Editor’s note: this article was originally revised to include the second review at bottom. Our Patreon supporters saw this prior to publication, but the article was initially published on this site without the addendum. We apologize for any confusion; the corrected article is below.
“I did something bad…”
– Travis Kelce’s Girlfriend
I am a recidivist; a repeat offender. I clearly haven’t learned my lesson. I talk a big game, but I don’t walk the walk to back it up. I relapsed. I’m a hypocrite. I’m a rebel and I’ll never ever be any good. If my grandfather were alive to see me now, he’d die of shame.
Why all the self-flagellation? In my prior review of Longrow’s Peated expression, I confessed to succumbing to FOMO in my purchase of the bottle. While I scratched the itch in that case, I did also miss out, though, kinda-sorta. Sharp-eyed readers of that review will have noticed that stocks of Kilkerran Heavily Peated had been cleared out before I snagged the remaining Longrow, leaving only an empty shelf and a price tag where they once sat.
Returning to that same store with the expressed purpose of getting a bottle of Amaro and specifically not buying any more bottles of whisky (“I swear, your honor…”), what to my wondering eyes did appear? The last remaining bottle of Kilkerran Heavily Peated from a new shipment recently received by the store.
You know what I did. I know what I did. Save your condemnation of me; I’ve already upbraided myself repeatedly, and not just at the beginning of this piece. I’m a loser with no self-control. I also, on this occasion, purchased three bottles of Four Roses with recipes not yet in my collection. Damn me.
Once again, though, I feel forced to defend myself: I have yet to try any Kilkerran whisky, so I am considering this an educational expense. As for the Four Roses… we’ll call those early Christmas and birthday presents to myself.
Speaking of education: Kilkerran’s own site is – like the one for its sister distillery Springbank – abnormally helpful in terms of providing hard facts. Take, for example, this brief potted history of the Glengyle distillery (verbatim, but with the components shuffled around for narrative cohesion here):
“The original Glengyle Distillery produced whisky between 1872-1925 but in 2004, after 79 non-producing years, the distillery was reinstated by Mitchell’s Glengyle Ltd.
The name Kilkerran is derived from the Gaelic, “Ceann Loch Cille Chiarain” which is the name of the original settlement where Saint Kieran had his religious cell and Campbeltown now stands. Glengyle now produces a range of Kilkerran Single Malt whiskies, all natural in colour and non-chill filtered.
Every stage of the production is carried out in Campbeltown. Crosshill Loch, situated on a plateau of Beinn Ghuilean, supplies fresh water to the distillery. Our barley is traditionally floor malted at our sister distillery Springbank then transferred the short distance to Glengyle. All our whisky is matured and bottled in Campbeltown. Our award winning single malt is produced in very limited quantities, as we are in production for just 3 months of the year, filling approximately 650 casks annually.
Our core range includes our signature Kilkerran 12yo, the popular 8yo Cask Strength and the newly released Kilkerran 16yo.”
I love it. It’s “BIFF:” Brief, Informative, Factual, Friendly. A much longer (but no less worthwhile) history is also provided. It yields this tidbit, which adorns the back of this bottle as well:
“Kilkerran is thought to be a suitable name for a new Campbeltown malt since it was unusual for the old Campbeltown distilleries to be called after a Glen, a custom more usually associated with the Speyside region.”
You’ll notice that nowhere in the prior verbiage was there any mention of this Heavily Peated expression. Indeed, the “Our Whisky” section of Kilkerran’s site only provides tasting notes, rather than any background on the expression particularly.
Those who want to learn more about Kilkerran Heavily Peated can do as I did, reading Jonathan’s review of Batch 3, in which he details the pandemic-induced travails attending that iteration’s release. Andrew followed up with a review of Batch 4 the following year, which is more a meditation on the folly of the online scrum for limited bottles. I unknowingly followed his example, having strolled casually into a shop to purchase this, even interacting with several live human beings in the process. See, I’m not that stupid!
Actually, I take that back. As with the Longrow, I overpaid compared to prevailing prices in the UK. Master of Malt has Batch 9 available for £52 ($65), while this same bottle will run you a slightly lower £50 from The Whisky Exchange. I paid $100 for 750 ml, which is the price I’ll use for evaluation on Malt’s price-sensitive scoring framework. Defending myself once again, this seems to be the going rate here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, based on a quick survey of onlione retailers. Coincidentally, it was also the same price being asked for the Four Roses bottles, though I’ll thank you in advance for keeping all this information away from my wife.
Final details, before I once again take a dive into Campbeltown Loch: This batch was released in May 2023. It is comprised of 90% ex-bourbon and 10% sherry casks. This was bottled at a strength of 58.4% ABV, not chill filtered, and no added coloring.
Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch 8 – Review
Color: Medium-pale straw.
