Category Archives: Kilchoman

Kichoman Feis Ile 2021 Review

Confession: I have never been to Feis Ile (the Islay whisky festival). That probably seems blasphemous to some of you who have hung around here long enough to know my affinity for the isle of Islay and proclivity for anything related. I have actually made a point of avoiding the island at festival time. I’m just not into fighting the crowds and queues, and I’ve discovered that I like being able to eat and sleep without stress. Yeah, yeah, I’m getting old and soft, I know it. But here we are, year C19-2, and I’m really curious to see what happens on the island when the calendar comes ’round to Feis Ile nowadays. Normally, Islay at festival time is like a hive of fury-whipped hornets, crawling all over each other for limited edition festival-only bottles, oversold tastings, and whatever bits of grub can be scrounged from overtaxed pubs and the island’s handful of killer eateries. As you can imagine, the island relies on that annual influx of tourism, so the last couple of years have undoubtedly cramped the financial well-being of more than a few of the Ileachs. Granted, things have opened up a bit now, but so far as I know, the situation is still nowhere near what it should be (and will be again!). And let’s face it, an online festival is no festival at all, fun as it may still be.

So, to commemorate the 2021 virtual Feis Ile, Anthony, Robin et al have released this special edition 8 year old. It’s a bit of a gentle giant, in my opinion, and sits close to what I actually now believe is Kilchoman’s wheelhouse: their Islay Barley range. For me it’s not necessarily about the barley provenance, but about the in-house floor maltings, which weigh in at less than half the peated ppm we’d expect in the more core expressions from Kilchoman. This softening of the phenols allows the sweetness of the distillate to sing just a wee bit louder. And it’s all the better for it.

Thanks to our mate and local agent/rock star Andy Dunn for donating this bottle to a KWM tasting. I was fortunate enough to have a wee nip before the bottle was drained. Lovely dram I hope to revisit at some point.

2 x Oloroso sherry butts (2011) and 6 x bourbon barrels (2012). Optic and Publican barley. 2,832 bottles. 56.3% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Chlorine. Lemon and lime. Pineapple. Swedish Berries. Orange. Ocean water, clay, and chalk or limestone. A lower level of peat smoke than I’d expected, so yeah…nose absolutely confirms in-house malt? Beautifully sweet and fruity. Cherry Coke Bottles candy. Brisket bark. Palate: Creamy licorice notes. Smoke. Salt. Red and black licorice, if bound up and chewed together. Greengage and gooseberry. Tiger Tiger ice cream. Melon Rind. More of that carry meat. Burnt rosemary. A nice oceanic salinity; almost like using three or four drops of salt water to reduce strength. Finish: Fruit skins. Plum. A hint of mezcal without heavy agave notes. Clean all the way through. 88.5/100

Kilchoman Sanaig (2020) Review

This one came as a bit of a surprise in my circles. Normally we don’t get so hung up on color that it becomes the primary speaking point, but let’s face it…this stuff is about four shades darker than previous releases. It looks like medium roast coffee mixed with cherry cola. The usual light-to-dark color spectrum of the big three Kilchoman expressions – Machir Bay, then Sanaig, then Loch Gorm – was turned on its head with the arrival of this 2020 edition of Sanaig. It scrambled the wee rainbow and threw the darkest of ’em all smack dab in the middle of the trio. Quite frankly, the hue shames the fully-sherried Loch Gorm. And while Sanaig may be a marriage of ex-bourbon (30%) and ex-oloroso casks (70%), it’s unquestionably the sherry that stands center stage here. You’ll get some of the spice from those bourbon barrels, but the more subtle notes – coconut, vanilla, etc – are lost beneath the deeper wash of Oloroso.

Expect big spice, big dried fruit tunes and bucketloads of savory, charry, goodness. Oh, and quality. You’ll find it here in spades.

