My memories of Kilchoman are mainly focused on that relentless road up to the distillery. Yes, it was several years ago, but that boneshaker experience, enhanced by a rental car that had seen better days seemed a fitting introduction. Each bounce, bang and judder set an increasing expectation of what waited at the end of this torturous passageway and how a drink would be needed.
When I drink a whisky, high on my list is the character of the distillery. In recent decades homogenisation has taken root. Efficiencies, cost savings and centralisation are the founding fathers of such an approach. Mainly industry supporters will highlight that we’ve never had it so good, or reliable. I can see their viewpoint although I’d counter we’ve never had it so samey and at times dull.
It is personal preference and that’s something we should always remember. Many, for instance I know, don’t like the whisky from Abhainm Dearg on the Isle of Lewis. It can admittedly be a hardy, rough and uncouth example of a whisky. Yet, if you have ventured to this remote corner of the UK, you’ll appreciate that it is very much a product of its environment. A small scale, hands on operation that copes with the elements and these factors help shape what sits in your glass at the end of the day. Sometimes I believe we overlook this. In the modern age, the regional element of whisky has been eroded.
The use of local peat, barley, workforce, the individuality and preferences of the distillery manager have been centralised. More Scotch than ever is shipped off to a central location, rather than being matured on site. The Islay and Speyside giants don’t want to talk about such things; it’s very much a taboo subject. Caol Ila can be a tremendous whisky, but it is it the product of Islay? Yes, it is distilled on Islay and the peat will come from the Port Ellen maltings. The yeast will be standardised for Diageo and it’ll be shipped off Islay by tanker before it is even touched a wooden stave. Is that what you perceive to be an Islay whisky?
Justine talked of her disappointment that Ardnahoe distillery would not be matured on Islay, only private casks would have this opportunity. There are various economic reasons I’m sure for this and the impact on the landscape. With all this chatter around terroir and such like, I tend to look way beyond the crop and its origins, to releases like the Springbank local barley series. Grown locally, traditionally floor malted, distilled for flavour and matured on site. Yeast, still remains the untouched stone for many distilleries, with some being better than others at trying to give us a sense of their time and space in liquid form.
Perhaps I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but isn’t it good to ask the difficult questions that many of us consider yet don’t have the opportunity to ask? Start that debate. Why doesn’t the Scotch Whisky Association ask that all new make is filled into casks on site and matured within x-number of miles? The answer being because it is big business and times have changed. What’s that saying? Turkey’s don’t vote for Christmas and the representatives of Chivas, Diageo and the rest would follow that logic. However, it would be refreshing to have a category that rewards those that do go to these lengths because they feel it is the right thing, regardless of whether it is financially the right thing to do.
And of course that road takes us to the distilleries that do things to embrace their location. Bruichladdich have been building more warehouses and focusing on their Achilles heel to many onlookers, which is the malting. Once these plans come to fruition, then it will be more Islay than most. For now, Kilchoman occupies this position and as we discussed in their recent release of their 100% Islay 9th Edition, they deserve plaudits for doing so. Not all of their releases can claim to be 100% Islay due to mother nature determining how much barley you can grow on the farm. For other releases, these are brought in from the mainland and I’m thankful that Kilchoman sent over a sample of their latest 2019 release, the 2010 vintage, for us to review.
This is a vatting of 45 casks all from 2010 with 42 being fresh bourbon barrels and the remainder oloroso sherry butts. Producing 15,000 bottles at 50ppm and 48% strength, this is available from the Whisky Exchange for £64.95 or if you prefer Master of Malt for £77.95.
Kilchoman 2010 Vintage 9 year old – review
Colour: melted butter.
On the nose: coastal and full of brine. Pine cones, coniferous trees and some sea salt. A mineral element that reminds me of bashing pebbles in your hand. Driftwood, honey and a spent campfire. Lemon drops, chocolate, green apples and caramel. Water reveals ripe apples and more salt.
In the mouth: a little flat in all honesty. Ashy, an autumnal earthy nature. Some smoky sea salt on the finish that lingers for a duration afterwards as smoke. The finish is pleasant and pleasing. More of that mineral aspect persists alongside tarragon. The addition of water brings forth a sweet peat and dried bark.
Overall, I have mixed thoughts on this release, which seems a safe exponent after the promise of the recent 100% Islay bottling. A little disappointment and the sense that Kilchoman should revisit their release strategy.
I expect a new distillery can become caught up in establishing release pattern; whether its based on a vintage, cask type or date. Limited expressions sell and it brings a sense of order and structure. The 2019 Loch Gorm suffered from the same feeling.
I always think about price when writing up a conclusion. It is important that we do consider the entry fee, even when a whisky is kindly sent free to review. Prices vary for what is effectively an 8 or 9 year old whisky? More than the over hyped Lagavulin 8, way more than the Kilkerran 8. Yet, with some new distilleries – the sensible ones – asking around this price point for a 3-year-old. So, the price seems reasonable, but the experience is a little lacking and the sense of averageness is hard to shake off.
Photograph kindly provided by Abbey Whisky, where you can also purchase this release. There are commission links above but these don’t influence our opinion.