Not sure how much more I can add to the title, really. Yes, today’s whisky is a cask strength Kilkerran that has lived its life in recharred Oloroso sherry butts and is therefore so cult it probably dresses in robes and copulates with acolytes.
That makes it one of those whiskies that gives me something of an existential crisis as a reviewer, because I could rate it 12 Double Platinum Unicorns out of 10 at the bottom of this piece and half of you would nod approvingly and agree that to be a fair and balanced assessment. Or I could denounce it as Satan’s own second-hand water and it’d still be gone before you’d blinked. Not to mention I’d have to barricade my new home against the pitchfork-toting mob that marched on Phil’s house, torches ablaze, when he unwittingly slagged off Springbank 15.
It is therefore, as I once said of Longrow Red, something of a pointless whisky to review. Glengyle, the distillery that produces it, attracts whisky wonks the way unorthodox milk attracts Londoners. It’s the thinking drinker’s favourite Scottish distillery; for folk so far down the thin end of the wedge that Springbank seems boring, obvious and mainstream. Needless to say, Jason is a huge fan.
And so am I, which is the real reason I’m reviewing this today. No angle, no spin, no axe-grinding preamble. I shan’t even go on about such things as long fermentations or terroir or vatting being superior to single casks. Because you know all that already, being handsome-and-wise Malt readers. This is simply a whisky that I threw my money at the first opportunity, and which I expected I might well enjoy a tremendous amount. (Meaning, as usual, that I’ll be extra-grumpy if I don’t).
A quick word on the casks – yes, the casks, because we like casks here on Malt, we just don’t think they’re the be-all-and-end-all. Kilkerran has used re-charred Oloroso casks, which presumably makes this some sort of relative of their 2018 Campbeltown Festival Bottling, reviewed by my elders and betters here. “Recharred” is rapidly becoming whisky’s must-have trendy on-label hit. The young craft guns, mostly at the instruction of the late Jim Swan, like to re-char (mostly) ex-wine barrels, caramelising their sugars and allowing whisky to penetrate deeper into the wood. London’s Bimber did something a little different, which Mark and I covered recently. But you don’t tend to see much re-charred Oloroso, so I suppose that counts as this Kilkerran’s USP and moves it away from the standard ex-bourbon 8 year old.
That’s really all the information we have, and, as I say, all the information that you lot probably need. Two lots of tasting notes today, as I passed Mark a sample last month at our Annual Quasi-general Meeting where we go to White Peak distillery and agree that we’re the best ones on Malt.
Kilkerran 8 Year Old Cask Strength – Recharred Oloroso Casks – Adam’s Notes
Colour: Erm … erm … well, Oloroso, to be honest
On the nose: Oh yes. There’s that Campbeltownian bass. A harmonious, sonorous, deep rumble of coal-smoke and diesel overlaying candle wax, leather, walnut and dusty tome. Very old-school – much more distillate and cask than any sort of sherry fruit.
In the mouth: Aaaaand … there’s the sherry. To begin with. A big-bodied, mouthfilling gulp of raisins, sultanas, figs – the full fruitcake (or, perhaps, Christmas pudding …) – comes voluptuously crashing in, but it’s just a gasp ahead of the wave of distillate that follows; that big, burly, belching Campbeltown forge of coal and engine oil. Then the third wave – tropical fruits. Indeed things get rather juicy indeed with ripe apricot and even mango. But always the coal dust and charred wood curls in about them, fading to an austere, smoky minerality. There’s quite an oomph of alcohol, as you’d expect, but the body can cope with it and the flavour intensity certainly can. Just fabulously layered; you want to know complex? Try this.
Kilkerran could bottle spirit they’d aged in an asbestos-riddled sock and it’d still fly out faster than a crack-zonked Peregrine falcon. I’ve blown hot and cold on their whiskies in the past, but this one I absolutely adore. I can already hear Jason moaning about the shift from ex-bourbon casks, but variety is the spice of life and the wonderful thing about this whisky is that, assertive as the casks are, the spirit in the engine room is in gorgeous, full-throated Campbeltownian song. It’s a knockout; a proper, classic Campbeltown for proper, classic Campbeltown purists and you should buy it (if you can find it).
It suddenly occurs to me that this is my fourth score of eight in a row, which is almost certainly a first for any Malt contributor. Indeed this is probably my favourite of that delicious quartet; it’s howling at the door of a nine. Our Phil, who sees whisky criticism as some sort of Tough Mudder Challenge, starts every review on a default of minus three and reckons awarding anything higher than six is proof of woolly-minded, unauthoritative hyperbole will doubtless accuse me of going soft. All I can say is that I’d buy any of the last four whiskies I’ve reviewed again in a heartbeat – and recommend them to anyone who likes to drink nice things. Anyhow, I’m just a part-timer on Malt these days. I’m allowed to be less masochistic about what goes in my tasting glass.
Bottom line: I spent (a fraction) under £50 on this Kilkerran. At that price I don’t reckon there’s anything currently coming out of Scotland … or anywhere else … to touch it.
Kilkerran 8 Year Old Cask Strength – Recharred Oloroso Casks – Mark’s Notes
Colour: Henna – very robust.
On the nose: Chinese Five Spice, damson chutney, with a smokey, charred, charcoal element that takes over. Chestnut, walnuts, a bit of woodiness; then a rush of red and black fruits – blackberry and cranberry (sauce) in particular. Figs. Tobacco.
In the mouth: all kinds of dirty. Lovely texture, velvety, as I like it, but good lord what a combination of heavily charred, blackened meat utterly smeared in hoisin sauce. Cigars – a lingering tobacco note that carries through to the finish. But before we get there, those sticky black fruits echoing the nose, with cherries, sundried tomatoes and a dollop of HP sauce. A hint of molasses under there, just a touch. Ultimately I think good whisky is about balance, and this has what I personally like best: heavier, deeper flavours, derived from very good production methods, but which are still harmonious – Beethoven over Mozart, if you will. Or perhaps even Wagnerian when at best.
Well then. This is very good indeed – utterly perfect for the depths of winter, just something full of soul. I find I am impatient with a great many whiskies these days – there’s so much utterly average, dull, flavourless guff clogging up our shelves, that I can’t even be bothered to give most of it air time. Which means I only tend to write about the things I like – because I am moved to do so. (And not unlike Adam, in fact, in giving yet another high score of late.)
This whisky has soul, it has personality. But, if you are a long-time reader of our Malt ramblings, you would probably expect that of a Kilkerran. Adam informs me this is 50 shekels – which is, I have to say, an utter piss-take. A joke on the industry, surely?
Thanks Adam. Enjoyed that.
I’ve got a bottle but have yet to try it. Is it one that benefits from a drop of water?
Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.
To be completely honest, I’m not usually a water-adder (more from laziness than anything else!) and our reviews on Malt tend to be sans-water, other than Jason’s.
That said, I’d be very surprised if this didn’t take water well. As I say above, there’s definitely a good rumble of booze – kept in check by the flavours and body, but I dare say you could round it out further with a few drops.
I’ve talked myself into trying it now, so I may well let you know this evening. If you beat me to it, do let me know!
Hi Adam (and Mark),
Thanks for another enjoyable read.
No hyperbole. No marketing pish. No over-the-top claims. No buzz words.
Well made whisky presented with honesty at a reasonable price.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
I presume you guys received a press pack that mentioned the recharr and Oloroso aspects of maturation as there’s no hint of such things on label or tube.
Given that, and as evidenced by numerous releases, it’s makes me wonder if Mitchell’s have a clear-sighted, long-game, slow-burn, understated marketing policy in place or if they just don’t give a fuck.
I hope – and suspect- its the latter.
All the best.
No press pack – I got my info from Master of Malt when I bought the bottle and then went to Facebook to corroborate!
I suspect Glengyle’s attitude to packaging was ‘it’ll sell without all the extra details on the label – no point changing the packaging’. As Mark has commented before, a whole chunk of their brand seems dedicated to overtly not caring too much about labels and presentation!
