The much anticipated Kilkerran Heavily Peated is among us. Blink, and you may have missed its arrival, with demand outstripping supply by a considerable margin in the UK. Ah yes, those usual market forces, but I’m also sure a groundswell of fans picking up a bottle ASAP. After all, peat is very fashionable, and if there is a distillery in Scotland that offers better value than Kilkerran, I’ve yet to discover it.
Personally, my own history with this release goes back right to the beginning. I remember touring Glengyle (Kilkerran) when there was some degree of excitement that they were running a heavily peated spirit. Fast forward a couple of years, and a tiny sample of the maturing liquid hinted at its potential. Then during last year’s Campbeltown Festival, we were treated to another opportunity to experience its progress. Mark and I weren’t blown away, but neither were we repelled.
The clock moved forward to the Fife Whisky Festival, which was just shortly after the initial batch was bottled for release. Around the Springbank stand, there was a tangible degree of interest in the Heavily Peated edition. Again, I left somewhat on the fence, and was in agreement with a well-known local Springbank authority that it was okay for its age, but a little shallow.
The clock continues to spin with the launch of the Heavily Peated itself, which promptly flies off the shelf. Based on my prior experiences, I wasn’t first in the queue, nor actually in the queue. I held back, noting that there’s far too much whisky being released nowadays. My interest remained, knowing that I’d pick up a sample somewhere, or that maybe a member of the MALT team would do the Kilkerran. After all this, I caved in during a visit to Royal Mile Whiskies when I saw the bottle on sale for £38.95. Slightly more than some retailers, given the tourist setting, but still an interesting prospect with the emphasis on value for money.
Part of the appeal remains the Peat in Progress disclaimer. This isn’t the finished product. Instead, this is Kilkerran doing what they did previously with their staple single malt. For those unaware of the background, this distillery didn’t release at three years and a phenomenal price, which is normal practice nowadays. Their goal was always a 12-year-old expression, and when the Work In Progress (WIP) #1 arrived, it gave fans the opportunity to follow that journey. Commencing at five years, the WIP became an annual tradition of delight and mystery, an ability to bookmark the whisky and its development, reaching the pinnacle in the Work In Progress 7 Bourbon Wood Edition.
The Heavily Peated gives us this same opportunity once again, albeit from a younger standpoint of just over three years in age. Given that it’s peated to 84ppm, this covers a lot of the cracks that might be more visible in an unpeated whisky. Laphroaig tends to come in around 40ppm, and Ardbeg slightly higher at 54ppm so you can see the Kilkerran is aptly named. The canny chaps in Campbeltown can make whisky, but what about showing those on Islay how it’s done? We’ll maybe find out in eight years’ time, but for now, let’s start the trip!
Bottled at a robust 59.3% strength, this Kilkerran is non-chill-filtered and is naturally coloured. It’ll set you back around £35-40 depending on where you shop. It has been matured in ex-bourbon casks (55%) and sherry casks (45%) with the series dubbed Peat in Progress.
Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch 1 – review
Colour: A light golden hew.
On the nose: Ok yeah, autumnal peat initially but let’s break through that. There’s sweet barley, caramel, smoked haddock and pecans with fennel. Red salad leaves and dried cranberries show themselves briefly. Wet soil and with time in the glass, toffee, brown sugar, treacle and with water marshmallows, vanilla and Refreshers.
In the mouth: Peat, a drying peat with a touch of salt. Seashells and liquorice on the finish. There are limes, grapefruit, hazelnuts and time again reveals more. Appearing is a sweeter character, resinous and a stewed black tea. Adding water reveals more salt, soot, brine, oils and a more approachable whisky.
The Metallica of young peated malts. A touch brutal initially and heated. Very much a work in progress, or peat in progress. This Kilkerran is a promising start to the series that should with time only improve. Letting this dram rest works wonders and it certainly has improved since my early moments with it.
Then there’s the added extra of value. Something you cannot put a price on is the dedication and craft of those involved in Campbeltown. Retailing for under £40 there is an emphasis on giving value that matches the experience. Sure this whisky doesn’t set your world alight, but it does remind you of the potential and those early steps in what could be a marvellous journey. The fact that the early entry fee is relatively cheap and cheerful is an added bonus. In this era of young and overpriced whiskies, here we have a cask strength release that’s heavily peated and offers more than enough to keep you entertained. The competition should take note.