...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, 2020 edition

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)  

If you're getting tired of this series-within-a-series, I can sympathize. While I'm glad it's reaching its conclusion, this series has begun to reveal the limits of ~5 year old peated whisky.

Kilchoman gave up in 2020, though not like the rest of us. They decided to release the Machir Bay Cask Strength (MBCS) worldwide. (Though not as part of the regular rotation.) The data out there are limited, but I'm guessing the outturn is larger than the previous one-offs. The last "Original Cask Strength" release utilized quarter casks, while this Machir Bay Cask Strength has regular(?) bourbon and sherry casks. There's some Xmas stuff on front label, and these words on the back label:

Before reducing a batch of our Machir Bay to its regular bottling strength of 46%abv, this release was bottled at cask strength...

If you've read any of this week's reviews then you'd know my skepticism about the first part of the above statement. But I (seriously!) would just like some good whisky, so here it goes. Again. For the last time.

At cask strength, 58.6%abvDiluted to 46%abv
There's just a wall of butter and caramel blocking everything else in the nose for the first few minutes. Peat and anise break through first, then popcorn (with butter and caramel, natch). And brown sugar. Salty ocean air, yeast and apricots show up after 30 minutes.The nose starts with caramel corn, simple syrup, ash and something metallic. It needs some time, then the coastal note drifts up from the background, followed by moss, cinnamon and roses.
Peated Robotussin (I'd drink it) in the palate. Charred beef and ash. Hints of roses, mint and caramel in the background. Starting at the 20 minute mark the whisky takes a turn towards tequila (joven, maybe?), with a little bit of lemon and brown sugar.Ooookay, this palate is big on vegetal, smoky silver mezcal (yes I know tequila and mezcal's relationship, thank you). It gets sweeter with time, until the simple peat smoke takes a backseat to a lump of cinnamon and golden raisins.
It finishes sweet and ashy. Pears and tequila. A squeeze of lemon.This finish reads hotter, somehow, with a mix of bitter ash, golden raisins and lemon juice.


One of the reasons I was drawn to Kilchoman's single malt was because it was not reminiscent of mezcal. I like mezcal, but all those baby Taliskers on the market burned me out on mezcal-esque scotch, so that's a problem here. BUT, thanks to too many bad decisions in college, super young tequila makes me queasy, so I actually prefer the diluted version of this MBCS this time. The nose was the best part of each version of the malt, so good that it keeps the whisky from dipping into the C-grade range.

None of this is a ringing endorsement of course, so the Machir Bay run ends on a wobbly note. Because these whiskies were more educational than I'd expected, and we're near the cluster's halfway point, I'll try to post a recap/assessment of the eight whiskies before continuing on. Happy Friday!

Availability - a few dozen USA and Europe retailers
Pricing - $70 - $85
Rating - 81

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, Meet the Peat Tour 2019

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

To summarize this week's results: These Machir Bay Cask Strength (MBCS) limited releases seem to be "Machir Bay" in name only, different in style to the standard Machir Bay and a hot mess at 46%abv. They're all much better at full power. I've reviewed a 2014, 2015 and 2017. Today's it's the Meet the Peat Tour 2019 bottling for the US of A, the last time the MBCS would be limited to a single market.

There doesn't appear to be any disclosure of this whisky's contents on the labelling or official sites. Kilchoman mainly promotes its tour which appears to have been more of a logistics feat than the actual whisky, with stops in the US, Japan and China. Other bloggers have said it's 90/10 bourbon/sherry casks, but that's hearsay so that doesn't get bold font. Age and outturn are also absent, though if anyone has a link to an official statement then please share in the comments below. But the abv is 58.6%, so that's a thing?

At cask strength, 58.6%abvDiluted to 46%abv
My favorite nose of the four so far: Yellow peaches, roses, anise, a salty mossy smoke and a metallic hint in the background.The nose starts with rye white dog, dried sweat, sour apple candy, roasted seaweed and burnt kale. It picks up hints of moss and dried cherries with time.
The very medicinal and coastal peat notes read loudest on the palate. Some lemon and ginger in the midground. Bitter baking chocolate in the background. Almost no sweetness.The palate goes raw again, though not as aggressively as the 2017. Lots of moss and veg, salt and soot. Mint candy appears about 30 minutes in, then nearly takes over.
Coastal and sooty, the warm finish takes on those lemon and ginger notes after some time.Bitterer, sootier and saltier than the palate, the finish eventually takes on the awkward clashing mint candy note.


