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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.