By: David Othenin-Girard
K&L Staff Member
I've been visiting and tasting the outrageously good malts from the Kilchoman Distillery since just a few years after they opened. Always when faced with the wonderful, delicious, approachable young malt that lay in barrel there, the big question was how will this do as it ages. An old adage in Scotch, expressed to me by more than one master distiller, was that if your new make and young whiskies were too pretty they wouldn't hold up for the long run. Kilchoman's new make was downright delicious and their young whiskies were already absolutely world-class at 4-5 years of age. These pretty distillates have continued to develop as they age and certainly show no signs of losing the inherent delicacy. The exception to that was the spectacular Islay Barley, which is hand-malted on site. This special spirit was always more rugged and austere. In its youth it reminded us more of mezcal than of the other Islay malts and while it was equally drinkable, it never exhibited the finesse and elegance of the standard distillate. But the distillery was never able to put anything from the Islay barley program on the table much more than 5 years old. Now with this incredible game-changing whisky we're beginning to see what truly mature hand-malted Kilchoman is going to look like and it's freakin' fabulous. This is a world-class whisky that may not have the pointed elegance of the standard releases, but more than makes up for it in wild complexity and rich texture. While it was sort of hard to peg the young Islay Barleys into a category, this 9 year old cask has arrived and is so distinctly of Islay it's astounding. Now, it's not a peat bomb by any means; the smoke is very integrated, it has the ocean quality that reminds me of the very best modern Bowmore and the singular character of one of the Springbank local barley. Touches of green olive poke through behind mountains of overripe yellow plums, citrus peel and freshly spun cotton candy. The gorgeous nose contrasts wonderfully with the salty peat that cuts right through the front palate. This beautiful tension between wonderful orchard fruits and salted savory things continues through all the way to the end where a big candied and smoke lemon peel remains. Not nearly as limey or mezcal-like as younger versions and easily one of my new favorite Kilchoman to date. Good work Whiteley!