Fourth verse, same as the first? I'm starting to get punchy here. When the whisky is neat, the nose's angles and the palate's brutality are qualities a number of Islay distilleries wish they could achieve with their official releases. But I really don't care for this at standard Machir Bay strength (46%abv). Again. It feels barely 3 years old at that strength. Again. Keep this one at full strength. Again.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - $75 and up
Rating - 87 (when neat, mid to low 70s when diluted)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, USA West Coast Tour 2017

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Continuing this cluster-within-a-cluster of Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength releases, I bring thee the 2017 USA West Coast Tour bottling.

Unlike the 2014 and 2015, reviewed on Monday and Tuesday, this 2017 was not from a single cask. The packaging shows no age statement and says the whisky is "a vatting of specially selected bourbon and sherry casks" with an outturn of 840 bottles. Because "vatting" is referenced, one wonders if Kilchoman had stopped the sherry cask finish approach to Machir Bay at this point and were marrying casks and parcels instead. One may also wonder if this 60%abv release, like the 2014 and 2015, was ever intended to be part of the regular Machir Bay batches, or if Kilchoman is just using the "Machir Bay" name because it has become familiar to their customer at this point...

At cask strength, 60%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose starts out very hot and tight, requiring 20+ minutes to open up. Then one finds nut butters, ocean-y peat, fuji apples, pineapples, marshmallows and a hint of band-aids.The nose is close to newmake again, with a surprising whiff of barley. Along with the ocean-like peat note comes plenty of sage smoke. Toasted coconut and grilled pear appear in the back.
Compared to the nose, there's a lot more fruit in the palate, specifically oranges and tart stone fruits. Cayenne pepper and Campari flow through the midground, with a coastal smoke integrating well with it all.The palate reads hot, bitter and peppery. Some lemon and pencil lead show up here and there. But it's very raw, almost a palate killer.
Gentle peat lingers through the mildly sweet finish, but grapefruit and Campari looms above it.The finish nearly mirrors the palate with heat, pepper, bitterness and a hint of lemon.


The theme continues: Don't reduce this stuff to 46%abv. In fact, this whisky gets damned near unpleasant at that strength. Keep it at full power where the palate's fruit and smoke win the day. Its nose is the edgiest and least mature of this set so far, but it's still plenty of fun once it opens up. I wouldn't mind knowing the actual age of this whisky's components, because it seems much closer to 3 years than the 5-6 years of my 2018 bottling of actual Machir Bay. All three of these CSes seem like they'd burden a 46%abv batch of Machir Bay, and all work much better at cask strength. Let's see how tomorrow's whisky pans out...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83 (when neat, at least 10 points lower when diluted)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2015

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Starting in 2014 Kilchoman released limited edition cask strength versions of their main expression, the Machir Bay. They continued these special releases until 2020 when Machir Bay Cask Strength entered their standard range. Like yesterday's 2014 bottling, this 2015 was part of an annual Land Rover-sponsored UK marketing tour.

Like the 2014, this is allegedly from a single cask, likely a sherry butt, yet the outturn was significantly different; this release included 648 bottles, while the previous year had 468. The ABVs were nearly identical, 59.0%abv for this one, 58.8% for 2014's release. And while the 2014's box referenced 5 and 6 year old whiskies, the 2015 box has no age statement. And unlike the 2014, the 2015's labelling has no mention of casks. I doubt this sudden lack of disclosure is some sort of conspiracy, rather it's just a bummer.

As I'm doing with all five of these MB CSes, this whisky will be compared against itself, full strength versus MB's usual 46%abv.

