You'll still struggle to find a bottle of Kilkerran 12 year old at its recommended retail price, such has been its success. As a first official bottling from a new distillery I can think of few better - though many of you will have been following the Work In Progress (WIP) from Glengyle in the years before. Hot on the tails of the much lauded 12 year old comes the 8 year old Cask Strength - trading a few years of maturity for a bump in ABV up to 56.2%.
The 8 year old Cask Strength is a limited release (not part of any upcoming new Kilkerran core range) non-chill filtered and matured excusively in ex-bourbon casks.It's still available, but expect to pay more for it from many retailers, who have equated the demand as a neccessity to increase price. For comparison, I tasted this one alongside last year's 12 year old to try to ascertain the differences the lower age, but higher strength would make.
Nose: The Glengyle spirit makes itself known right away – greasy, oily smoke with deep and pronounced malts and a sharp pang of citrus. Behind this I find real earthy and vegetal notes – forest mosses and wild mushrooms. Light honey, toffee, golden syrup and vanilla provide agreeable sweetness. The peating is as you’d expect from this region of Scotland - pungent, fuel-like and full of soot and machine oil. The malts are exceptionally pronounced here and with the evident sweetness going on elsewhere seem rather akin to some sugar dusted Weetabix - tasty! Adding water only brings out the sweeter notes further – I’m not if we need to do that frankly.
Taste: Some immediate presence and bite here from 56.2% ABV. A good mouthfeel, but not as oily and coating as I was expecting. Translation from nose to palate is excellent – more of the same malts and dirty peat. Grapefruits, peaches and sharp citrus combine nicely with a good whack of vanilla from the casks. Very malty and with the sweetness levels dialled down a touch from the nose. Quite steely and cold in places. The addition of water oddly seems to improve them mouthfeel making it slightly more vicious and chewy, but, expectedly, it reduces the immediacy and attack on the palate – Rather the double edged sword – you win some you lose some.
Finish: Short-medium in length and fairly biting when undiluted. Peppery with a hint of cinnamon and relatively drying in the mouth.
A tasty follow-up to last year’s official 12 year old bottling, but to my mind, not quite as successful. All the same elements are here, but their composition and balance just isn’t quite as elegant this time around. It's rare for me to say it, but in this instance I don't think the higher ABV has necessarily been helpful here. Likewise, the bourbon casks used seem to have been quite active, so whilst a quick maturation has been achieved, the balance between spirit and oak seems to favour the oak heavily in this instance. The problem is that there’s already been a number of fantastic Kilkerran releases and it becomes increasingly hard not to judge them by their own standards. Regardless, this is still a very tasty dram indeed which proudly displays its distillery character.