Sanaig is named for a rocky little cove off the northern coast of Islay where the cold, harsh waves of the Atlantic dash themselves time and time again against ancient metamorphic rock. Are we running out of geographical/geological features on Islay to name our beloved malts after? Asking for a friend.

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: A hella big peaty dram. Beachside bonfire. Islay malt married to grape juice. Raspberry and orange. Fig spread. Ju-jubes. Seared scallops and bacon. Some sort of red wine-reduced savory meat sauce. A bit of unlit pipe tobacco.

Palate: A lot smoke, a fair bit of hickory. Fruit leather. Arrives juicy, develops some slight tannins around the mid palate. Purple grapes and plums. Figgy pudding. Sen-sens. Cough drops.

Finish: Long and smoky. A hint of smoked shellfish and some flinty notes as it fades.

Thoughts: A little top-heavy – or maybe just overly rambunctious – but well-built, nonetheless.


Kilchoman Cask #148/2012 sinDicate Exclusive Review

Warning: Extreme bias ahead. And I have no intentions of hiding it.

The sinDicate is the name of the club we started up here in Calgary after pulling the plug on the Dram Initiative. We’re about a year and a half deep into this new adventure, and have been pursuing opportunities to purchase a bespoke cask for the club since the earliest days. After a couple of less than stellar rounds of cask samples sent our way by brands I’ll not mention here, Kilchoman stepped up and sent us a package of brilliant malts to consider. I mean, every one of the samples they sent was good enough to consider buying. Ultimately, though, one shone a little brighter than the others. Cask #148. An exceptionally clean and vibrant ex-bourbon barrel filled in 2012.

The phenols on this malt are still huge, as one would expect in a 7 year old whisky, but there is a creaminess here and near-tropical depth that have no business being so prevalent in a cask this young. The quality was there, the price was right, so we leapt. A couple months later 260 bottles landed on the shores (errr…rolling hills?) of Alberta. And we could not be happier.

Members have scooped up the vast majority of this one, but there are a few dozen bottles available via Kensington Wine Market. And one more biased opinion before we move on to tasting notes: KWM really is Canada’s best whisky store. If you don’t believe me, pop on in sometime.

56.7% abv. 260 bottles.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Some of the cleanest peat notes I’ve found in a malt this young. Surprisingly creamy and a wee bit reminiscent of our past KWM 10 year olds. Strong citrus notes (lemon and tightly wound key lime). Grilled pineapple. Orange and tangerine. A bit of kiwi and underripe pear. Crushed ginger. Lemon furniture polish. Clotted cream and some sort of dessert flambe. A faint note of pool water.

Palate: Great delivery. Vibrant fruit notes in lockstep with threads of clean smoke. An earthy undertone. More tangy pineapple. Almost candied. Salt licorice. Quick-steeped Lapsang Souchong tea. Vanilla cream.

Finish: Salt licorice notes linger. Granny Smith apple and pear skins. Aloe. Cask char.

Thoughts: Super proud to have our name associated with this one. Unquestionably one of my favorite Kilchoman expressions.


Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2019

A new big and bold Kilchoman. But that could be any Kilchoman, really. What sets Loch Gorm apart from the rest of the range is the sheer heft of sweet, sticky sherry that permeates every crack and crevice of the malt, underscoring the malleability of the base distillate. It works beautifully here, speaking to the sky-high quality of both the spirit and the barrel it went into.

I truly believe it’s hard to mess up a spirit this good. You’d have to actively try, in fact. Such is the lightning in a bottle singularity which Anthony Wills and team (with the guidance of the late Jim Swan) have been able to capture at Islay’s landlocked farm distillery. There are occasional missteps in cask choice (the wine casks, guys, the wine casks. <shudder>), but I suppose we should chalk that up to a matter of personal preference, since I know many folks who adore that style. Fear not, wineheads, you’ll have no competition from me for those releases. They’re all yours. But sweet sherry like this? Yes, please.

