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.
Sanaig is aged in a combination of both bourbon and sherry casks. The Kilchoman website doesn’t specify the precise percentages of each – merely ‘…(a) high proportion of oloroso sherry casks…’. As such, the Internet is awash with almost every conceivable guess – 50/50, 30/70, 70/30, 80/20 – clearly this is not commonly known information. We’ll just stick to informing you all that its most certainly a vatting of both types of casks, aged around 4-5 years and bottled at 46% ABV.
Nose: Initially sweet, fruity and only moderately peated - this benefits from a little time in the glass. Cinnamon apples, gentle toffee and coffee grounds mingle with minerality (wet slate) and demi-coastal peat. A little resting reveals slightly more tropical aromas of pineapple. The smoke is an interesting mix of in-land burnt wood, coastal salinity and seaweed, and straight up medicinal – it’s relatively restrained compared to many other young Islay whiskies (including from this distillery). In the background, cinnamon, nutmeg and earthiness – all of which are heightened through resting. The addition of water really amplifies the brininess of this whisky – salt, rook pools and beech pebbles. It also adds in some smoked chilli pepper.
Taste: Quite mineral and spicy on the arrival – salt, granite and pepperiness. Then, sweetness – toffee apples, caramel and mocha. An interesting juxtaposition. Running throughout is mineral/medicinal peat smoke – coal dust, brine and very slight TCP. In the mid to back palate there are some nuances – tanned leather, marzipan and citrus. Reducing this whisky has a quite interesting effect on its texture – it takes on a character of syrupy sea water – very mineral and quite citric.
Finish: Medium in length with salty lemons, and dry, ashy smoke.
Despite the utilisation of sherry casks, Kilchoman Sanaig remains a particularly coastal whisky. There’s certainly a fair amount of sweetness here, but this is played off against some sharp mineral aromas and flavours, making for a balanced and well integrated expression. Those searching for big overt sherry-driven flavours from Kilchoman should probably focus on either Loch Gorm or on one of the distillery’s single cask releases. Sanaig offers more gradation – its vatting of casks creating an expression where the sherry influence is supporting the wider array of spirit and peat flavours, rather than taking charge. It’s available for around £50 from retailers such as Master of Malt.