According to the Scotch Whisky Association (a very real, very serious organization), a barley- or grain-derived Scottish spirit must age in oak casks for a minimum of three years before they will allow it to be labelled a "Whisky". Some distilleries are selling younger products, but are calling them "new make" instead of whisky. A lot of that new make is basically Scottish moonshine, unless it's been thrown in a barrel for a few months to a year. Reviews are mixed about new make's quality and some distilleries do better than others, but new make definitely allows the drinker to have a chance to taste the spirit itself, free of oak influence.
But once the three years of maturation are up, distillers can bottle it, slap on a whisky label, and take it to market. I've had quite a few great 10 year singles and a couple decent eight year singles. I did have one failure of a seven year. There have likely been some younger malts in the no-age-statement drams that I've sampled. But that's as young as I've gone, especially since it's so damned difficult to find anything younger than 10yr in The States.
And now, here's Kilchoman.
What's really admirable about these folks (led by Anthony Wills) is that everything is done on site. The distillery is surrounded by a farm that grows 100 TONS of barley for their product. They do their own floor maltings by hand on site. Their barley malt distillate residue is fed to the cows on the land. And when the whisky is ready (no carmel color, no chillfiltering), it's bottled by hand right there on the premises. This is old-school, roots whisky production.
How can a whisky nerd resist?!
Bottling: Summer 2010 Release
Age: 3 years
Maturation: First-fill bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Apparently The Daily Pint had "a glut" of these bottles so they were selling drams on special during Robert Burns Day. The price was so low that they may have been selling it at loss. I should have just offered to buy an entire bottle.
What they were selling, and what I so excitedly ordered, was the Summer 2010 Release. As Kilchoman has been doing a release each season, this was only their 4th bottling. It wasn't yet four years old when bottled, so this was by far the youngest whisky I've ever tried.
Okay, I'm going to spoil the ending up front. This was fantastic! I didn't want to disturb it with water.
The color is lighter than the lightest Italian Pinot Grigio you've ever seen.
The nose had a pleasant mellow peat. Some plastic. A little oak. Some pork. Dried grains. But mostly something clean and fresh, maybe the spirit itself.
The palate was light but rich. Some apple juice and toffee. The mellow peat. Very vegetal. Then a little nutty. And brown sugar. Something lingered in the back of my mind, "This tastes familiar. What is it?" Then it suddenly hit me. The mix of the vegetal, grains, nuts, and brown sugar......My mom's zucchini bread!
The finish stuck around for some time. More of that vegetation, toffee, and zucchini bread.
This one was fun. I've been checking around to see how the pros feel about it. They've been reporting notes of wet leaves, forest, and flowers (the vegetal thing); cookies and fresh fruit pie (sensory sensations perhaps paralleling the zucchini bread?).
This is a very different whisky than any of the other Islays. And the bottlings are still so young. I can't imagine how incredible Kilchoman 12yrs will be, but we'll have to wait until 2019 for that. Of course, in youth this whisky could be at its best. If you can handle a little peat smoke, I'd say keep an eye out for any of their bottlings.
Pricing - Prices are all over the map, $60-$65 is probably the best range
Rating - 92