|The Kilchoman line up|
As D.T.W.C. members may recall some of us did a tasting at the Oak Barrel, Sydney, about 2 years ago when Anthony Wills was also out (read a review of the evening by The Converted). At that point I had a real keen interest is finding out more about Islay's youngest distillery at the time. We had heard many good things about the distillery including awards it had started to be accumulating. Unfortunately as some members would remember our experience of the whiskies and the presentation were not great. Since then a disinterest from our club pretty much left Kilchoman off out tasting board so to speak.
The Wild Rover in Surry Hills, Sydney, has recently started its own whisky tasting club called the Campbell Corner Whisky Cooperative, and this evening (though I did not know at the time) was its second hosted event. As I was not there investigating the club I will not going to go into extensive detail so saving that review for another time.
|Complimentary whisky sour|
Moving upstairs we took our seats and set to work on preparing for what was to come. The Wild Rover have a good casual setup with ample tasting glassware, comfy seating, and interesting decor. The space has great airflow so it never gets stuffy with all the bodies, though a small amount of street noise will persist at a constant level and even the smallest amount of chatter amongst the crowd tends to drown out the speakers voice. Oysters were served during the tasting but they had no actual place nor did they fit the whiskies profiles but I am not one to pass up on quality seafood. After the event additional foods were served downstairs but the oily bar food does not mix well with whisky so a few tweaks needed there but if I was dropping a pint or 2 = perfect. The Wild Rover are yet to develop a good format but it is only their second session so things will come in time.
|Setting the scene at The Wild Rover|
Just about the entire presentation was business focused towing a very similar PR line to the last time I saw Anthony. I did get to field a few questions during the presentation with what I felt were questionable results. Firstly I had asked about how the still sizes (smallest on Islay) were part of the reason for Kilchomans unique flavour profile and did they know the stills would be so successful when they set them up. Anthony responded saying that no he did not realise how successful they would be, especially in getting a young whisky to market, and if he did he "would have ordered more stills at the time".
|Anthony Wills in action|
So looking at the whiskies themselves we had a lineup of 3 expressions to try: 100% Islay; Machir Bay; Loch Gorm. This was a really good spectrum of where Kilchoman are going and nice to see 3 very unique styles. There is something for everyone just in these 3 expressions alone.
100% Islay - This is a 3 to 4 year old whisky from 1st fill bourbon casks. At 50% ABV, like most whiskies of this age, the alcohol did not seem too intense at all so it was very drinkable. Colour was sparking straw with a nose of cut grass, mild toasted oaks, peat smoke and fresh cereals. Taste was silky sweet, lots of caramel toasted oaks, and ripe bananas. The finish was long, spicy and had the obvious ash finish I have come to expect of Kilchoman. My favourite expression out of all 3 sampled.
Machir Bay - The flagship whisky of Kilchoman being an expression aged in 1st fill bourboncasks for 3 to 4 years then finished for 2 months in sherry casks with a final bottling at 46% ABV. A nose of citrus oranges and pineapple, vanillas, and fresh peat smoke expressing youthful feistiness. On tasting it moves through the mouth a bit like water before a hit of vibrant oranges and honey cream followed by a shot of tangy spices. Finish is long but is ruined by a harsh mouthful of ash and spice burn in the upper throat. I think as Kilchoman distillery matures this version of Machir Bay will fall out of favour for something less assertive and more rounded.
Loch Gorm - Aged for 5 years in 20 year old Oloroso sherry casks it is bottled at 46% ABV. This is not the intense sherry hit you may be expecting. A nutty nose and mild peat, almonds and citrus stood out the most. On tasting it was super smooth on the tongue with sweet stewed fruits and light peat smoke in the background that then delivered a medium finish with spices returning to the palate. Not quite a fruity christmas cake as one might expect and the typical ash finish appeared at the end. Very easy drinking. An enjoyable whisky for being 100% sherry cask aged. Despite this release and Anthony confirming a port cask expression coming soon he says he "believes bourbon casks will be the better bet for Kilchoman" for future bottelings.
I like young whiskies but I do not overally enjoy Kilchomans take on them. It raises my interest to pursue exploring in more detail why young whiskies are not released more often. Is it actually harder to make a young malt whisky taste good? Does mean it need to be tamed by age?
I do not think I will write about Kilchoman again or at least for some time as I have no inclination to go out and buy a bottle based on my experiences. Maybe in 5 years to see how things are going but for now it does not look to be a distillery genuinely making any waves in my ocean. The whiskies are not bad but more so I just don't get enjoyment out of them. Kilchoman, as a distillery, needs to dust that chip off its shoulder it is carrying about being a young distillery making young whiskies, put the cold business stance aside, embrace its uniqueness, while becoming more warm and loving to its prospective audience.
D.T.W.C. was invited as a guest this event. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated.