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Monday, December 21, 2015

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman 4 year old 2009 100% Islay single cask #344 (K&L exclusive)

Last week was Longrow Week.  This week, it's Kilchoman Week with five whiskies!

Kilchoman blasted out of the starting gates with its first legal whisky in 2009.  Yes, the whisky was (and still is) very young, but it also was surprisingly good for its age.  Under the early tutelage of Jim Swan, the Wills family aimed to create a single malt that could be palatable at a young age without having to overoak the sh*t out of it.  I've heard the one of the secrets to this is taking a very small middle cut of the spirit.  But if it were only that easy, we'd be seeing many others with similar success right now.  If anyone else out there has any other theories about their methods, let us know in the comments below.

Over the past few years K&L Wine Merchants have taken in some many exclusive single ex-bourbon Kilchoman casks that it seemed like they'd flooded the market this year, eventually having to put four of these casks on the "Insider Advantage" sale list.  In August I (along with My Annoying Opinions and Chemistry of the Cocktail) reviewed cask #74.  I liked that one a lot, having split two bottles with friends.

Here's another one of those four casks, #344.

It's one of their 100% Islay whiskies, thus all of the barley came from Islay and was peated at half the ppms of their usual Port Ellen Maltings barley.  I tend to find their 100% Islay whiskies very young, unbalanced, and half-baked in ways that their regular range whiskies do not.  Maybe it's due to the fact there's less peat for the youth (or flaws) to hide behind?  I don't know.  The only one I've liked is the firecracker single sherry cask K&L had three years ago.  Let's see how this one holds up.

Many thank yous go out to reader Ryan S. who sent this sample to me!

Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Exclusive to: K&L Wines
Age: 4 years (July 23, 2009 - June 2, 2014)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Alcohol by Volume: 60.9%
Cask: 344/2009
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
Sample from the top of the bottle

Its color is a nice simple amber.

The nose begins with cinnamon schnapps, yeast, and oceany peat.  Beneath that is orange oil, violets, and a hint of vanilla.  Maybe a slight manure note.  With air it quiets down rather than opening up.

At first the palate is reminiscent of unaged malted rye spirit, with loads of cinnamon candy and white peppercorns.  Very sugary, maybe some toffee in there.  But underpinning this are soil and root notes.  With time, a pencil lead note appears......and starts consuming everything.

The finish is sweet and spicy with tingly heat, lemony stuff, and soil.

Feels like it needs to open up.  How about some water?

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Cassia cinnamon on the nose.  A decent beach and barley note.  A little earthy.  A little soapy.  Some confectioner's sugar.

Uh oh.  The palate goes totally cockeyed.  A harsh earthy note gets very lead-like and metallic.  Then burnt hair meets burnt cinnamon.  It doesn't feel entirely safe to drink.

Mostly heat and the burnt metallic things in the finish.

Maybe some more water might help?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is malty with minimal peat.  The cinnamon note is reduced.  Saltines and yeast.

Thank goodness, the unnerving note in the palate has reduced (though not vanished).  It's now mostly sweet and simple.  Hints of black pepper, cinnamon, and soil.

Black pepper and sugar in the brief finish.

Okay, first some positives.  This is a young craft whisky that is NOT overoaked.  Kilchoman was clearly confident enough to not hide anything with woodwork.  The nose is decent when neat.  With a little bit of water some nice stuff pops out.  Also this whisky supports a small business and small Islay farms.

On the other hand, this another 100% Islay that feels its age, or actually younger.  In fact, I prefer the newmake.  In the palate, the lead and metallic notes are unsettling.  As I said in the notes, when water's added it does not feel totally safe to consume.  And of course, though the whisky comes to us courtesy of small businesses, that doesn't matter if there are quality issues, especially when this bottle was originally priced at $110 (then later dropped to $80).

I think I'm done with the 100% Islays.  I've had six or eight (fuzzy memory) of them but there's only one I'd drink again and that one's long gone.  Their regular range is superior in quality, and the Machir Bay is cheaper.

Availability - Sold out just this month
Pricing - started out at $110, then went on sale for $80
Rating - 72 (nose in the low 80s, palate in the low 60s)


  1. Personal theory? These are like the Bruichladdich Bere Barley releases where they tried to use less active casks to let the differences in the spirit shine, but forgot to get enough oak in to balance out the youthfulness. Hitting that mark seems tricky given all of the variables, but it sounds like they're really undershooting.

    1. I have million thoughts on this. Let me see if I can keep them concise.

      I definitely understand your point regarding Bruichladdich Bere. To me that one had real educational and entertainment value to it. Plus it had 6+ years of age. But I don't need to buy it again. Also, I think the original Laddie Organic had similar issues to what you stated, but had very little entertainment value to it. Overall, I would be interested in trying Arran's Bere instead.

      The fact that Kilchoman has established the 100% Islay as a regular segment of their range seems problematic in the long term. Are people buying second bottles of 100% Islays? I don't even want to buy one bottle. And that's coming from someone who likes young whiskies, support small business, and who enjoys almost all of Kilchoman's regular range.

      Finally -- and I'm going to repeat this tomorrow -- the same bloggers/writers who criticize other Scotch distilleries for releasing underaged whisky and who mock American 'craft' whiskey continue to support the 100% Islays. It makes no sense. Ignore the 'Kilchoman' on the label. These are underaged Scotch 'craft' whiskies.