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Kilchoman distillery resides in a cluster of quaint farm buildings surrounded on all sides by golden fields of barley. Were you to drop someone blindly into this landscape, only the occasional blast of icy wind and the scent of Atlantic sea-spray in the air would give away its location as the isle of Islay in the inner Hebrides.
The distillery was founded in 2005 by Anthony Wills, a longtime veteran of the drinks industry. In the 1990’s, Wills became an independent bottler, sourcing casks of single malt from across Scotland and bottling them under his own label. By the end of the decade however, he had begun to notice an upsurge in interest where single malts were concerned, a fact that had not gone unnoticed at the distilleries he had been buying from.
As it became harder to source quality spirit, Wills recognised that the answer to his problem was to become a distiller in his own right. He moved to Islay in the year 2000, viewing it as the perfect place to launch a new distillery, thanks to its iconic status and the ever-growing popularity of its distinctive, smoky spirit.
In 2001 Wills leased some old buildings on Rockside Farm from then-owner Mark French and after four years of planning, renovations and funding drives his dream became a reality when Kilchoman distillery went into production for the first time in 2005.
With no interest in producing gin to bring in much-needed income, Wills worked closely with renowned distillery consultant, Dr. Jim Swan in order to create a spirit that would excel at a young age. Under the late Dr. Swan’s expert guidance, the Kilchoman single malt was ready to go to market within a few short years.
Though initially met with suspicion, the quality of the product soon won fans across the globe, with many excited by the prospect of the first distillery on Islay since the opening of Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich in 1881. Since its arrival the brand has grown to include core expressions like Machir Bay, Sanaig, 100% Islay and Loch Gorm released alongside occasional vintage and single cask bottlings.
In this review I will be focusing on one such single cask, bottled exclusively on behalf of the Greek Whisky Association, whom you may remember from my earlier review here.
The Greek Whisky Association was founded in 2018 with a mission to host tastings and bring distillery representatives to the country for the first time, as well as arranging trips to Scotland for anyone who wished to see the distilleries for themselves. In 2019 they began to bottle their own casks, available at a discount to members. (For details on how to join the Greek Whisky Association, visit here.)
The second of their bottlings, this single cask Kilchoman was distilled 12/04/2012 and bottled 17/06/2019 making it 7 years old. It is bottled at a cask strength of 55.6% after a period of finishing in an ex-Madeira cask.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Nice integration between smoke and fortified wine. Acrid wood smoke and ash with liquorice and toffee. Forest fruits – brambles! – orange and lemon. A bit of agave syrup. Cinnamon and clove. Almond.
Taste: Big arrival with fruit jam and smoke at the forefront. Pepper. Raspberry and blackcurrant. Toffee and caramel. Cinnamon. Sadly the Madeira finish doesn’t last much beyond the arrival, leaving behind a dry smoky finish.
Thoughts: Priced around £80 to GWA members… closer to £100 elsewhere. Though not cheap, the price is at least comparable to other such bottlings from this particular distillery.
For me the palate doesn’t entirely match up with the nose. Where the former displays harmony between wine and whisky, the latter shows a dram of two halves. It promises much with a fantastic fruity arrival but the Madeira note disappears in a blast of pepper and the finish is little more than smoke. Possibly a sign the spirit could have done with a little longer in the Madeira cask, just to stretch the wine’s influence out a little longer. Having said all that, it is great to see Kilchoman bottled with an unusual finish and it remains a rather satisfying sip, it just doesn’t quite live up to its huge potential. It feels like the Madeira finish is the unique selling point here but doesn’t hang around long enough for the dram to be considered a complete success which of course makes its price point a little challenging. It is an intriguing curiosity for those looking to experience everything Kilchoman has to offer but for everyone else, the core range must surely be considered better value.
Visit the website of the Greek Whisky Association here.