solely matured in ex-European Oak sherry casks. In case that wasn’t enough, it’s then finished for a few months in fresh, first fill Oloroso casks, imparting the lovely dark liquid amber colour seen here.

Kilchoman - Loch Gorm

Compared to the three before it, Loch Gorm has a much weightier, heavy, meatier nose. You can see some more of my notes here but I want to mention something that I couldn’t articulate last time I tried Loch Gorm.

On our previous encounter, Loch Gorm confused me slightly. On initial nosing, it wasn’t the peat monster I was expecting, nor was it a fruity sherry bomb. The more I concentrated, the more these flavour profiles played hide and seek with one another.

Whilst I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I now feel as though this was simply a hallmark of a rather well-balanced nose. Indeed, Anthony was quite proud of Loch Gorm and mentioned that he felt much the same.

Cask strength small batch release

As far as I’m aware, this is the first time a single cask Kilchoman has been on taste in Australia. Another five year old, but this time matured in first fill bourbon barrels, then finished for around six weeks in Oloroso sherry casks. As for strength? A big and gutsy 58.2%…

Kilchoman - Small Batch

…but you wouldn’t have picked it from the nose! Certainly noticeable as a higher ABV whisky, but I wouldn’t have picked it being that high at all. Amazingly fresh, creamy nose with big waves of milk chocolate, mars bars and coffee beans, magically mixed with some grassy notes, pine trees, fresh peat and vanilla.

Much of this translated straight to the palate – lovely round, creamy flavours. More vanilla, milk chocolate, hints of salted caramel and a nice helping of peat looming in the background. Long, warming, creamy finish.

You should have seen the flurry of people filling in order forms for this one. It was seriously good!

Some final thoughts 

In many ways, the story of Kilchoman reminds me of some of Australia’s very own young distilleries. And like some of Australia’s young distilleries, Kilchoman’s output really is testament to the fact that young whisky can be bloody good whisky.

Anthony took the time to explain that he and Jim Swan set out to produce a spirit that would mature reasonably quickly and taste great when bottled young. With that in mind, I think he and his team have really hit the mark with their latest round of releases.

As for the evening – It’s always great to hear from brand ambassadors, especially those who are knowledgable and enthusiastic. But there’s something different about listening to someone who’s been there from day one, someone who had an idea and saw it become reality and someone who knows the ins and outs of every aspect of their distillery and is happy to share every little detail.

Anthony Wills

On that note, I’d like to say a sincere thanks to Mr Anthony Wills for flying half way across the world to share the story of Kilchoman with us. A special thank you is also in order for Dave and The Oak Barrel for hosting another fantastic tasting and to Island2Island for bringing Kilchoman and Anthony to our shores.

Glendronach 1994 single cask

Batch 9, Distilled 1994, 19 years old, Cask No. 3385, 53.4% ABV, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon, Speyside, Scotland

If you’re into heavily sherried whiskies, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Glendronach. Their regular core range is pretty top-notch, consisting of four different offerings ranging in age from 12 through to 21 years.

The bottle being tasted isn’t actually part of their core range though. It’s part of their semi-annual limited release of ‘single cask’ expressions, which are bottled at natural cask strength. You don’t see these too often in Australia, so when a friend suggested I review his bottle, I wasn’t exactly going to say no!

Glendronach 1994

Look at that colour! It’s like treacle or golden syrup! I don’t know about you, but when I see a whisky that colour – and when I know that it’s natural colour – I get pretty damn excited.

Glendronach 1994 - Copper

The presentation of these bottles is pretty special – rich metallic brown packaging scribed in copper coloured lettering. The box is also lined in a sand colour suede-like material. You feel a real sense of occasion when you pick up and open the box on one of these.

Glendronach 1994 - NCF

Apart from being bottled at cask strength, all of Glendronach’s single cask releases are non-chill filtered (NCF) and bottled at their natural colour – something they’re quite proud of. This is as close as many of us will come to drinking straight out of a cask!

Glendronach 1994 - Label

This particular bottle is from batch 9 of their single cask releases. Distilled in 1994 and matured in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon – one of the larger casks used in the whisky industry at around 500 litres in size.

Did you know…

When this particular batch of whisky was distilled in 1994, Glendronach still floor malted their own barley (instead of buying malted barley in from somewhere else).

As part of the malting process, they dried their barley over a coal and peat fuelled fire, resulting in a spirit that was peated to around 14 parts per million (PPM). This is nowhere near the ~55-60 PPM of something like an Ardbeg 10 year old, but it’s still pretty peaty for a Speyside whisky!

Nose

Immediately I got classic sweet PX sherry with some tarty notes in there – almost like tarty raisins or apricots.  Sniffing it again (and this might sound a bit crazy), I was reminded of caramelized peaches – you know, when you cut one in half, sprinkle brown sugar on it, add a knob of butter then put it under the grill in your oven. Lovely rich caramelized sugar and fruit notes, with a hint of burnt spice. A really deep nose that you can sniff and sniff and sniff.

If you leave this to sit for a good while in the glass it really opens up and the brown sugar raisin notes really come to the front quite nicely.

Palate

The first thing you notice is how thick, syrupy and tongue coating it is. Just brilliant. Sweet dried raisins, hint of spice, slight oakiness and a really faint sour fruit note – maybe orange marmalade? All of the flavours are really complimentary – no single one jumps out sharply at you.

Finish

The finish is long and warming, not fierce at all, a real winter chest warmer – which is kind of ironic considering I tried it on a 40 degree (104F) summer day in Sydney! Fruity sweetness eventually fades and some of the tannic oak starts to show through after a good few minutes.

Comments

Even though this is bottled at 53.4%, it’s incredibly drinkable and that extra few percent – combined with the non-chill filtering – really locks in a huge amount of flavour.

When I see that kind of ABV, I often consider adding a few drops of water, but I don’t think this needed any all. I did test it out, but I personally think it lost some of its magic. A bit of patience and some glass time is all this one needed to really shine.