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Kilchoman was founded in 2005 in a cluster of disused buildings on Rockside Farm near Islay’s western coast. A rather unique endeavor, the distillery cultivates a portion of its barley requirements onsite and then malts, distills, matures and bottles in-house, making it perhaps the most complete example of the grain to glass process in all of Scotland.
A short distance past the distillery, down a single track road, lies Machir Bay on the islands Atlantic coast, a place both beautiful and dramatic in equal measure. Steep cliffs give way to a long stretch of golden sand that feels like the last bastion of safety before a violent sea which stretches all the way to North America. Strong currents make swimming impossible while various seafaring vessels have run into all kinds of trouble in the tumultuous waters of the bay.
In the year 1835, a ship named ‘Stella’, sailing from Palermo to Greenock ran aground in Machir Bay, though fortunately on that occasion, the crew were rescued without any loss of life. Others were not so lucky. In 1888 for example, the Norwegian barque ‘La Planta’ entered the waters of the bay, where a shift in unsecured cargo caused the vessel to list and eventually run aground. 3 men were lost that day, though even that incident would pale in comparison to the events of October 6th 1918…
HMS Otranto was an armed merchant cruiser requisitioned by the Royal Navy at the onset of war in 1914. On the 25th of September the ship departed New York at the head of a great convoy but ran into a terrible storm after ten days at sea. Conditions worsened over the next 48 hours and by October 6th, the entire convoy was hopelessly lost. When a rocky coastline came into view, Otranto’s officers mistakenly identified the land mass as the tip of Ireland and steered north in order to traverse it, inadvertently setting themselves on a collision course with HMS Kashmire, who’s crew had correctly recognised the west coast of Scotland and made south. Kashmir punched a hole in Otranto’s hull 16 feet wide and 20 feet deep, flooding the engine room, killing all power and instantly drowning any crewmen in the area.
While badly damaged, HMS Kashmire was able to break free and withdraw but alas, Otranto was defenceless against the pounding of the waves and eventually broke in two on the rocks about a kilometre from shore. Some of the crew were able to jump aboard the British destroyer Mounsey which bravely pulled alongside the doomed vessel, but many more were lost. Estimates place the loss of life at around 470 men, making this dreadful incident one of the worst collisions of the war.
Standing on the beach at Machir Bay today, gazing at a sea which seems to boil and churn, even when calm, one can almost feel the devastating events that happened there. Then, with a sharp intake of salty air and a blast of Atlantic wind, one perfectly grasps the reasoning behind the naming of Kilchoman’s flagship single malt after this wild and awesome place.
Kilchoman Machir Bay is bottled at 46% abv and retails in the UK for around £45.
Smell: Lemon and Vanilla with Creamy White Chocolate and Caramel, all wrapped in a blanket of Smoke and Ash.
Taste: Sea Salt & Brine, Vanilla, Honey and Caramel, Malt & Peppery Spice with strong undercurrent of Islay Smoke.
Value for Money: Frankly, the quality of the liquid in the bottle more than justifies the price.
Scores: 44 / 50.
Kilchoman have rather mastered the art of creating excellent spirits at a young age. Machir Bay may be their entry level expression and lack an age statement but it really doesn’t matter. The story here is not what is (or isn’t) on the label, it’s all about what’s in the bottle and on that count, Machir Bay does not disappoint. Affordable, flavoursome, characterful… Wonderful.