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.
According to the Interwebs, the cask ‘recipe’ for Machir Bay has gotten slightly older over the years. The original 2012 release was a vatting of 3-5 year old peated ex-bourbon matured whisky finished in Oloroso for a mere two months. Four years later, the 5th edition 2016 version was up to 6 years of initial maturation. One suspects that the 2017 edition that we have under the microscope today would be somewhere in that ball-park – maybe with some 7 year old liquid in the mix. Like its 6 predecessors, it’s an ex-bourbon and oloroso matured whisky and very much the entry point to the wider Kilchoman range. It’ll set you back somewhere in the region of £40-£45.
There’s more than one way to look at that price – either it’s quite a steep ask for a 6/7 year old whisky when for the same money you can buy expressions from other distillers at 2x the age. Or, you could consider that a great many entry-point NAS bottlings are already playing in the same school yard in terms of age – you just don’t know it so readily. Finally, you could consider the growth and development of Kilchoman’s stock – I’m not noticing a huge ramping up in price of Machir Bay each year, despite the contents being matured longer – as the distillery becomes more established, so has its range. Perhaps there’s actually a little more bang for your buck each year with this one? (to a point of course).
Nose: Immediate sweetness – fruits and cooking sugars. Lemon and sugar dusted pancakes on Strove Tuesday, freshly made shortbread, orange peels and some zesty margaritas. There’s plenty of salty minerality here – rook pools, shingle beaches and overt brine. This is joined by a touch of seafood (buttery lobster) and a light but certainly perceptible medicinal peat which builds as the whisky rests in the glass. A few drops of dilution extends the maritime sensation further – sea water and ozone – as well as bringing out a slightly dirty underbelly – chip pan oil.
Taste: The arrival is very sweet and very ashy – everything that was experienced on the nose is repeated on the palate, but dialled up a notch (or two). Salty water, granite blocks, coal dust and antiseptic cream meet tinned pears, lemon juice and just a hint of pineapple in the background. Golden syrup, icing sugar and almond paste provide a richness, but also add yet more sweetness – there’s almost a confectionary shop here – candy canes and sticks of rock. Water transforms the balance – which you may or may not want to do – fruits are more forward, sweetness is reduced and peat smoke feels a touch more integrated and less explicit.
Finish: Medium with medicinal chalky smoke, salty water and a sprinkle of pepper.
I’ve not tried Machir Bay for a number of years and was pleasantly surprised by the developing quality of the Kilchoman spirit – this is a solid entry point coastal whisky with plenty of character and more than enough raw peaty power to stand out from the crowd. However, to my palate, it’s still a whisky that I find extremely saccharine – that’s fine for a dram, but becomes cloying after two or more.