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.

The Campbell Corner Whisk(e)y Co-operative

A new way to enjoy whisky – The Wild Rover, Sydney

The other week I attended a great masterclass with Burn Stewart’s Ian MacMillan at one of Sydney’s newer bars, The Wild Rover in Surry Hills.

You’ll find The Wild Rover an easy five to ten minute stroll from Sydney’s Central Station behind this rather unassuming shop front on the corner of Campbell and Foster Street in Surry Hills. Despite the faded signage, there’s no shirts being measured and made behind that green door…


… just a whole lot of quality drinks and good times!


The copper-coloured bar, old railway destination boards and red and white candy-striped lamp shades work so well with the bare brick-work and those jungle murals – the place just pops with life. It’s such a warm and inviting space.


About the whisky though

Kim McDiarmid, Manager of The Wild Rover, explained that he’s rather wild about whisky & whiskey, so it makes perfect sense that the bar he manages would have a decent selection of the stuff.

He and the team have gone one step further though and created the Campbell Corner Whisk(e)y Co-operative (CCWC), which aims to bring like-minded enjoyers of whisky together over a dram of the glorious stuff.

Joining the CCWC will set you back $20, but for that you’ll get a dram of something special (to the value of $25), plus your very own personal “Inventory Of Whiskeys” – a passbook of 50 whiskies and whiskeys available at The Wild Rover that you can work your way through at your own pace.

Dram passport

The CCWC isn’t just about your own personal whisky adventure though. The dedicated fans who manage to tick off each dram will be granted privileged access to The Wild Rover’s reserve selection (a locked cabinet that’s about to go up on the wall) which already includes some pretty rare drops. Think Bushmills 12 year old Distillery Reserve (a distillery exclusive), Connemara Bog Oak and Teeling 21 year old Silver Reserve. For the Scotch Whisky fans, there’s also a Tamdhu 30 year old and plans for a tasty Port Ellen are in the works, along with some others.

If that doesn’t do it for you, Kim tells me that whisk(e)y buffs who get through their inventory will have access to these drams at cost price, a special thank you for their on-going support.

Being a CCWC member also grants you access to a bunch of ‘member only’ events to be held once a month. The first one held a couple of weeks ago was a Glendronach tasting, featuring Global Brand Ambassador from BenRiach and Glendronach distilleries, Mr Douglas Cooke. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, but Martin from was there and has put together this excellent write up, so head on over and check it out.


This picture shows the upstairs set-up for the recent Ian MacMillan masterclass and I imagine it would look somewhat similar for their CCWC events. Such a great space to be enjoying your drams.

If you’re in Sydney and you missed out on the Glendronach tasting, fear not! The second CCWC event is being held on 10 March and features none other than the owner and Master Distiller of Kilchoman, Mr Anthony Wills. Not a member? Not to worry, you can join on the night, sip your special dram and enjoy the tasting.

Full details on The Wild Rover’s facebook page.

Whisky tasting with Ian MacMillan

Sampling some of Burn Stewart’s finest single malts at The Wild Rover, Sydney

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a rather special whisky masterclass hosted by a true stalwart of the whisky industry, Mr Ian MacMillan.

A long way from home, Ian was on his first-ever Australian visit to attend the Top Shelf boutique drinks festival down in Melbourne. But before making the 17,000-odd kilometer journey back to Scotland, he generously found some time in his schedule to host this great masterclass at The Wild Rover in Sydney’s Surry Hills (keep an eye out for a post on this very cool bar shortly!)

Ian MacMillan

I refer to Ian as a true stalwart as he entered the whisky industry at the age of 18, starting his career at the Glengoyne distillery back in 1973. Over the following 40 years, Ian worked his way through numerous distilleries, from the ground up. He proudly tells us that he’s one of few in the industry today who can honestly say that they’ve ‘worked every single job in a distillery’.

It’s this kind of dedication that’s lead him to where he is today, as Head of Distilleries and Master Blender for Burn Stewart Distillers. Even if you haven’t heard of Burn Stewart, you’ve probably heard of their single malts – Deasnton, Bunnahabhain and Tobermory.

On with the drams then!

I would have been pretty happy to just listen to Ian’s fascinating stories all afternoon, but we were at The Wild Rover to taste some whisky – and taste whisky we did.

Tasting glasses

Before I launch into these though, it’d be remiss of me to not mention something about Ian’s whisky making philosophy. You see, he took great pride in explaining that when it comes to whisky making, he considers himself a ‘pure traditionalist’.

