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.
Historically the link between farming and distilling is unsurprisingly strong – a local source of water and barley, and a year-long agricultural business with which to support to the infrastructure required to sustain distilling operations. Whilst the world was smaller then, rural sites provided the space, labour and natural components ideal for nurturing a distillery. This is still true today. Many of the historic qualities can be applied to modern farm distilleries. Barley once mashed produces draff which can be used to feed farm animals. Surplus grain can be utilised for distilling in the winter months – and thus generate additional profit from the harvest. And of course, as a farm, there’s natural access to the large volumes of fresh water required for malting, mashing and cooling.
Many of the newer farm distilleries have aspirations for true self-sufficiency – only utilising locally sourced barley which is malted, mashed, fermented and distilled on site. This has given rise to descriptors such as single farm single malt and single estate whisky. However, these are terms that have yet to be formally defined. What does it mean to be a single farm, or single estate – does 100% of the barley need to be derived from crops which are owned by the distillery? Or is a collective of local farms (ala Waterford in Ireland) providing the inputs sufficient to make such claims. The area is cloudy and still nascent – however, the modern farm distilleries certainly have ambitions when it comes to being able to control (and proclaim) the entirety of the production process end-to-end.
Kilchoman announced last month a doubling of production capacity with the installation of a new still house, mash tun and new six washbacks. At the same time, new barley varieties have been cultivated in the fields surrounding the distillery. Whether these allow the site to move towards increasing an self-sufficiency, operating at a higher volume remains to be seen. However, the distillery has indicated that it intends to start producing experimental runs with the new barley and some designer yeast strains. Rest assured, whilst farm distilleries owe their character to the past, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.
So, sticking to Kilchoman - The Whisky Exchange have bottled up an exclusive 11 year old as part of their continuing 20th anniversary celebrations. It’s drawn from a single ex-bourbon cask (#307) which was laid down on 19th September 2007 and bottled on 12th June this year. 249 bottles have been produced at 56.5% and a price of £99.95 from The Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Immediate medicinal smoke – antiseptic cream, hospital floor cleaner and bandages. This is supported by bright fruitiness – lemons and pineapple slices dusted in icing sugar with a glass of barley water on the side. Running throughout, a combination of both a forest and the coast – leaf mulch, tree resin, moist soils, clay and hewn granite cliffs. Reduction adds ozone and waxed peels, but it also mutes the smoke and the earthiness – two of this whisky’s most characterful aromas. The bottling strength of 56.5% offers so much more.
Taste: Oily, juicy and a just a touch dirty – machine oils and lemon zest are joined by a mammoth delivery of pharmaceutical peat – ointment, surface cleaner, mouthwash, plasters – all packed to the gills with iodine and camphourous wood. This isn’t messing around. Minerality is once again in play with sandy beaches and shingle. These rearrange through the development to be almost chalk-like, with a perceivable sea salt tang. Smoked fudge and chocolate digestives are joined by a growing pepperiness which builds in the back palate whilst lubricants and greases continue to provide an industrious undertone. Dilution focusses on lemons – preserved lemons, sugar coated lemons and smoked lemons. The smoke is converted into a more ashy and coal dust configurations – but, as with the nose, the overall effect is more one of subdued.
Finish: Medium to long in length with fading medicinal peat smoke and lingering pepperiness.
This TWE Exclusive Kilchoman offers both intensity, and nuance from a combination of impactful peat, bright sweet fruitiness and defined earthiness/minerality. The interplay between the sweeter elements and the smoke is exceptionally well-judged making for a rugged but balanced whisky. That said, it’s quite hydrophobic, losing considerable definition if diluted. Trust in TWE’s cask picks. Trust in their bottling ABVs. This is very good indeed.