46% abv (and really no need to be higher. This is the perfect drinking strength). 15,000 bottles. The neck tag says this was a vatting of twenty Oloroso sherry butts from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately reminds of Bowmore Laimrig. Stylistically, at least, if not the same sort of nuance and ppm equality. Mixed berry fruit leather. A mix of orange, lemon and lime juice. Ammonia. Smoke and charred wood. Burnt lemon. Savoury, barbecue sauce. Grilled shellfish.

Palate: Smoke and loads of it. Big. mouthwatering arrival. Grape jam. Cola syrup. Licorice babies. Apple peelings with a fresh squeeze of orange. A bit of a minty-ness going on. Caramelized ginger. Cherry cordials. Like what I imagine smoldering cedar might taste like. Big sherry, but not top-heavy. Lindt dark chili chocolate.

Finish: Long and exactly as you’d expect: ebbing notes of oak and drying sherry. Leaves a bit of a dry-mouthedness. Last flavours are green apple skins and charred white fish. Beautiful finish.

Thoughts: Very coastal. Rich and decadent. Dirty and oily. Love it. A great variant in the range. But I must confess…I love Machir Bay a little bit more.


Kilchoman Kensington Wine Market 25th Anniversary Cask #255/2007 Review

Kilchoman Kensington Wine Market 25th Anniversary Cask #255/2007

56.6% abv

Score:  92/100


Not quite the li’l Lolita that Ardnamurchan, Abhain Dhearg or Wolfburn is, Kilchoman is now truly coming into its prime.  Creeping up to the point where it’s just a few years shy of being  able to legally drink itself now, the malt is becoming more and more of a Islay mainstay.  Five more years and we’ll be able to say there is 18 year old Kilchoman in the world.  And that…I am dying to try.

Alright.  In keeping with the spirit of inhumane deregulation that is running rampant in the US right now, let’s just shoot the elephant in the room: I DO work for Kensington Wine Market.  Full disclosure.  Nothing to hide here.  I have biases and I like to think I’m pretty forthright with you guys and gals about ’em.  And if my opinion was the only one you were privy to, I’d expect nothing but skepticism.  I’m okay with that.  I’ve taken my lumps when need be.  However…I am going to ask here and now that others who have tasted this one weigh in in the comments section below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As to this particular expression: a decade old malt from the li’l farm distillery that could.  Ten years.  Know what happens at ten years?  The peat tends to shed some of its volatility and the softer nuances begin to sashay forth.  This is when peat becomes magic in my humble opinion.  Less of a one-trick-pony and more of a fireworks show that speaks to accents and deeper complexity.  Each year added on becomes a tale of additions and subtractions: addition of nuance and subtle notes coaxed from the barrel and subtraction of intensity and one-dimensionality (not to mention those acetone notes that confirm youth).  The true test of this math, though, is whether you reach a zero sum, wherein the pluses and minuses reach equilibrium.

And here…we have it.

You can read the tasting notes below, but what you really need to know is that this is probably the single best Kilchoman I’ve ever tasted.  At the time of writing I have tried 48 different expressions from this wee Islay upstart.

Only 212 bottles, and only at Kensington Wine Market.

One final note:  This is probably the best Kilchoman I’ve tried.  The second best might just be the cask sample for the upcoming KWM exclusive 100% Islay Barley.  More to come on that one.

Nose:  Loads of smoke, as we’d expect.  Incredibly sweet peat.  Lime and licorice.  Saddle soap and warm leather.  Oyster liquor.  Seared scallops with a touch of soy sauce.  A smear of orange marmalade and a nice line of cocoa that runs through the whole.  For how huge and bombastic this is, it’s also incredibly creamy and approachable.  Superb, vibrant nose.

Palate:  Creamy butterscotch or caramel, then…wham!  Smoke and earth.  A touch of Thrills gum and some horehound candy.  A bit of lemon curd.  Nice tangy fruits.  Fresh orange.  Perhaps some stone fruit.  Strong oaky backbone and some oily vanilla.  Slightly leafy and minerally at the back end.