At cask strength, 59.0%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose beings with vanilla wafers, rooty smoke and beach sand. It opens up further after 20 minutes, as the smoke goes chocolatey and the vanilla shifts to dulce de leche. Hints of anise, rose petals and peach skins settle into the background.Lots of cucumber skin and pears in the early nose. Maple smoke, toasted coconut and salty ocean air appear 20 minutes later. At the 30 minute mark it starts leaning towards dessert wine, maybe late harvest Zinfandel (something I haven't had in at six year, so I dunno)?
A heavy, tangy smoke fills the early palate, with moderate bitterness and sweetness beneath. As it (and the drinker) focuses, notes of lemon bars, minerals and soil appear.The palate becomes very very sweet. The sugar blankets over tangy smoke, horseradish bitterness and peppercorns. Maybe some cherries and flower blossoms in there somewhere.
Lemon bars, cracked pepper, pears and soil fill the finish. The smoke hits more in the aftertaste, chasing the mild sweetnessAs with the palate, the finish goes candy sweet. Hints of peppercorns, chiles and bitter smoke float beneath.


It happened again, though less drastically than with the 2014 release. Diluting the whisky to 46%abv reveals an immature whisky that doesn't really fit the Machir Bay style. This one became incredibly sweet, to the point that the heavy peat levels just crumbled under the sugar. It's a better, and seemingly older, whisky at full power. This also has the loudest vanilla and caramel notes I've experienced in Kilchoman thus far, which keeps it from meeting the 2014 in quality. Like that whisky, this seems like a quirky cask the producers set aside for releases like these.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (when neat)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2014

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

As part of a wee marketing tour of the United Kingdom in 2014, Kilchoman released a small parcel of bottles (approximately one sherry butt's worth) of full-powered Machir Bay. They did so again the following year with a slightly larger outturn. They came to The States with a larger bottle count in 2016 and 2017. It 2018, it was a "European Tour" with an outturn three times that of the American releases. By 2019 they had a multi-continent Meet the Peat tour, and its cask strength Machir Bay was now an unspecified "limited" edition. In 2020 they gave up the whole "tour" theme, instead making Machir Bay Cask Strength part of the regular range a worldwide release.

I have the pleasure of reviewing FIVE of these annual batches this week. Each whisky will be tried at full strength and the regular Machir Bay strength of 46%abv. As a gift to us all, the intros will be smaller than this one.

Starting with the first one on the left, the Land Rover (sponsorship!) UK Tour 2014 edition. The box does say the whisky is a mix of five and six year whiskies matured in bourbon barrels and oloroso sherry butts. It was bottled at 58.8%abv, with an outturn of 468 bottles.

At cask strength, 58.8%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose starts with dense peat smoke gradually adding in nuts, oats, apricots and candied citrus peel. Milder notes of tar and briny shellfish linger in the background.A little zanier here, the nose rides close to newmake with some ethyl, roots, shellfish and manure. It also has brighter notes of anise, candy canes and an almost lemony smoke.
WOW, the palate. Possibly the peatiest Kilchoman I've had yet. It's also filled to the brim with black walnuts and truffle salt. Bitter herbal liqueurs and a citrus sweetness ease in after some time.The palate becomes sweeter and bitterer, with much milder smoke. Feels close to newmake again, with black peppercorns, dried lavender and dried oregano. A little bit of orange candy in the background.
It finishes with a balance of peat and sweet. Plenty of the truffle salt remains. Hints of lemon candy and black walnuts appears from time to time.It finishes very sweetly, with little bits of dried herbs, bitter smoke and tangy chiles. But mostly sugar.


I'm having a difficult time believing this parcel was destined to become part the regular Machir Bay outturn. Though dynamite at full strength, it's scattered and immature at 46%abv. Perhaps the distillery became aware of this circumstance then elected to set it aside for a bottling such as this. As bottled, the black walnuts, citrus and truffle salt work delightfully in the palate, and all the nose's elements sing in unison. I have little positivity to share about the 46%abv version other than it has the occasional weird charm. Keep this one neat.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89 (when neat)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2018 (my bottle)

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Well, dear reader, I did try to find a 2020 Machir Bay but the fact that I was able to find anything of Kilchoman's in Ohio was kinda special. As I type, four stores might have Machir Bay in Franklin County, population 1,316,756. Anyway, this whisky was bottled in May of 2018. It's been open for a couple of months so this review pour isn't coming right off the top.

Mathilda's fourth birthday!

