KILCHOMAN ———– A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH WINTER IN CANADA
The Calgary winter has been pushing hard since early November 2011, so on February 8, 2012 we, a motley collection of seven like-minded whisky drudges, took off our snow shoes and mad trapper hats and sat down together to push back. Clint, Curt, Jay R, Jay W, Maltmonster, Pat and Calgary’s Napoleon, a self-acclaimed whisky expert, turned our interest and thirst toward eight different bottlings of Kilchoman. In doing so managed to ignore winter (at least until the next morning). With the help of the collective, Curt and I decided to post our tasting notes together in a joint effort and Pat did the honors of the photos.
For the benefit of the great unwashed, the Kilchoman Rockside Farm distillery was born in 2005 on the rocky, peaty Island of Islay and is the first new distillery built on Islay in 124 years. Kilchoman currently malts about 30% of their own barley which is grown on their own farm. The total yearly production is around 100,000 liters of the good stuff. The main source of Bourbon barrels is from Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky and Oloroso Sherry butts from Miguel Martin of Jerez, Spain. “Kil” in Gaelic means church and Kil-choman takes its name from a small Kil-t wearing settlement less than a kil-ometre away.
In an age where bigger is supposed to better (Roseisle) and contracting out specialized tasks like malting, cooperage, bottling and farming seems to make better business sense, it’s nice to see distilleries like Kilchoman with a real desire to reverse this trend and take on a grass roots approach to full control whisky making.
We couldn’t help to think with all the governmental red tape, the huge financial burden, the startup headaches and the never ending learning curve why then would any sane person want to build a whisky distillery from the ground up? Not that we don’t love you for it. Well whilst we were drinking and enjoying our whisky we came up with a list with 16 possible reasons:
1) A David and Goliath Condition – The desire to bring the corporate giant, Diageo, to its knees.
2) Final item on the fanatical Scotch hobbyist list: own a distillery.
3) Suffer from Jim Murray Syndrome – The need to receive praise from somebody you don’t respect (similar to Stockholm syndrome).
4) The voices compelled me…but we’re fine now.
5) Communication problem – Not fully understanding what your wife is saying. “I don’t care, you can do whatever the f#@k you want” really wasn’t permission to start a new distillery.
6) Malt-O-Maniac – Overcome with irresistible need to work with barley.
7) Malt-O-Freak – Obsessed with stopping barley from germinating.
8) Some extra strand in the English DNA that reads “Must rule over something Scottish”.
9) If God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.
10) An ideal founded after a night of heavy scotch drinking and bragging to friends “If I owned a distillery I would do it sooooo much better”.
11) Nesting instinct – Just wanting to secure a large supply of whisky at a reasonable price for you and your unreasonable friends.
12) Trying to get over your Coulrophobia – By surrounding yourself with government clowns.
13) A long family business history with the need to be first, best or really, really different.
14) Tired of Listening to Andrew Symington of Edradour claims of being the only neat little distillery in Scotchland.
15) Failed badly with the vows of Chastity, Obedience and Silence …which only left Poverty.
16) Woke up in a field on the Rockside Farm the morning after a night of heavy drinking at the Islay Festival with a sheep in one arm and real bad case of Whisnesia (only remembering you really liked whisky & sheep but couldn’t remember where home was).
KILCHOMAN RANGE TASTING AND A BATTLE OF THE CASKS
#1 Inaugural 2005 – 2009 1st Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 5 months in oloroso butts
#2 Autumn 2009 2nd Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and one cask of 3 years refill bourbon finished 3 months in oloroso butts
#3 Spring 2010 3rd Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 3.5 months in oloroso butts
#4 100 % Islay 2011 Inaugural Limited Release 50 % ABV1st fill bourbon and refill bourbon with 100% Islay barley
#5 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary , Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 119 May 30 , 2007 – July 21 , 2010 61.9 % ABV
#6 Binny’s Beverage Depot – Chicago, Illinois Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 182 July 4, 2007 – August 26, 2010 61.1 % ABV
#7 The Whisky Shop – San Francisco, California Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 204 July 18, 2007 – August 26, 2010 60.9 % ABV
#8 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Sherry # 322 November 15, 2006 – September 13, 2011 60.0 % ABV
#1 Inaugural 2005 – 2009 1st Release
46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 5 months in oloroso butts
Nose: Licorice. Iodine. Citrus zest. Salt. Raw smoke and earthy peat. Capers. Bonfire and maple bacon.
