Kilchoman might be the youngest active distillery on Islay, but seeing as they’ve already announced plans to double their production capacity, they’ve obviously been ticking a lot of the right boxes over the past 13 years. As well as building a new still house, mash house and tun room (within the same design parameters of the existing equipment) this year, the distillery has just launched both the 2nd release of its Port Cask Matured whisky (which has flown off the shelves) and the latest edition of its ongoing oloroso sherry matured series - Loch Gorm.
Barely a day goes by without news of new distilleries being planned or opened. This constant saturation of new and shiny things is both hard to keep up with, and likewise impacts on the wider global image of the industry – growth, opportunity and innovation (well, perhaps that’s pushing it in some quarters). I found myself wondering how this perception affects older established distilleries – no, not the 19th Century ones – the distilleries which came on stream around the turn of the millennium. They’re mere youngsters themselves, but already seem from different generation to the new upstarts. Kilchoman only began production back in 2005 – but who’s talking about in terms of being a new distillery nowadays? Everything is relative.
Kilchoman Sanaig was originally released in 2015 in France as an alternative to the Machir Bay expression – which was deemed not sweet enough for the tastes of the French Market. In 2016 it was given a general release, and is now part of the distillery’s current core range line-up. I suspect Kilchoman is only just getting to the point where it has enough mature sherry casks to sustain both core range releases and a large number of annual limited single cask editions. The name is derived from a picturesque water inlet situated to the north of the small farmhouse distillery.
This Royal Mile Whisky exclusive Kilchoman stands as the first mezcal cask whisky that I sampled. Whilst it was released back in early 2021, I kept my notes ‘on ice’ until I had a wider pool of samples with which to compare with. Today’s the day. The peated Islay whisky has been finished for 9 months in mezcal casks sourced from Oaxaca in Mexico.
I do raise my eyebrows at the notion of mezcal casks really being a ‘thing’ (virtually all mezcals are delivered “joven” – unaged) – in the same way that I do with every mention of champagne casks. Nevertheless, I have been quite keen to see how my two favourite spirits can be conjoined. This TWE exclusive release – delivered alongside an almost identically composed tequila cask finish were due to make their appearance last autumn – however the current vagaries of global logistics and the very real glass shortage kept this pair off the shelves until the start of this month.
The first of two concurrently released agave-influenced Kilchomans. Both distilled in 2012. Both initially matured for 8 years in fresh bourbon casks. And both finished for 7 months. The point of difference here being the species of agave and the manner in which it was processed - the two main (but not only) differentiators between tequila and mezcal.
Here we are at the end of May, and according to Whiskybase there’s been 1154 new whiskies released globally since the start of the year. Even the most ardent will have tasted a mere fraction of these. I gave up trying to keep up with new releases quite some time ago (other than our monthly SMWS roundup of course) – whilst it’s always nice to be ahead of the curve and writing reviews about bottles the moment they hit the market, at best this is going to lead to a bottle storage issue, at worst it’ll require a second mortgage.
Of Islay’s nine distilleries, all are located on the coast save for Kilchoman. Kilchoman is landlocked – it draws 25% of its barley requirements from the fields around the distillery and operates its own small malting floor and peat kiln. As one of the first of the modern ‘farm distilleries’ Kilchoman has provided something of a stencil for a raft of newer sites who have/are converting farms into distilleries. You’ve likely heard of Ballindalloch, Daftmill and Lindores, but there’s also Arbikie, Aberargie and Torabhaig – all follow a similar model of adopting farm steadings (in various degrees of operation or disrepair) as a base for their distilleries.
My niece turned four last month. And whilst she’s still a little bundle of near uncontainable energy, her personality is quite different from when she was three – and remarkably different from when she was two. I on the other hand remain largely the same at 42 as I was at 41 – I’m just a little bit slower and sadly a bit more rotund around the mid-section. Though they were all very nice beers indeed. Maturity is an interesting notion - whether it be in humans, or indeed in aged distillates. At certain points in time, there are expectations for traits and personalities that should manifest – and whether little people or little whiskies, none of us can but help wonder how this character will express itself over time. “I can’t wait to experience this at 5 years of age” – said the parent with an uncontrollable two-year-old.