Thoughts:  Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words.  I’ll give you one, though: winner.


 – Image & words:  Curt


Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release Review

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release091

58.2% abv

Score:  90/100


Alright.  Celebrating the distillery’s 10th anniversary…at the 11 year mark.  Oops.  Been sitting on this one for a while.  So be it.  The whisky took years to arrive; why should the review be in any great rush?  Timeliness is the least of my concerns, if I’m being honest.  Not like we’re here to sell product or anything.

This Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release is a rather special vatting of casks from 2005 through 2012.  In other words…a pile of snapshots from three through ten year old.  And yes…this does include spirit from the famous cask #1.  So while it isn’t really an evolutionary sensory experience, it does give an idea as to how the more mature Kilchoman distillate softens the massive spikes and tors of the younger malt we typically see bottled at about five years old or so.  I should note that, seeing as how that Kilchoman cask #1 is just a wee single barrel, and the outturn for this release was 3,000 bottles, there is likely no more than dribbles of that precious ‘old’ malt in this whisky.  Almost certainly most of cask #1 will still be slumbering away for a future release of prestige and…errr…a much more profound sticker shock.

Either way…this non age-stated (but semi-vintaged) release is a hell of a whisky.  Not even remotely subtle, but somehow still soft and cozy.  Sound like nonsense?  Probably.  But trust me…whiskies this big can still be gentle and approachable.  This is just such a one.

Do we like it?  Yes.  A lot.  Hopefully something like this becomes a permanent part of the Kilchoman range, albeit with a declaration of cask make-up (perhaps something akin to Bruichladdich’s recent campaign?).

And finally…just wanted to say that it’s with a heavy heart that I look at these bottles of Kilchoman that bear the signature of Mr. John MacLellan.  He was a gentle soul, a kind man and the footprints he left behind will be followed by many for years to come.  RIP John.  Thanks for the small bits of time we spent together.

Nose:  Deep smoke.  Dry smoke.  Lots and lots of smoke.  Earthy peat.  Dry, dusty notes.  Definitely some sherry influence here.  BBQ sauce.  Lemon and salt water.  Hay.  Freshly milled barley.  A touch of dill pickle.  Ash.  Berries.  Key lime.  Very sweet.

Palate:  Beautifully sweet arrival that gets absolutely steamrolled by peat and smoke.  Man…this is big.  Peat and pepper-powered.  A lot of naked barley.  Oily.  Big underripe green fruit notes.  Lime zest.  Fennel.  Red/purple grape or plum skins.

Thoughts:  If tasted blind, I would guess Ardbeg.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2015 Review

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2015IMG_1410

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100


Let’s do one in honour and memoriam of a very fine man.  Just days ago John McLellan, Kilchoman’s distillery manager and native Ileach, lost his battle with cancer.  I had spoken with owner Anthony Wills just five or six months back at a local festival here and was told that John was not well, but they were hoping to see him back again as soon as possible.  Those that met John will know what a loss this is to the whisky world.  A kind man with a really big heart and warm smile.  Seeing his signature on this bottle is reminder of the fleeting nature of our time here.  Rest easy, John.  Thanks for all.

With that said, let’s keep it short and sweet in regard to the bottle at hand.  We’ve drunk plenty of Machir Bay in our time.  In fact, even going so far as to review it here a wee while back.  So let’s see how things hang together for the sake of consistency.  Also assuming this is still about a five year old malt, give or take a little on either side.

Coming into this one I’d expect nothing but a scrappy young thing with big billowy smoke and an almost aggressive edge.  That’s perfectly in my wheelhouse though.  And that’s exactly what we get here.  Peated Islay whiskies work well at young ages, as we’ve discussed here before.

My wife came home with this bottle for me a couple days back.  She’s sweet that way.  I’m currently in early planning stages for my next trip over to Islay this September, so perhaps it was the constant mentions of peat mecca that had her feeling generous.  Who knows.  Either way, timing is everything.  Fun to revisit this one.

