Kilkerran. Is it one of the best whisky brands in the world right now? That’s quite a bold and – some might say – ridiculous claim. Their Work in Progress 7 Bourbon Cask was probably the best whisky I tasted last year – what’s more, I think it appeals to all kinds of whisky drinkers too, including those relatively new. I’ve also tried a few of their more obscure bottlings (sadly not reviewed them here) and am very impressed with the consistently good quality of the spirit. And today, I’ve got two of their more obscure releases.
Kilkerran is the single malt produced by Glengyle distillery, in Campbeltown. Built in the 1870s by William Mitchell, Glengyle was a victim of economic downturns, and after changing hands a couple of times, stopped producing whisky in 1925. A few botched attempts at re-opening, zoom forwards 75 years to November 2000, and the distillery buildings were purchased by Mitchell’s Glengyle Limited (which included the great-great nephew of William Mitchell, original founder). So it’s more or less back in family hands, but also more or less a new distillery.
They do things the old-fashioned way, which is hand-crafted, using as much local barley as possible, floor malted at neighbouring Springbank, a long fermentation process (72-110 hours) and produced without much in the way of automation. Their first major whisky will be a 12 Year Old, and that will be on sale very soon, but they have in the meantime been giving previews via their Work In Progress series, as well as the occasional experimental release.
Kilkerran Aged 8 Years Fresh Sherry Wood
56.4% ABV, 305 bottles available. This cost an astonishingly reasonable £50 and was sold as this year’s open day.
Colour: burnished gold, to oloroso sherry.
On the nose: a sledgehammer of fragrance: fat raisin notes, with treacle or molasses, heather honey, then simmering down to more acute real sherry notes. There’s an unusual old-wood quality here: metallic touches, with musty old cellars. That s-word, Sulphur, which is the Marlon Brando of flavour notes, is present here, in small doses. When I revisited it this quality became something akin to a ripe French brie. Tomato ketchup. A splash of malt vinegar.
In the mouth: chewy, viscous texture. A sherry bomb, that follows the nose very closely: Glenfarclas-like raisins, again molasses (told you it follows the nose), with rum and such a deep PX sherry quality – though I’m not sure what the cask was. The sulphur returns here, but it’s a lovely vegetative quality. Venison, blackcurrants, elderberry. Port? Tobacco… It’s got so much attitude and confidence for such a youngster. Hits all the right spots for me.
Like a Springbank twice its age, and you’d never know it was a mere 8 years old. And especially not £50. Outrageous stuff. Kilkerran Aged 8 Years Fresh Sherry Wood is indecently good.
KILKERRAN 9 YEARS OLD OPEN DAY 2015 RUM WOOD
58.3% ABV – not sure how many are left, but this was available at last year’s open day.
Colour: amber, with a bright gold sheen.
On the nose: simple, but bold. Very fruity, with stewed apples simmering in golden syrup. Gooseberries. A fresh, clean quality. Malty. A little grassy. Most un-Kilkerran like. Towards the end there’s a lot of white wine going on, rather than rum per se: Chardonnay, or a viognier. Then come floral, perhaps perfumed soap qualities. A touch of fabric softner.
In the mouth: intensely sweet: syrup, again, and a light floral honey. Apples. Mango. Grapefruit. Peaches. Grape juice. Candied fruits. Refreshers. Malted barley. Grassy and a little vegetative, with some nice mineral notes. Quite a dry texture in the mouth, with tannins. Woody, peppery finish. Simple, but tasty. You’d never guess it was a Kilkerran, and consequently it didn’t quite rock my world. That said, I’d be happy with it on my shelf, but I have high standards for this distillery, so am therefore more critical.
If you can find the Fresh Sherry, buy it immediately and hide it. Share it only with those you love. The Kilkerran 12 Year Old will be released in August. I’m incredibly excited, if this is anything to go by.
Whilst half the whisky world looks for the next sexy location (Japan, Taiwan, Tasmania) I say look at Campbletown. For a place that several decades ago got a bad rep for knocking out sub-par whisky, I’d say it’s more than turned things around. The most interesting whisky on the planet is coming out of this town…
Note: Image at the top sourced from the Kilkerran Facebook page, and the bottle shots stolen from Ben’s Whisky Blog, who has just written an epic post on his time at the Campbeltown Festival this year.