Among other things, he made a particular point of  recognising the role that people play in making the whiskies in the Burn Stewart portfolio. ‘The people working at these distilleries have such pride and are so proud of what they make … tell me of any computer panel that has that kind of passion for making liquid’.

It’s also worth pointing out that all four of the single malts we tried were non-chill filtered, natural colour and bottled at a generously enjoyable 46.3% ABV.

Ian talking

Ian’s reasoning behind non-chill filtering was a pretty good one too.. ‘we’d been making whisky for 800-odd years before chill filtration was invented and there was bugger-all wrong with it back then’ – so why do it now? Classic.

I found his whole approach pretty admirable and after hearing what Ian had to say, I couldn’t help but feel like it added a little something special to the four whiskies we were about to taste.

Deanston 12 year old

First cab off the rank was a whisky that I’d heard of, but never tasted – Deanston 12 year old. From Perthshire in the Central Highlands region, Deanston was opened in 1966 in an old cotton mill.

Deanston 12

Ian reckon’s it’s the most honey-influenced malt you’ll find. I always thought The Balvenie would hold that crown, but after tasting it, he could indeed be right!

Matured solely in ex-bourbon American Oak casks, I got some big honey notes on the nose, with hints of a citrus-tang, sweetness, orange zest and vanilla. This translated rather nicely to the creamy, oily palate with fresh zesty citrus notes and honeycomb sweetness finishing with some light spice.

Bunnahabhain 12 year old

For those of you who haven’t encountered Bunnahabhain before, it’s produced on the isle of Islay, but unlike some of its heavily peated brethren, Bunnahabhain’s core range is actually un-peated (well, that’s a little lie, it’s peated to around 2 – 3 parts per million – but that’s almost nothing).

Bunnahabhain 12

Around 40% of the content in the 12 year old is matured in first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks, so you get some wonderful nutty raisin notes mixed in with some light zesty fruit, sweet cured meat (well, that’s what I was reminded of anyway!) and the faintest whiff of smoke.

The intriguing nose is followed by a lovely viscous palate that nicely balances sweet and salty elements, fruit and really mild peat, finishing with a briny/salty tang. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for this one.

Tobermory 15 year old 

You’ll find Tobermory off the west-coast of Scotland on the Isle of Mull where they’ve officially been distilling since 1798. I say ‘official’, as records show that they actually started some 300 years earlier, back in the 15th century! 

Tobermory 15

Quite a unique, heavy nose on this. I got hints of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, dark fruits and a faint salty/tangy note. Looking back over my notes, I think I wrote the word ‘rich’ about three times without realizing it.

As with the other two, another lovely oily mouth-feel on the Tobermory. Flavour wise, I couldn’t help but be reminded of fruit and nut chocolate, fruity sherry (minus the sweetness) and a slight tang, all giving way to a long warming finish. 

Ledaig 10 year old 

Ah Ledaig. Looks simple to pronounce – Lé day-g – but if you, like me, thought that’s how it’s pronounced, then you’d be wrong. Ian tells us it’s pronounced something like ‘Lech-igg’ or ‘Led-chigg’. Got to love Gaelic. 

Ledaig 10

Produced at Tobermory, Ian informs us that with Ledaig, he set out to produce a whisky that was similar in characteristic to what would have originally been produced at Tobermory.

On the nose, the Ledaig 10 year old has light, warming wood-smoke honey notes. This translates nicely to an oily palate and a warming finish, with hints of citrus that turn rather drying after a short while.

Some final thoughts

The masterclass drew a crowd predominantly made up of industry and bar staff from all over Sydney, but there also happened to be two of Sydney’s finest drinks bloggers in the room – Corinne from Gourmantic and Matt from Distant Thunder Whisky Club – two fellow whisky fans whose sites are well worth the read. It was a real pleasure meeting you both!

I don’t know about everyone else in the room, but I already had a bit of a soft spot for Bunnahabhain and Tobermory. After hearing more about them, I feel as though these are a couple of quality, underrated whiskies that drink a fair bit higher than they’re often scored. I’d definitely keep an eye out for these behind your favourite bar if you’re looking to try something new.

A sincere thanks to Ian MacMillan for his time and to the folks at Island2Island Beverage Company for brining him out to Australia. I genuinely hope we get to see more of him, and his whiskies, in the near future.