Today's notes come from a Taste Off I did between this whisky and yesterday's 2013 Machir Bay, which was 95% three & four year old whiskies + 5% five year old stuff. Kilchoman has become less public about the age of Machir Bay now, though major UK retailers pin the current bottlings at 5-6 years old. On a curious note, this was the lighter-colored of the two MBs.

Region: Islay
Age and Maturation: Components may be 5-6 years old, aged in "bourbon and sherry casks"
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Bottled: 15 May 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from the top half of my bottle)

The nose reads much smokier than the 2013. Anise-infused mezcal spreads through the midground, carrying cardamom and apricots. It gets brinier with time, picking up a slight farmy note. Dropping the abv to 40% turns the nose into an awkward cocktail of mezcal, Hampden rum and lemon juice.

The palate is better than the nose. It's some sort of nut bread loaded with nutmeg and cloves, followed by toasty peat, lots of salt and sweet limes. Hints of candied pecans decorate the background. Reduced to 40%abv, the whisky becomes simpler. Sweet and bitter. Mint and lime and salt.

It finishes with the nut bread note, coastal peatiness and lots of sweet limes. Things get simpler here as well when the whisky is diluted to 40%abv, mostly salt and wood smoke with a hint of lime.

Lots of interesting stuff going on here. As I'd referenced above, the whisky is lighter colored. It also noses younger than the three year old 2013 bottling. Frankly the nose is uninspiring, and worse when diluted. The palate rights the ship. While there are fewer angles and dimensions to it than the 2013 edition, the 2018's palate hits all the right notes for a winter warmer. It also avoids the nose's rougher sides. As with the 2013, the whisky works better at 46%abv than 40%, but it tends to weaken more thoroughly with this 2018 version.

Ostensibly the 2018's contents are older than the 2013's, so I wonder if there were changes to the spirit's or malt's specs. Or are there more refill casks involved? Though Kilchoman Machir Bay remains one of the best of Islay's NAS entry-level malts, it seems to be acting its age now more than it used to.

Availability - At many specialty liquor retailers in North America, Europe and Asia
Pricing - $45-$65
Rating - 84 (when neat)

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2013

 (Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Per my palate, Kilchoman hit the ground running with their first standard bottling, Machir Bay. Named for the West Coast beach near the distillery, the whisky was mostly 3 and 4 year old whiskies with a smidgen of 5 year old stuff when it first showed up in 2012, yet it met and bested some of Islay's regular 10-12 year olds. I went through a couple bottles in the first few years and recommended it to anyone who wanted some "really smoky scotch". Samples were never kept because it was an everyday bottle, and it was a year or two before my interest began regarding the quality progression of standard bottlings. Luckily I was able to purchase a sample a few years ago. And don't worry, this wee one had a sparring partner.

Region: Islay
Age and Maturation60% 3-year-old matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels + 35% 4-year-old matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels and finished for two months in ex-Sherry casks + 5% 5-year-old matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Bottled: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The neat nose begins with freshly baked cookies and peat smoke laced with mint and anise. Notes of wet tree bark, horseradish and shoe polish develop over twenty minutes. Reducing it to 40%abv brings out farmy and leafy notes. The mint and anise remain, while the cookies become pastry dough and confectioner's sugar.

Lemon cookies and moderate wood smoke, with a whiff of pine, takes palate's foreground. Butterscotch chips, peanut brittle and a salty mineral note fill the midground. Hints of charred beef and York peppermint patties roll around in the back. Reducing the whisky to 40%abv rolls the smoke back and brings the salt and minerals forward. A tarter lemon note lingers in the background.

Smoke highlighted with lemon and bitter herbs fills the surprisingly long finish. Smaller notes of mint leaf and minerals appear later. Diluting to 40%abv pushes the sooty smoke even further forward. All the other elements are replaced by a mild sweetness.

Yeah, this still rocks. It's young, but neither rough nor raw, and it still seems older than its age. No mezcal nor ethanol, but plenty of lemon, mint and minerals. And though the peat is ever-present, it doesn't hammer the tastebuds like 3-5yo Port Charlotte, Ardbeg or Talisker can. At least I knew back in 2013 that Machir Bay was a good thing.

I'll review a more recent bottling tomorrow. But for now...

Availability - In 2013, North America and Europe
Pricing - In 2013, $50-$60
Rating - 87 (when neat)