Kilchoman are an innovative distillery, producing some seriously good whisky at surprisingly young ages, often at high- or even cask strength. The Port cask bottling for example was bottled at 55% and only aged for the legal minimum of 3 years, and it was brilliant. I put this down to excellent quality new-make (slow fermentation and distillation, among other things) and excellent cask-selection, but there's probably more science and art to it than that. It certainly helps that they don't chill filter, don't add colouring, and don't bottle below 46%.
Speaking of casks, Kilchoman are using first-fill bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace, and first-fill Oloroso casks from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain. They've also used smaller amounts of Port, Madeira and PX sherry casks, among others, for limited releases. Kilchoman is a 'paddock-to-bottle' distillery, as in they do everything on-site, including (floor) malting and bottling, and roughly 30% of their annual barley requirement is grown and malted on-site. The remainder is sourced from Port Ellen maltings.
My previous Kilchoman reviews were an excellent small batch/single cask bottling, which I've tried and failed to find since, and one of the 100% Islay expressions (distilled only from the floor-malted barley), which I found a little lacking. So we're going back to basics for a look at their entry-level expression, Machir Bay, named after the bay near the distillery, on the west coast of Islay. It's an NAS (although said to be 5-6 years old on average) mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, although I suspect it's mostly the latter, prior to a short finishing in ex-Oloroso casks.
Kilchoman Machir Bay, 2014 release, NAS, 46%. Islay, Scotland.
Vatting of 5-6 year old ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, married and finished in ex-Oloroso casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Very pale gold.
Nose: Sweet grilled pineapple, and sweet juicy barley, a little earthy. Dried herbs, candied lemon, and a little new-make spirit, but a good one.
Texture: Medium-weight. Young, fresh & zesty. But not hot, very nice.
Taste: Earthy, sweet peat up front, and quite a bit of it. A little ash, hint of spicy smoke, and more of that pineapple and lemon, but less sweet now. A little dry chilli now as well.
Finish: Medium-long length. Still peaty, and a little spicy. More of that fresh new-make, and a little more spirit-y now, but not in a bad way.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: Very impressive for it's age, especially considering there aren't any smaller quarter casks involved here. I'd love to try Kilchoman's new-make spirit, I suspect it'd be lovely. As would all of the Islay distilleries', no doubt. Machir Bay is quite well priced as well, at around $110-120 in most stores, which puts it in the vicinity of Laphroaig quarter cask, for which it's a worthy adversary. Although I'd have to give the Laphroaig the decision there, it wouldn't be by a massive margin. And that's high praise for Machir Bay, I think.
Kilchoman are certainly still one to watch, with whisky this good at such young ages we can expect to see some brilliant releases in the coming years. Speaking of which, they recently bottled their first 10 year old, although only one bottle was made available, which was auctioned off for charity. I believe this was also the first Kilchoman to carry an age statement, so that bottle is really quite special, especially as the proceeds went to a good cause (cancer research). Who knows, perhaps one day we'll all be buying 10 year old Kilchoman off the shelf. I'd love to see a Kilchoman quarter cask expression as well, it would certainly be a winner.
But then, if the younger stuff is this good, why mess with it? Why leave in in the cask for another 4+ years, collecting dust and costing money? I guess that depends on how the spirit responds to that extra time in the cask, and the direction the distillery want to take.
Many would turn their noses up at a 5-6 year old single malt, which of course is part of the reason there's no prominent age statement on the packaging, but like I've said before, we really shouldn't judge these books entirely by their covers. If you're yet to give Kilchoman a go, I'd highly recommend jumping on that bandwagon. I'll see you there.