Palate: Smoky and salty. Sharp and young, but balanced with some sweetness. Cracked pepper.
Finish: Granny Smith apple. Warm and long lasting.
Thoughts: Enjoyable as hell. Better than almost all of the young whiskies (under 5 y.o., that is) I’ve tried.
NOSE: Smoky medicinal hit. Lemons & pears. Clamato juice and gin botanicals.
TASTE: Earthy. Liquid smoky. Licorice, tart lemon and green apples.
FINISH: Medium to long.
ASSESSMENT: What a fantastic whisky to start with. Really has me in awe of just how good a three year old whisky can be.
#2 Autumn 2009 2nd Release
46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and one cask of 3 years refill bourbon finished 3 months in oloroso butts
Nose: Creme caramel. Soft pear. Vanilla. Smoke. Spearmint.
Palate: Smoke and mature beyond its years. Soft white fruit. Woody and fishy.
Finish: Firey, but somewhat short-lived, like a fireworks explosion.
Thoughts: Slightly softer and more rounded corners (creamier) than the Inaugural.
NOSE: Little more depth and softer smoke than the Inaugural. Vanilla and oranges. Aged cheddar cheese.
TASTE: Whip cream. Mild smoke. Sweet & sour candy lemon drops.
FINISH: Medium to long. Little bitter and warm.
ASSESSMENT: You would think this would be very similar to the Inaugural given the age, but yet they are very different. Maybe the stock varies because of the learning curve in starting up a distillery?
#3 Spring 2010 3rd Release
46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 3.5 months in oloroso butts
Nose: Smoked salmon. Lemon juice. Herbal and grassy. Mussels in white wine. Kerosene.
Palate: Fishy. Hoisin. Syrupy pear. Hot.
Finish: Still quite fishy and feisty. Wriggling on the hook.
Thoughts: Good drink and quirky as hell. Just different enough to be charming.
NOSE: Low tide (yes I used to live on the coast) and things that come with that. Winey. Lemons.
TASTE: Smoked Salmon. Sweet peat. Pears and toffee.
FINISH: Medium to long. Warm and slightly oily.
ASSESSMENT: This is almost between the Inaugural and the Autumn 2009 release. This is my 2nd favorite of the first three releases and Inaugural is my favorite of the three.
#4 100 % Islay 2011 Inaugural Limited Release
50 % ABV 1st fill bourbon and refill bourbon with 100% Islay barley
Nose: Spirity and grainy. Seems VERY young. Oaky. Notes of new make. Waxy and somewhat plastic. Smoky, but not overpoweringly so.
Palate: Hot and virgin (and not in the good way). NOT sweet. Over-salted. Peat is aggressive.
Thoughts: The least enjoyable Kilchoman I’ve experienced to date. Though I like the others, this…I wouldn’t buy.
NOSE: Iodine and malty. New make feinty. Green apples and floral.
TASTE: New make. Vanilla. Lightly peated. Jammy.
FINISH: Medium. Briny and very hot.
ASSESSMENT: Had huge expectations for this, really enjoyed the first three malts but this was a bit of a letdown. It either needs some sherry finishing or a little more time in the cask.
#5 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #119
May 30 , 2007 – July 21 , 2010 61.9 % ABV
Nose: Creamy and rich. Spicy. Herbal. Sultana. Eucalyptus (some suggested Vicks Vapo-rub?). Bubble-gummy.
Palate: Firey and smoke-heavy. Anise. Zest and brine.
Finish: Pleasant slow fade. Hefty smoke left behind with fruit skin tartness.
Thoughts: Good cask selection. One of the faves of the eve.