On the nose: The initial impression is of a perfectly harmonious marriage between peated malt and cask influence, with the relative proportions roughly reflected in the overall presentation. Picking this apart: there’s a leafy green note of kelp, with plenty of creamy vanilla from the ex-bourbon casks. Subtle dried fruit notes of sultanas speak for the minority sherry cask component, but they’re evident nonetheless. More sniffing presents a mélange of coriander and Asian fivespice, but always balanced by peaty smoke and the rich oak from the bourbon barrels.
In the mouth: Starts with a tingly, slightly tart bite that announces the whisky’s entry with a flourish. This then transitions gracefully into a sweeter, creamier note, which is paired with a meaty, malty character, before performing a 180 degree turn back toward intense, almost astringent maritime notes. This is challenging at the middle of the mouth; the oak notes are so tannic that they practically desiccate the tongue, with only wisps of citric fruit poking through at intervals. This settles down as it moves toward the back of the mouth, thankfully, and the peat finds its most self-assured expressiveness as a smoky heat expands to coat the tongue and throat. The wood is once again present with a somewhat abrasive texture, which pairs with an awkward maltiness speaking to the relative youth of this whisky. There’s a momentary reprieve as the creamy vanilla note emerges for a curtain call, but then this reverts back to its harshest aspects in a jarring crescendo. The fading flavors of peat smoke and hefty malt take turns, in between pulses of radiant heat that nearly numb the mouth.
In the way that I thought the Longrow Peated would be a good beginning introduction to the peated style for a novice, this is precisely the opposite. The palate is such a sucker punch to the teeth that even experienced tasters will struggle to manage it. It’s not that there’s a phenolic overload of peat (I actually find the peat notes to be of a fairly consistent – though high – intensity throughout), but rather that the malt and the cask really fail to knit in the mouth. At moments this is uncomfortably woody; at others, the flavor development is lacking and lets juvenile notes of insufficiently mature malt whisky to emerge awkwardly.
If I were to be maximally cynical, I’d guess that Mitchell’s hoped that the forceful expression of peat would cover up for other flaws in the presentation. This works until it doesn’t, with the end result leaving a (figurative and literal) bitter taste in my mouth. This is not pleasant to drink, and I nearly dread each successive sip. From both an intellectual and hedonistic perspective, this is pretty close to the opposite of the experience I crave when pondering a dram. I’m reflecting that – and the high price – in a score corresponding to “flawed” on our scale.
Nobody bats 1.000 (sorry to slip an American sports reference into a Scotch whisky review), and this is a notably rare misstep from the folks that produce a lot of beloved whisky. It’s not going to prejudice me against the rest of the Kilkerran range, but I’ll be loath to pick up another bottle of Heavily Peated until I’ve got corroborating evidence that it will be quite unlike this unfortunate batch. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for an exuberantly foolish mark on whom I can pawn off the rest of this bottle.
Maybe this whisky is divine retribution for my impulsive ways? While I was mostly satisfied with the Longrow Peated (a small glass of which I returned to as I wrote this conclusion, if only to exorcise the taste of the Kilkerran from my mouth), this bottle will remain a rebuke for as long as I own it. Write your own moral to this sad story; I’m off to lick my wounds and curse my folly.
But wait (as the old “As Seen on TV” advertisements used to go), there’s more. I shared this review with Graham prior to publication, and he mentioned that Kilkerran often improves with a bit of air. To test this hypothesis, I poured another glass from the bottle and let it air out for a few hours. I then approached it anew, with a fresh palate.
Kilkerran Heavily Peated Batch 8 (exposed to air) – Review
Color: Medium-pale straw.
On the nose: Both meatier and fruitier than the prior dram, this has an almost mezcal-like aromatic profile, incorporating ample smoky notes as well as zesty citrus fruit (Meyer lemon and key lime). Some lighter and sweeter scents of confectioners’ sugar play against subtle whiffs of lemongrass. As I sniff this longer, the smoky notes recede, leaving the moistly meaty aroma of roast chicken breast and some gentle maritime accents of saline.
In the mouth: The moment of truth… This is better resolved in the front of the mouth, entering more roundly, with some generous flavors of ripe stone fruit. This tightens up as it moves toward the middle of the mouth, taking on more of that tannic, oaky astringency, though in a far more palatable form than in the prior example. I like this far better at midpalate; the elements seem to have found better balance and have integrated more harmoniously. This has a gentle spiciness as it moves into the finish, where the ex-bourbon casks express themselves most pleasingly, adding a sweet and creamy aspect that provides a good counterweight to the tangy fruit and iodine. A gently nutty aftertaste lingers through the finish.
I feel so much better having revisited this. All the problems from the first glass seem to have been resolved, leaving a much fuller – and better tasting – experience of the whisky itself. I’ll recant my prior comments and alter my score to reflect this.
Revised Score: 6/10
Consider me enlightened. If you’ve been as lucky as I have to find a bottle of this, I’ll encourage you to do as Graham suggested and give this a proper airing out before diving in.