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Monday, August 3, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 2014 edition

First there were the seasonal releases (2009-2011 Spring, Summer, etc.).  Then there were the vintage releases and the 100% Islays.  And the single casks, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry.  Then in 2012, the first member of Kilchoman's regular range came out: Machir Bay, made up of a lot of 3yo, some 4yo, and a hint of 5yo whisky, and almost entirely from bourbon casks.

The second member of the regular range, Loch Gorm, arrived with hoopla the following year.  Kilchoman's single ex-sherry casks had been fan favorites ever since they'd first appeared.  While I can't speak for Europe, it was very difficult to find a bottle of a Kilchoman ex-sherry single cask in the US unless one acted very quickly.  With the demand their prices increased, from $89.99 (in 2011) to $129.99 (in 2015).  Then in 2013 when Loch Gorm, the all ex-sherry member of Kilchoman's regular range appeared, its MSRP was around $79.99 (as opposed to Machir Bay's $54.99).  Would a price of $80 for 5 year old non-full-strength whisky actually work in the market?  Apparently.  I'd thought about splitting a bottle but when I searched the LA area a month after the release, everyone was sold out.  Some stores had had it priced as high as $100.  Poop, was my audible exclamation, more or less.

Now it's 2015.  This year's edition of Loch Gorm was released......and it's sitting untouched on shelves at quite a number of locations on both coasts.  It has the same limited bottle count (10K) as the previous versions.  Winesearcher lists its average US price as $92, so that hasn't gone up much.  But it's no longer The New Thing, so perhaps its novelty has worn off.  Maybe after it lost that sheen people started asking themselves, is this 5 year old whisky worth $90?  In Europe its average price is $75, and not only is it available there but the previous edition (from 2014) can be had as well.

This isn't a tragedy.  The market has adjusted.  Loch Gorm has taken its place in a distillery's range and it's available for customers who are willing to pay the asking price.  What I'm trying to say is, now that it's not very current, I am going to review it.

Brand: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: ex-oloroso sherry casks
Age: 5 years old
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
(Thanks to Smokypeat for the sample!)

NOTE:  This sample was tried along side an all bourbon cask Kilchoman and a 50/50 bourbon/sherry cask Kilchoman.

Color - A light gold, which makes sense since though this is all sherry casks, the whisky didn't spend that much time in 'em.

Nose - Mint and sulphur.  Lots of sulphur.  It's very medicinal; I'm having flashbacks to childhood meds that have probably since been banned.  Old school hospital antiseptic.  Those medicinal/antiseptic notes soon turn metallic and plastic.  Underneath that are dried berries and cherries.  Orange pixy stix.  Give it twenty minutes in the glass and some dried herbs show up, then hints of farm and slivovitz.

Palate - Thick mouthfeel.  Sweet and sulphur.  Tennis ball can.  Black pepper and a decent bitterness.  Lime, sweet basil, and mezcal.  After twenty minutes in the glass it picks up a concrete→dried fruit→smoked salt progression.  Then, curiously, large notes of vanilla and caramel.

Finish - Drier, saltier.  The peating feels mildest here.  There's the tennis ball can, orange peel, and peppery heat.  It gets sweeter with time, also picking up the vanilla and caramel notes.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Nose - Between the sulphur and the pharminess, this is a glass of pharts.  In a good way.  You know.  At the same time it gets a little floral.  Maybe some dried apricots.  But many more prunes and struck matches.

Palate - The good bitterness remains, as does the tennis ball can.  Pepper, vanilla, mild peat, and a sort of sweet sherry.

Finish - Cinnamon, peat, and sulphur.

If you can handle big sulphur and animal farm notes, I'll think you find the whisky swims well.  I was surprised by the amount of sulphur present in the nose, though there's less of it elsewhere.  Overall the nose is quirky and probably the best part.  The palate betrays the whisky's youth, which I didn't mind.  The finish was the most muted element, and that isn't the best time to fade out.

As I noted above, I tried this alongside other Kilchomans.  By doing so, I confirmed that at 46%abv Kilchoman matured in bourbon casks proves more enjoyable for me than Kilchoman matured in sherry casks.  In fact, if they were the same price I'd probably buy a Machir Bay before this.  But as you'll see, I'm still giving this a good score because it is good whisky.  I'm a big fan of Kilchoman and all their non-100%-Islay stuff.  They make young whisky of exceptional quality.  And here they're getting very close to matching the quality the rest of the young sherried Islays.  But they're not there yet.

Availability - This edition has gotten scarce in the US, easier to find in Europe.  The 2015 edition can be found at some specialty retailers.
Pricing - $80-$100 in the US, $70-$90 in Europe
Rating - 85 (it swims well)


  1. I bought a bottle of the 2012 Sherry Cask Release back when it was in the mid-$70 range and still felt like it was expensive. I remember laughing about the price of Loch Gorm when I got the press release from Impex. But that's my response to a lot of their press releases these days.

    1. The single cask prices (in the US at least), which were never low, seem to be increasing $10-$15 every year. While I understand that Kilchoman may need to charge a premium because they're so small and they can't benefit from bulk movement, they also don't have overhead expenses like the marketing departments and legal teams of Diageo, LVMH, Barcardi, and Pernod. They also seem to be testing the pricing breaking point like almost every other single malt producer/bottler. Now that the breaking point has been reached for a number of whiskies, I wonder what Kilchoman's plan is once they price out their fanbase.

      Was the 2012 Sherry Cask Release the precursor to Loch Gorm? I remember it being around briefly.

    2. They're also in a similar position to Ardbeg - their standard products are of such high quality that most of the special releases aren't sufficiently better as to justify the price premium. I also feel like the range of what I've tried from them doesn't have enough breadth to make me want to jump on every new release. More often than not they're going to be pretty similar to what I've tried before.

      I think the Sherry Cask Release was a one-off. It's the old style thin necked bottle at 46%.

    3. It'll be interesting to see if more whisky fans begin to feel the same, once they've had a few Kilchomans and its crafty glamo(u)r begins to wear off. Personally, I love what they're doing and hope they keep doing it but their non-Machir Bay prices are not sustainable for me.

    4. That's the limitation of relatively short aging. They're starting from high quality spirit, so the final products are good, but without more time they're not going to develop as much variety and complexity.