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Kilchoman distillery stands on the western coast of the isle of Islay, a short distance from the sands of Machir Bay. For a while this was the most westerly distillery in Scotland and it does kind of feel like you’re on the edge of the world when you stand on the beach gazing at an Atlantic ocean that rolls and boils all the way to North America.
The distillery was the brainchild of Anthony Wills, a wine and spirits merchant who moved to Islay in 2000, having earlier married an islander by the name of Kathy. In 2001, Wills leased a group of derelict buildings on Rockside Farm and began to renovate them with a view to creating a bold new distillery that would hark back to the earliest traditions of Scotch whisky.
At the time, Rockside Farm was owned by Mark French and was known to be one of the best sites for growing barley on the island, which of course provided the fledgling distiller with a reliable source of the core ingredient required for making whisky. Kilchoman officially opened in June 2005 and was in production by December of the same year.
Such has been the success of the project, Wills and family were able to buy Rockside Farm in its entirety in 2015, securing the long term future of both the distillery buildings and the barley fields that supply it. With the location secured, the next step was expansion. In order to keep up with ever-growing demand, a new malting floor and kiln were announced in 2017 and they were followed by the creation of a new still-house which has effectively doubled the production capacity of the site. In addition, five new warehouses are to be built onsite in order to store the extra spirit which now runs from the stills.
Loch Gorm is the largest freshwater Loch on Islay. It stands less than a mile from the Atlantic near Machir Bay and Kilchoman itself. Indeed, the water used for the production of the distillery’s spirit is drawn from one of the Loch’s tributaries. Home to some of the best trout fishing on the island, the Loch is also the location of a ruined fort that once belonged to the infamous Lords of the Isles, though little of it remains today.
Dark and rich in peat content, it is perhaps understandable that Kilchoman chose Loch Gorm as the name for an entirely sherry matured Islay single malt. Aged exclusively in Oloroso Butts sourced from the renowned Jose Miguel Martin bodega, the 2019 edition is a vatting of casks from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, making it the first version to include spirit as old as 12 and 13 years in the blend. Bottled un-chill-filtered at 46% abv, the 2019 Loch Gorm retails at around £70.
Smell: An attack of sherry and smoke! Oloroso dried fruits like raisins, sultanas and figs. Prune juice. Smoky bacon and chargrilled meats with glace cherries.
Taste: Orange marmalade and salted caramel. Cinnamon toffee and black pepper with an ashy wood smoke finish.
Thoughts: There are certainly more affordable Kilchoman drams and some would argue that it shows best in bourbon casks, but there’s no doubting the pleasure that this big mouthful of flavour brings. It’s a very rich dram that shows a more luxurious side to this young distillery.
It’s interesting that the spirit used in each new batch seems to be getting older. Kilchoman has been so good from such a young age that you almost feel it’s unnecessary to add anything older.
Possibly as a result of that older whisky, this Loch Gorm felt a bit more oak-driven at times. Certainly one of the woodier versions I’ve come across. I think my palate perhaps prefers the fruitier side of sherry but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this one. Not my favourite Loch Gorm but another solid release from Kilchoman.
For more on Kilchoman, click here.