NOSE: Lemons and ripe cherries. Mild to strong peat smoke. Eucalyptus. West coast oysters.
TASTE: Mild peat smoke. Vanilla and red apples. Pepper.
FINISH: Medium to long. Like the smooth fading finish.
ASSESSMENT: Battle of the Bourbon 2005 3 year old single casks starts here and me likes!
#6 Binny’s Beverage Depot – Chicago, Illinois Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #182
July 4, 2007 – August 26, 2010 61.1 % ABV
Nose: Dill. Mellower than the KWM cask and in contrast seems almost flat. Hints of grainy new-make. Smoke and youthful peat nip.
Palate: Wax and cherry. Underdeveloped. Old chocolate. Meaty and malty.
Finish: Nothing to dislike, but nothing to mourn when it fades either.
Thoughts: Would probably be a LOT better with another half dozen years in wood, but I question the cask here. Seems kinda dud-ish.
NOSE: Assertive smoke. Aged cheese. Apples and pears.
TASTE: Mint and lemons. Little pepper and licorice.
FINISH: Medium to long with a sharp tang to it.
ASSESSMENT: Poor showing to the KWM single cask.
#7 The Whisky Shop – San Francisco, California Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #204
July 18, 2007 – August 26, 2010 60.9 % ABV
Nose: Dusty. Wood shavings. Rich wet smoke. Fishy. Vanilla. Lemon.
Palate: Hot and spicy Asian sauce of some sort.
Finish: A hickory like smoke and apple. Long and warming.
Thoughts: Really liked this one. Certainly one of the best of the night.
NOSE: Charcoal and fire starter. Major citrus and bubble gum.
TASTE: Mild peat smoke. Honey. Cheddar cheese. Tobacco.
FINISH: Medium to long. Earthy dry finish.
ASSESSMENT: My 2nd favorite single cask and very close to the KWM for number one. It’s amazing to me that all three of these single casks could be so different.
#8 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Sherry #322
November 15, 2006 – September 13, 2011 60.0 % ABV
Nose: Dry fruit. Burnt caramel. BBQ sauce. New carpet. Barley still cuts with its youth. Butter tarts.
Palate: Buttery and sweet, but smoky as hell.
Finish: Lovely. Sweet and smoky toasted oak.
Thoughts: Another young gem. Calgary’s KWM had two of the better Kilchomans on offer this eve.
NOSE: Mellow briny smoke. Cherries and oranges. Leather and earthy.
TASTE: Creamy chewy jam. Black licorice and raisins.
FINISH: Long and gets warmer at the end.
ASSESSMENT: The only ‘all sherry’ cask we had in the lineup, and it is brilliant. My second overall favorite of the night next to the Inaugural 2005, release which was #1 pick as overall favorite of the night .
I remember being part of the B-team to help chose this cask for KWM back on August 16, 2011. We were given only two 2006 Sherry samples to chose from cask #322 & cask #323. Sample #322 was stunning and sample #323 was very less than stunning (varnish) and ended up at being bottled for Whisky Live Paris and receiving a rating of 78 from Serge on Whisky Fun. Again it’s odd that two young casks could be so different.
Much thanks to Anthony Wills for coming to Calgary in October 2011 and leading us in a wonderful tasting including the new 5 year old first fill bourbon, which was fantastic. Sorry we didn’t get to talk much in Victoria but look forward to seeing you here again next year .
– Photos: Pat
“Maltmonster, I’m sorry for showing up late as a result of locking my keys in the vehicle at the Olympic Park Shell gas station. Life is tough; It’s even tougher if you’re stupid.
As I was late I didn’t get a chance to rate & taste all the whiskies and as I trust your opinion more than my own, please rate these whiskies for me.
Out of anybody in the whisky industry, I hold the you in the highest esteem. Maltmonster, you are a true guiding light, a credit to the noble Irish and without question have the best taste in whisky in the world.
Self-acclaimed whisky expert, Quaker, sheep shagger, whisky monger, whisky writer and proud bearer of the MHLV yellow tie”