Back in March of 2014, I attended a paid whisky event hosted by WhiskyRedhead of the SCWC (amongst other affiliations). The special guests were David Othenin-Girard of K&L and James Wills of Kilchoman. The event was located in the moody confines of the attic at Sassafras in Hollywood. Here's a terrible photo:
The following whiskies were poured for us attendees as James (the son of the distillery's owner) regaled us with stories of their successes and failures:
Kilchoman Machir Bay
Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition
Kilchoman 2007 Vintage
Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel #360
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #74
Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel #172
Since I had a significant drive back home, I tasted only the first three at the event, then bottled samples of the last three for a future home tasting. (Please note, these pours were smaller than my usual review samples, thus there are no grades.)
Though I did not take significant tasting notes on the first three, I can sum up my reactions thusly:
Kilchoman Machir Bay - Remains a very solid (borderline B/B+) whisky, which is feat considering its 3yo to 5yo age. Hope they don't raise its price any time soon.
Kilchoman 100% Islay 3rd Edition - The 100% Islays never do it for me. They're the one part of Kilchoman's range that consistently tastes extra young and partially baked. This edition is no different.
Kilchoman 2007 Vintage - Not only the best of the first three pours, but it's probably my favorite Kilchoman yet, and the only time I'll agree with one of Whisky Advocate's awards. The word had gotten out about it even before WA's award, so finding a bottle of it in Southern California was nearly impossible. Nearly. :)
Three weeks later, I was presented with an evening alone at home. So I fired up a film Kristen would never want to see: Hardware, a 1990 sci-fi horror with a totally disposable first two-thirds that then give way to an impressively brutal finale. After that, it was time to taste the three bourbon barrels side by side. (Again please note, these pours were smaller than my usual review samples, thus there are no grades.)
Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel 5yo 2007, cask #360 59.9%abv
Nose - Roasty toasty barley and moss. Vanilla and cinnamon with savory herbs. Basil and tri-tip. Band-aids.
Palate - Big peppery candied peat. Mint and buttered wheat toast.
Finish - Cayenne, peppermint, and a barrel of barley
Verdict: Not complex but monolithic, it feels even bigger than the Octomores. It probably would have been a fun one to own had I lived in a region that had actual winters. Since it was bottled in 2012, it had sold out long before the tasting.
Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel 5yo 2008, cask #172 60.2%abv, a K&L exclusive
Nose - Now it's the sugars that feel enormous. Lots of honey, caramel, and cherry candy. Lemons, dried oregano, and "cinnamint". Gets more floral and peaty with added water.
Palate - Dry and herbal. No sweetness or vanilla/caramel. But it does get spicier with water.
Finish - Very very drying. Grainier with water.
Verdict: Wasn't a big fan of this one, though it improved with water. The nose was youthful, decent. But the palate and finish really didn't do much for me, and felt out of balance.
Kilchoman Single Bourbon Barrel 5yo 2008, cask #74 58.4%abv, a K&L exclusive
Nose - Anise, barrel char, and mmmmmmmmanure. Peppery greens. Brown sugar. Gets very farmy and molassy with added water.
Palate - Almond paste, burnt moss, lightly sweet. Pretty herbal. Gets even more herbal and grassy and peaty with added water.
Finish - Well balanced spice, bitter, and sweet.
Verdict: Not sure why I saved the lowest abv for last, but this was the clear winner. Every element was enjoyable.
Afterwards, I knew which one I liked and would be happy to purchase, but......K&L's price was $110, an amount I was unwilling to pay for a 5 year old whisky. So, I closed up my notebook and put it back on the shelf, never expecting to look at that page again.
And then one year later, the two K&L barrels appeared in their clearance ("Insider Advantage") email, along with two other ex-bourbon Kilchoman singles. Either K&L had flooded the market or people weren't willing to pay the original price, or both. Three of the casks were now $80 and the #74 was $83 for some reason. Out came the notes to make sure which was the good barrel. Then I split one bottle of cask 74 with Florin, MAO, and Jordan.
Tomorrow, I take a proper dip into cask 74 and find out if it was really worth my excitement...