Last week I spent some time on Islay, an island that is home to some of the finest malt whisky distilleries in the world with 8 currently in production and number nine already on the way (more on that next week). The most recent of the eight is little Kilchoman, the smallest, yet perhaps most intriguing of them all.
Kilchoman was founded in 2005 on the site of Rockside Farm on the island’s West Coast, a location chosen for its excellent barley growing capabilities. The setup is completely unique on Islay, if not all of Scotland, in that it is a very traditional farm distillery… Barley is grown and harvested, milled, malted, fermented, distilled into spirit, matured into whisky and bottled under one roof (though the farm can’t supply enough barley to keep up with demand and some has to be imported).
Touring the distillery on a typically windy day, I was struck by how unlike its island neighbours it is. There are no whitewashed, wind battered walls on a stormy shore here. Instead, quaint stone buildings huddle together, seemingly surrounded by fields of golden barley that provide the very building blocks for the final product. Only the aforementioned Atlantic wind, blowing in from nearby Machir Bay reminds me that I’m still on Islay.
Few distilleries in Scotland still operate a malting floor today, yet compared to the ones I’ve seen at the likes of Bowmore and Springbank, the floor at Kilchoman is tiny, a theme which quickly establishes itself throughout the whole site. The mashtun, washbacks and pot stills are the smallest I’ve seen. Though the latter, it must be said, are perfectly formed and absolutely gorgeous.
The distillery comes complete with a filling station and bottling hall, not to mention a lovely visitor centre and welcoming cafe, where we were able to pull up a chair and sample a few drams from one of the tasting flights on offer. I was already fairly well acquainted with the Kilchoman range but after a few samples, I decided to take home a bottle of their ‘Sanaig’ expression so that I might get to know it a little better and share with you some of my enjoyment of this delicious dram. Sanaig is named after a rocky bay on Islay’s north shore and is matured predominantly in Oloroso casks before being bottled at natural colour and 46% ABV…
Smell: Malt & Dried Fruits… Raisins, Prunes, Figs… Lemon, Cola, Touch of Vanilla and wisps of Pungent Peat Smoke.
Taste: A marriage of Sherry and Smoke, each trying to dominate but being held in place. Raisin & Sultana, Liquorice, Caramel, Toffee, Pepper, Smoke & Ash.
Value for Money: Excellent value at around £50 a bottle. For a relatively young whisky, the quality is exceptional.
Kilchoman have become the benchmark against which all new distilleries shall be judged. Should anyone out there still believe that malt whisky needs a minimum of 10 or 12 years to shine, they really need to sit down and get to know the spirit from this exceptional little distillery. Sanaig tilts the blend in favour of Oloroso casks and the final result is a blissful union of bold young peated spirit and good quality cask character.
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