Anthony Wills of Kilchoman take scotch distilling back to its roots at it’s distillery on Islay, a true “barley-to-bottle” operation.
Back to Basics
What do you do if you want to take scotch distilling back to its roots, a true “barley-to-bottle” operation? If you’re Anthony Wills, the founder and manager of Kilchoman Distillery, you buy land on Islay, set up shop…er…farm, and create the first distillery to open on the island in over 120 years. Now let me say at the outset that I’m not sponsored by Kilchoman at all, and I’ve never been there (though I’d love to go to Islay someday); I’ve just become a fan of their expressions and love their philosophy of keeping the entire process local and natural. What I know about Kilchoman I learned from listening to experts talk on their podcasts (I’m looking at you, One Nation Under Whisky!), visiting Kilchoman’s website, and just sipping a dram or two.
This operation exemplifies how scotch was truly made in days of yore. They grow their own barley, then malt it and dry it with that famous smoky Islay peat. The fermenting, distilling, and aging process is all done by hand and on site. How many scotch expressions can boast all that? There’s even an adorable Distilling Process cartoon on their website. It’s precious, really.
Kilchoman is brought to the US by ImpEx Beverages. I’ve talked about ImpEx before because they were generous enough to send me my first set of samples to review, brilliantly written up in Across the board across the Pond, if I do say so myself (tooting our own horn, are we?). In exchange, I sent the office staff a dozen freshly baked scones (this blog is called Scotch & Scones, after all!). Recently I received another sample set from the good folks there, and in return I sent them Cinnamon Roll cookies. Another fair trade, I would say.
Take it from the professionals…
This time ImpEx sent me their new Kilchoman releases: 2009 Vintage and Red Wine Release. Here’s what Kilchoman had to say about them: “The 2009 Vintage eight-year-old limited edition is our oldest globally-available release to date. Though the casks selected for the 2009 Vintage were mostly distilled in 2009, a number of 2008 casks were also selected to add further layers of maturation. The specific casks, chosen by Anthony Wills, Kilchoman Founder, are mostly a combination of fresh and refill bourbon barrels though Anthony also selected three 2008 Oloroso sherry butts to add additional layers of rich cooked fruits to balance with the lighter citrus and vanilla of the bourbon barrels. All previous Vintage expressions have been matured exclusively in bourbon barrels.”
- Nose: lemon, citrus and butterscotch notes are prominent with soft peaty aromas in the background.
- Palate: soft sweetness first and peat smoke and ripe fruit notes following.
- Finish: long, clean and sweet with peat smoke and soft fruits at the end.
“Distilled in 2012, the Red Wine Cask Matured has spent its full maturation term in the single cask type rather than being a finish. The casks, from the Douro Valley in Portugal, were personally selected by Kilchoman Founder Anthony Wills. The Red Wine Cask Matured follows Port, Madeira and Sauternes matured expressions released annually since 2014.”
- Nose: Buttery and creamy with peat smoke lingering in the background.
- Palate: Sweet and rounded with bitter chocolate, liquorice and integrated peat smoke.
- Finish: Clean and sweet with a rich texture and long finish.
“As with all of the Kilchoman range, the Red Wine Cask Matured is peated and non chill filtered with this particular release having a natural coppery red colour as a result of extraction from the oak casks. This expression has been bottled at 50% ABV, slightly stronger than our typical 46% ABV, the higher bottling strength adding structure and intensity to the dram.”
Continuing in that vein, here’s what I have to say about them…
From ImpEx Beverages, December, 2017
Kilchoman 2009 Vintage
- Nose: Smoke, iodine and ash, honey, light oak, hay and sunshine (a lightness to it)
- Taste: Highly sulphuric, light menthol, intense black pepper, light creamy body that's overshadowed by the iodine and ash
- Finish: Medicinal, the flavor doesn’t linger, fades sweetly to a light ash that just lays there
- Comments: An interesting expression…it has a lot of smoke but the body and finish are light and soft; with water, the smoke is mellowed just a bit is still fairly strong
Kilchoman Red Wine Release
- Nose: Initial medicinal smoke, cooked fruit underneath, some buttery notes
- Taste: All iodine smoke all the time, but soft and easy; there’s a eucalyptus quality (almost like Vick’s VapoRub), tannic astringency, Black cherry undercurrent, medium, not oily
- Finish: Soft smoke curls through the flavor, the heat remains in the back of the throat, white pepper lingers
- Comments: This dram has complexity...the beach bonfire smoke is pleasantly competing with the red wine flavors
Both these new releases are worthy additions to Kilchoman’s already impressive lineup of expressions that represent the best of what Islay has to offer…beachy smoke and soft grains. The barley-to-bottle concept really speaks to my soul about keeping things local and natural. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to visit the distillery and express my appreciation. For now, thanks Anthony for showing us the way back to the basics.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!