Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kilchoman, Inaugural 100% Islay vs. Winter 2010 Release

stats: Inaugural 100% Islay, single malt scotch, Islay, 50%, £60 ($96)
         Winter 2010 Release, single malt scotch, Islay, 46%, £45 ($72)

Having been quite impressed by the Spring 2011 Release from Kilchoman, I was very excited to visit the distillery last spring and see Islay’s newest operation in person. The concept here is that of a “farm distillery”, where the barley is grown, malted, mashed, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled all on the same property.

Some distillers, such as Springbank, produce “local barley” bottlings where the barley is purchased from nearby farms. As far as I know, Kilchoman is the only one in Scotland that actually grows there own barley. But the small farm can only put out enough barley to supply 30% of the distillery’s needs. The rest of the barley is purchased (malted to order) from Port Ellen Maltings, on the southern end of Islay.

What they do grow themselves is malted in-house, on a traditional floor malting, with peating levels between 10 and 20 ppm phenols, and used exclusively for their 100% Islay bottlings. Only six other distilleries in Scotland currently malt their own barley, keeping alive a tradition that was the norm until the 1960’s. Kilchoman’s purchased malt is peated to 50 ppm phenols and is used for all of their other bottlings.

As I traveled from one distillery to the next during my two week stay in Scotland, each tour would be followed by a visit to the gift shop, and that was the moment of truth – what did they have for miniatures? When you visit 14 distilleries and have to fly home, well, you can only pick up so many full sized bottles. But why get a miniature of something I can easily get at home? The special 50ml bottles were what I was really after. At Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Oban, not a single mini was to be seen. Tobermory had their 10 year in miniatures, as did Bunnahabhain with their 12 yr. I would have greedily snapped up minis of their 15 yr and 25 yr, respectively.

Tourism has become an important aspect of the Scotch Whisky industry. Many distillers are realizing the need for quality visitor facilities and engaging tours. Hopefully more will recognize the relevance of miniatures, especially of high end and limited edition whiskies. In this regard, both Glengoyne and Kilchoman scored top marks.

Needless to say, I purchased all that Kilchoman had to offer. I’ll be tasting two today and two more very soon. The prices listed above are typical 70cl bottle prices, I find that better for comparison sake, and I don’t recall what I paid for the miniatures.

The Inaugural 100% Islay and the Winter 2010 Release were both aged for 3 year in first-fill bourbon barrels. The biggest difference between them is the peating levels outlined above, but there is also a small difference in abv, 50% and 46%, respectively.

Inaugural 100% Islay
Pale straw in color. Mostly peat coming through on the nose, but in a clean, light way. There are some slightly floral aromas that remind me of the new make spirit I nosed on a few distillery tours. The nose is pretty representative of the palate, with floral notes and moderate peat doing most of the work. I’ll be honest, it comes across pretty green and immature (it is only 3 years old after all). It definitely needs more time for flavor development and to become better integrated. Its pleasantly long finish may be the highlight for me. Still, it’s showing good potential, and it is interesting to see the roots of this whisky.

Winter 2010 Release
Also pale straw in color. At first glance the 100% Islay looks slightly lighter, but I think it is just the colors of the labels playing tricks on my eyes. Primarily peat on the nose again, but with a sharper, more aggressive manner. Some of the same “new make scent” is present here too although much more subtle. Certainly more peat intensity than the 100% Islay, and it comes off as being a little more well-tied-together. I think that added peat intensity helps to mask what it is lacking in flavors contributed by the casks. It goes a little off course on the mid palate with the floral notes coming to the fore, but this one also shines on the finish.

I don’t think these are inherently floral malts, like Tobermory and its peated cousin Ledaig. The young examples of Kilchoman just haven’t seen enough time in the cask for the floral attributes of the spirit to fade out. The Lagavulin new make spirit I tasted had similar qualities, which are undetectable in the 12 yr and 16 yr bottlings.

I’ve been holding on to the last bit of my Kilchoman 2011 Spring Release to compare to the others. A little extra time (30% 4yr, 70% 3 yr) and a partial Sherry finish (30% for 5 weeks) go a long way. I tend to dote over other reviewers’ numerical ratings, but I hate assigning them myself – for the sake of comparison I’ll go 80, 84, and 88 here; quite respectable considering the youth of the whisky at hand.

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