Thanks again for reading and commenting.
Pointless review? Perhaps because I’m sure we all expected and 8 and many with unopened bottles are probably relieved their Christmas sherry bomb was a good buy.
Personally I love Olorosso maturation so when I tasted that yesterday I had to buy a bottle.
Perhaps more interesting is where this falls between the 2019 Hazelburn Olorosso and the 2019 Springbank Cask Strength. I’d say very similar to the Hazelburn but also all the better for being bottled 4 years earlier. Nowhere nearly as sophisticated as the blend of casks in the Springbank.
Either way I hope this supply of Olorosso casks never runs out in Campbeltown!
Thanks for commenting and feeding back.
I suppose (certainly these days) I take a less holistic view of whisky reviewing than some of my more regular colleagues. In this particular instance I’d simply bought a whisky that interested me and thought I might as well review it as not. In previous pieces I’ve ground a whole pile of axes, but in this instance – to be completely honest – I didn’t have any other angle than “I like Kilkerrans and have bought a new one”.
That said, I think assuming 8+ is slightly disingenuous. The first Heavily Peated, for example, was given a 5 or so by Jason, which is about where I’d have stood too. And I’d say I’m a mark or two behind Mark and Jason on the standard KK 12. (Though I still think it’s a cracker for the price.)
Anyhow, to your excellent suggestion reg. the Hazleburn and most recent Cask Strength Springbank – I’m afraid I haven’t tried the most recent Springbank 12, so I can’t comment, but I’m right there with you on the Hazelburn and suspect I’d probably concur with the Springbank.
Thanks again for feeding back … and hear hear on the Oloroso cask front.
Nice one Adam. The “Bottom Line” sums it all. Under 50 bucks for honesty, integrity and most importantly flavour! And mind you that too from an OB. I doff my hat to Kilkerran. Dare I say (and Phil would agree) that I find Kilkerran’s batting average to be consistently better than its celebrity neighbour. Especially when you throw in the price into the equation. I’ve been banging about this for a while now that you don’t need to chase labels and break your bank only to land up with some horse piss juice. My only lament is that the bloody flippers have taken a fancy to Kilkerran and that leaves a lot less for us. Thanks to Chris (Gauntleys) I was able to secure one for meself. So cheers and many more to team Kilkerran!
In fairness to the celebrity neighbour it’s the same team malting, fermenting, distilling, maturing, blending and bottling. In my head I almost see KK as another Springbank offshoot. (Though of course it isn’t, really).
Point taken on batting average, though I’d still say Springbank is pretty exceptional value when you can get the 12 for £50. (If, and it is a big if, you beat the flippers.)
Anyway – I quibble. I think, as drinkers, that we’re very lucky to have both of them, and long may all of their approaches and policies continue.
Glad you got your hands on this one – enjoy it!
No trying to take away anything from Springbank. By celebrity I mean it’s impossible for me to get my hands on a new Springbank release. I don’t even bother trying. Also prices have been creeping up steadily. Put that into the mix and it’s hard to beat Kilkerran.
I just had this in a bar in Ginza. Re-charred Oloroso Cask… no wonder why it tasted off for me.
No one’s perfect. You’ll learn, with time.
Hi Adam, do you know if this is still available anywhere?
I’d be surprised, in complete honesty. I had a fairly brief look the other day and couldn’t find any. Sorry!
Best wishes – and thanks for reading
Long time reader, really enjoy your stuff! I can’t seem to find this bottle..only the kilkerran 8 year cask strength in bourbon barrels. I’m based in the southeast US..is the oloroso available in our market?
Thanks for reading (both this article and historically!)
I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the US distribution of this one. Since writing the article I’ve learned that 5,000 bottles were made, and whatever was released in the UK has long-since disappeared. If I hear anything about US distribution I’ll post a comment here.
Sorry I can’t be more help – hope Kilkerran heads your way very soon.
It’s rolling out in the US now.