Nose:  Young, feisty, farmy peat.  A cola-like sweetness.  Smoky and briny.  Citrus, salt and pepper.  But with all these ‘sharp’ notes it’s still somehow soft.  A touch of rubber and new make spirit.  Not too nuanced and complex yet, but it will be in time.

Palate:  A very faint touch of peach.  A lot smoke.  Ash.  Anise.  Burnt apple pie.  Pepper.  Dirt.  Tastes of the new make, but that’s ok here.  The Kilchoman new make is nice indeed.  Easy drinking youth.

Thoughts:  An absolutely beautiful strapping young malt.  And unquestionably Kilchoman.  Great testament to the ways in which young whisky can be brilliant.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Kilchoman Cask # 326 (KWM Exclusive) Review

Kilchoman Cask # 326 (KWM Exclusive)111

60.1% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Kilchoman brings the heat again. 

To be clear though, before going any further…you gotta be a lover of enormous billows of smoke and peat reek in your glass in order to really appreciate this one.  If that’s your cup o’ tea (or malt) however…do read on.

Kilchoman, Islay’s wee little success story is now in year 9.  Oddly enough though, having said that, we’ve yet to see any official Kilchoman releases nearing that sort of age statement.  Most of the expressions I’ve seen hit the shelves so far are still averaging about 5 years, give or take.  Case in point is this young single cask release bottled exclusively for Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market.  The spirit was born in 2008 and ‘came of age’ in 2013, when it was bottled and sent out into the great wide open (or Calgary at least).

If you’re familiar with the Kilchoman profile, don’t expect anything new here.  If you’re unfamiliar…well…I refer you back to the second sentence in this review.  This is a young and snarling Islay single malt, where the smoky and earthy notes are forefront and subtlety is nothing more than a word in the dictionary between ‘huh?’ and ‘what?’  It’s a ‘nearly naked’ whisky, coming from an ex-bourbon barrel, so there’s no hiding behind the sweetening influence of sherry or any other sort of finish.  In my ‘umble opinion this relative purity suits the clean and impressive distillate from Kilchoman.

Just an observation here:

Much like a magician drawing your eye away with one hand as he palms a card with the other, I think the enormous peat influence here helps to draw the mind away from the fact that this is merely a five year old whisky.  If this were an unpeated malt I can’t imagine we’d all be quite so enamoured.  Just my two cents.  Having said that…at the end of any magic act I’m always happy just to have seen a good show and leave satisfied.  I don’t need to pull back the curtain.

I can’t imagine any fan of Kilchoman being disappointed by this whisky.  They may however, like me, take exception to the $120 price on a five year old whisky.  I love this distillery, but there’s no need for pricing like this.  There are 18 year old bottles of Springbank on the shelf at a similar price point.  Just sayin’.

Limited run of just 252 bottles.  If you want one…grab it while you can.

Nose:  Sharp lemons and buckets o’ briny seawater goodness.  Iodine.  Smoke (and lots of it).  Peat (and again…lots of it).  White pepper.  Clean wet dog.  Black licorice.  Vapo-rub.  Green Jolly Ranchers.  Caramel.

Palate:  Cola.  Lemon.  Peat n’ smoke.  Salt n’ pepper.  Big licorice.  Oily sardine.  Black candies.  Ashy and earthy.  Even some chocolate.  Did I mention there’s a lot of licorice here?

Thoughts:  Another great young Kilchoman.  I’m holding back from going any higher on score, as technically this is rather flawless, but at such youth there’s still so far to go.  Can’t wait to see this distillery’s quarter century malt at some point far down the road.  So much yet to come from Kilchoman.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Kilchoman Machir Bay (2012) Review

Kilchoman Machir Bay (2012)001

46% abv

Score:  86/100


Watching this distillery find itself is a cool experience, and one I hope all lovers of Islay malts are taking to heart.  This is literally us watching whisky history unfolding.  Much as I lord back over details of long gone distilleries, or the stories of the early days of existing ones, future generations will one day contemplate the wee might of Kilchoman.  Think about it…this was the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years.  Obviously that tells you there’s something special here.  Moments like this don’t come ’round often.  Next year will be Kilchoman’s 10th birthday already.  Cool stuff.

