It’s been a bit of an Islay whisky bonanza so far these past few weeks, what with reviews of Bruichladdich’s new travel retail whiskies, Laphroaig Lore and Ardbeg Dark Cove. Now it’s the turn of Kilchoman, Islay’s youngest distillery (at the moment).
Founded in 2005, Kilchoman is a little unlike the other distilleries on the island, in that it is not situated immediately against shoreline, with a whitewashed facade staring out to sea. Instead it is tucked inland, in an unassuming array of farm buildings. When I visited a while ago now, it did feel a very different place too – less wild, less stoic, more snug. As it’s a farm distillery, it’s quite small in comparison to the others – with a capacity of 90,000 litres. In keeping with the small-scale and farm-style, the distillery does much of its own floor-maltings, and pretty much everything else, on site. It is a compact process, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
Over the past few years Kilchoman has produced many whiskies, and broadly I’ve enjoyed them – such as 100% Islay – 3rd Edition, Coull Point, and a gorgeous 2009 PX Finish from Abbey Whisky. Something different each time, but still a distinct, lively attitude with each release. Maybe that’s the pugnacious house style of Kilchoman. Machir Bay has always been the main whisky in the Kilchoman stable, and now they’re adding another. Kilchoman Sanaig is the latest addition to the distillery’s range. It’s a vatting made up of 50% bourbon casks and 50% Oloroso sherry casks, and has been matured for around 4-5 years. Though the Sanaig does not have any age associated with it on the bottle, Kilchoman have never been shy about telling us these details. It’s bottled at 46% ABV and costs around £50 – which for a standard release of this age perhaps feels about a tenner too much.
Kilchoman Sanaig Tasting Notes
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: curious mixture of sweet peat and ashes. A lot of prickly warmth from the wood. Incense. Burnt sticks. Earthy. Once the smoke fades comes more fruitiness. Heather honey. Sultanas. Toffee. What’s peculiar is that this does nose like two distinctly different whiskies, two profiles, fighting it out instead of marrying perfectly (and I did not actually read about the 50:50 casks until afterwards).
In the mouth: the peat is again as the nose, half sweet and half like an ash tray. Redcurrants. Plum sauce. Chinese Five Spice. Quite meaty – BBQ beef, almost blackened, charred sauce. Dark chocolate. Ginger. Pepper. Bitter wood notes. A medium to lightweight texture – it’s not especially viscous, but still pleasant. All in all it doesn’t quite pull together for me – it feels unbalanced to some extent. I revisited it a couple of times to see if I was being a bit grumpy but I don’t think so. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t quite feel rounded.
Although this is a little too aggressive and unbalanced for my palate, it’s nice – wonderful, in fact – to see a whisky with such bold character. I don’t want to say it’s lacking eclat, or that it’s too crude, but this is – for example – more like your spit-and-sawdust kind of pub instead of a Home Counties gastropub. But there’s certainly a need for more of the former in this world right? Which is to say, though it’s a bit rough and ready, I quite liked it.
It’s not quite as good as Machir Bay (if you’re new to the distillery, get that), and my favourite still remains the stunning Abbey whisky single cask (if you’re a whisky veteran, I’d suggest the latter).