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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Whisky Review!

Until recently we didn't see much of the rarer Kilchoman bottlings in Australia, and if we did it was thanks to some parallel importing from some of the more astute online specialist stores. That's definitely improved with the change of importer / distributor, but there are still quite a few that we (understandably) don't hear a lot about. Thanks to a generous Kilchoman-obsessed mate, I'll be having a close look at a few of them in the near future!

We all know that Kilchoman was, until Ardnahoe arrived, the youngest distillery on Islay, having opened in 2005. Which means that while Laphroaig & Ardbeg were celebrating their 200th anniversary in 2015, the youngster was celebrating its 10th anniversary. There wasn't the huge fanfare and onrush of commemorative releases that the older Islays bestowed us with, and if you ask me that's not Kilchoman's way of doing things, but there was one very special bottling released to mark the occasion. Released during the Feis Ile on the 28th of May 2015, Kilchoman 10th Anniversary is a cask strength vatting of whisky distilled in each year between 2005 and 2012. So it contains both (roughly) 10-year old Kilchoman and 3-year old Kilchoman, with plenty of others in-between, which of course is why there's no age statement. If there was it'd have to be that of a 3-year old whisky, which wouldn't have come close to telling the whole story.

Kilchoman aren't at all afraid of young age statements either, since the majority of their bottlings will have both the year or even the exact date of distillation and the year or exact date of bottling printed (or hand-written) right there on the label for all to see. I'm sure that's helped by the fact that they're absolutely brilliant at producing mature young whisky- remember that age and maturity are two different things (a rule that also applies to much more than whisky). I've had the privilege of tasting some excellent 5-, 4- and even 3-year old Kilchomans, often at high strength, which have been remarkably drinkable, complex and mature for their age. In fact I can comfortably say that those young Ileachs have been the best 3-4 year old age stated whiskies that I've tried to date, and there's a review of one of those young'uns coming soon.

Islay's only farm distillery has started undergoing a bit of an expansion recently, with the goal of doubling the current annual production capacity by the end of 2018. There's already a new malting floor and kiln, giving a 50% increase in the size of each batch of floor-malted barley, with the capacity for further expansion in the future. There's also a new still house in the works, with the addition of two new stills (bringing the total to four), a new second mashtun and six new wooden washbacks for a total of ten. Crucially all of that new equipment will be built to the exact specifications of the existing gear to keep things consistent. Last but not least will be five new warehouses, to be built in the next few years. While doubling the capacity does sound like a large increase, it's important to remember that even when doubled it'll still be a very small distillery by Scottish standards, with an annual capacity of under 500,000 litres of spirit per year.

Anyway, back to the bottle at hand. This 10th Anniversary commemorative bottling was limited to 3,000 hand-numbered bottles, and was only available either from the distillery shop or from a select few re-sellers (and now only secondary auctions). The original retail price was just under 90 pounds, which is quite reasonable for such a special bottling and is almost exactly the same as the "regular" distillery-exclusive expressions. I've mentioned above that this bottling contains some whisky that was distilled in 2005, the first year of operation, but it gets even better: that 2005-origin whisky was taken from cask number 1/2005. Yes, the first cask filled at Kilchoman Distillery! Now that's pretty damn special! It was bottled at 58.2% ABV, and like all Kilchoman is of course non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Let's get to it!

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary, NAS, 58.2%. Islay, Scotland.
Vatting of vintages from 2005-2012, including the first cask filled, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 3000 bottles, released May 2015.

Colour: Medium gold.

Nose: Fresh, soft and grassy to start with. Becoming earthy and slightly coastal with a nice underlying under-ripe tropical fruit note. Very reminiscent of the 100% Islay bottlings, and a little shy. Some milk toffee, lightly torched citrus peel, and soft herbal wood smoke. Slightly fizzy coke bottle gummy lollies. Some buttery oak shows itself with more air.

Texture: Light-medium weight. Soft, earthy and lightly fruity. Well balanced with no heat whatsoever.

Taste: Soft entry, more under-ripe tropical fruit and fizzy cola lollies. Building dry, earthy and bitter peat, and more milk toffee. The peat becomes quite big and spicy then fades again going into the finish.

Finish: Medium-long length. Some bitter dark chocolate, milk toffee again but it's less sweet here. Some spicy, ashy, dry peat and dry driftwood, and more of that sweet but under-ripe fruit.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: A very nice easy drinking Kilchoman. You'd absolutely never guess that it was over 58%! Very well balanced too, nothing dominates and each note gets its chance on centre stage. Quite like that under-ripe fruit notes under the milky toffee, and those cola lollies remind me of the 100% Islay bottlings in a big way, but with more peat. I wonder if there was more than a few casks of the farm-grown floor-malted barley involved in the vatting? It wouldn't surprise me. For such a small distillery to make their 10th anniversary bottling so accessible and relatively affordable is great to see. Hopefully that has had the result of plenty of these bottles being opened and enjoyed, rather than being kept aside for collections. But then it's not exactly every day that you get the chance to see the 10th anniversary of an Islay distillery, this would be the first chance in more than a century to do so, so we can't begrudge the collectors that opportunity either.

It must be an incredibly stressful and worrisome task to start a new distillery. Especially when it's a privately owned one that doesn't have any big blenders or regular un-aged spirit sales to rely on for steady cash flow. But Kilchoman and the Wills family and the late John MacLellan have obviously done a great job, and their hard work has paid off. Here's to the 20th anniversary in another seven years!