I think, throughout all of the previous Kilchoman reviews and features here on the site, we’ve shared enough about the distillery’s wonderful beginnings, so let’s move on to more topical subject matter:  the distillery’s relatively new flagship single malt, Machir Bay.  This whisky was so named for a beautiful stretch of beach along the western shore of Islay, not far from the distillery itself.  It is a young whisky, heavily peated, and already recognizable for its own style.  As we’ve discussed before, peat monsters often work best when served up in their early years, before the big clouds of smoke and heavy peat have had a chance to fade away, and this is certainly a malt that exemplifies that approach.  It’s built on a bedrock of malted barley that has been peated to the same specs as the mighty Ardbeg.  You can expect a big dram from in Machir Bay.

Kilchoman has something to be proud of with this expression.  Indeed, one drunken night outside of Duffies whisky bar on Islay, not long after a group of us lads had toured the distillery, we ran into one of the young men whom we’d seen earlier that day working at Kilchoman.  He remarked (in a thick slurring Ileach accent) that if we came back to see him again at the distillery before we left he’d be sure to it that we got some more Machir Bay.  Arms around our necks, he reiterated his generous offer about 13 more times before we moved on.  Love it.  That’s the sign of Islay pride.  And well-earned, at that.

Oh, yeah…and one more thing, please:  It’s pronounced ‘kil-homan’.  The ‘c’ is silent.

Nose:  Ashy.  Very ashy.  Smoky, yes, but quite surprisingly creamy at the same time.  Very rich in oceanic notes, or shoreline or Maritime…whatever seaside descriptor you like (brine, wet rock, salt water, drying seaweed, fishy breezes, etc).  Quite citrus-heavy.  Salt and pepper.  Vanilla.  Did I mention dry ash?  A touch of smoked ham.  Simple and bold.  Succeeds in spite of (or more likely, because of) it’s relative youth.

Palate:  Ash again.  Salt licorice.  Smoke.  Earthy peat.  Lemon drop candies.  Vanilla.  Wet rock.  Big and peppery.  Granny smith apples throughout denouement.  Tasty and long lasting.

Thoughts:  Islay at it’s youthful best.  A great addition to the Kilchoman range that should only get better as it gets older.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Kilchoman 100% Islay Inaugural Review

Kilchoman 100% Islay Inaugural

50% abv

Score:  74/100


Ok, what the hell happened here?  I understand the necessity of a unique marketing spin, and I also understand the importance of flying the flag of 100% Islay (if for nothing other than fiercely independent pride and a well-deserved triumphant ‘We are Ileach…and this is ours!’), but honestly…this expression should not have seen a bottle yet.

Perhaps another half dozen or so years would have kicked that snotty new-make swagger to the curb, and allowed a more sensible maturity to take the reins.  Put simply…this young Kilchoman actually tastes YOUNGER than it should.  If tasted blind I would not at all have been surprised to hear this was only a year or so old.

The nose is spirity and grainy, and absolutely redolent of new-make (or ‘white dog’, for those more used to the North American nomenclature).  It is waxy, somewhat plastic and carries the typical artificial cherry stamp of whisky just off the stills.  It is smoky…but not overpoweringly so, especially if one considers that at last reckoning Kilchoman was peating to Ardbeg specs.

The palate is hot and untamed. The barley is sharp enough to cut and the peat is aggressive.  Sweet notes are nowhere to found, and the whisky actually seems salted.

Sadly, though I love this distillery, I don’t even remotely like this whisky.  Without question, the least enjoyable Kilchoman I’ve experienced to date.  (Sigh…it hurts me to say this).


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat