Through the ages
Posted 04 May 2021 by Matt / In Kilchoman
Bottle Name: Kilchoman 2007 TWE Exclusive
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.
When it comes to exploring aged spirits, there’s a notable difference between the long-standing distilleries and those newer to the scene – in that the old-timers have already passed through many of the age-statement milestones. An exploration of a distillery founded at the tail end of the 19th century only requires a concerted effort to unearth, acquire and sample bottles from across the age spectrum – at 12, at 15, at 18 and so on. This can be done retrospectively, and indeed it can be done retrospectively across the decades – a 12 year old from now vs. a 12 year old from. There’s always plenty of interesting comparison points.
But with newer distilleries there is but one option for assessing whisky through the ages - patience.
That’s likely a part of the appeal of following a distillery through the earlier parts of its journey – especially if you discount the notion of catching em’ all. Where will be the sweet spot for the spirit style? Will it work across all ages (Caol Ila)? Will it work across most cask types (Caol Ila)? Or will it naturally find its balance at a certain level of maturity, but not really before (Craigellachie)?
With a newer distillery, you have to wait and see what the future might hold – whether you’re drinker or whether you’re the distiller.
Maturity is often conceptualised as being linear. And that’s likely directly related to the industry’s standardised and widespread use of common age statements – 12, 15, 18 etc. However, the interactions and exchanges which take place within casks – be those of a large inventory or indeed just a selection of single casks – are far from a constant. Yes, over time and particularly with consistent fills into consistent casks, commonalities will absolutely be found. But at the same time, an additional year of maturation of one individual cask can have a marked effect on its character over an additional year of maturation in another cask.
And then again, at times it might not...
Enthusiasts often can taste the differences in spirit quality as a distillate comes of age. The transformation from 6 months, to a year, to two years and onward to legally being whisky are usually relatively obvious. But the further away from new make spirit a whisky becomes, the harder it is to gauge the individual steps of maturation. You might be able to easily detect a 1 year spirit over a 2 year version – think you can do the same between 10 and 11 years?
Nevertheless, whisky drinkers love assessing the impact of ageing. At blind tastings – “how old is it?” – is virtually always the first question asked. As much as we enjoy exploring the possibilities of different distillate styles and alternative wood types, the examination of age is and likely will always be one of the fundamental pillars of appreciating whisky. And when it comes to the newer distilleries, that journey is often all the more interesting to undertake because of its pioneering nature. With any distillery it is possible to view its history and see where it has been – but for new distilleries, who still have age milestones to hit for the very first time - the future holds an unknowable, enigmatic allure that appeals to many of us – myself included.
Released yesterday, TWE’s latest exclusive Kilchoman is a pretty old one by the distillery’s standards. That is not to say that it is the oldest released - that honour currently goes to ‘The Willis Family Cask Collection - Anthony Willis’ produced for La Maison du Whisky towards the end of last year (Anthony Willis is Founder and MD of the distillery). But nevertheless, this new Kilchoman bears the largest age-statement that I’ve encountered from the distillery - which is one which I’ve been dipping in and out of over the last decade.
This release, composed of barley peated to 50 PPM was filled into a single ex-bourbon cask (#197/2007) in July of 2007 and matured for 13 years before being bottled in February of this year. The number of bottles is not specified but, I would imagine it would not be far off 240 – they’re available for sale via The Whisky Exchange’s website for £125.
Nose: Immediately mineral with lamp oil, long spent hearth ash, coal dust and wire wool. Coastalness is not far behind – salt water and pumice - alongside singed ham, burnt toffee and cornflake cakes. Sweetness is held deep in the centre but provides a delicate lift – sugar-dusted apples and lemon gel. Dilution expresses a different aspect of the distillate with wet barn notes of straw and damp hay together with cold cream and a developing vein of hot cross buns.
Taste: Thick on the arrival and with an immediate attack of tar. This develops quickly, taking on a considerably broader profile with burnt limes, charcoal briquettes and mentholated oakiness together with salted toffee. Juicy orchard and stone fruits bind everything together whilst cookie dough and chocolate shavings sit with cooling mint in the back palate. The addition of water reveals brine and surface wipes alongside salt-rimmed margaritas and green bell peppers.
Finish: Medium to long with shingle and rock salt interplayed with fir cones, slapped mint leaves and a swipe of surface disinfectant.
The mineral and coastal cues of this TWE Exclusive Kilchoman provide it with exceptionally appealing character. Despite a PPM that’s (on paper) higher than island neighbour Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte, here the peat is surprisingly and pleasingly in-check. And this produces a whisky that is chiselled, honed and precise from start to finish. Yes of course this is still a peaty whisky, but it’s also wide-ranging and unexpectedly intricate. Excellent - and possibly the best I've experienced to date from Kilchoman.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange
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