...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Assessing the Kilchoman cluster at the halfway point

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Having just completed seven consecutive Machir Bay (MB) reviews in a row, I'm pausing before launching into the Not-Machir Bay portion of the Kilchoman cluster in order to summarize the experience. Setting aside the new make review preceding the MBs, I wanted to expand upon something I said during Friday's review: "[T]his series has begun to reveal the limits of ~5 year old peated whisky."

While none of those seven whiskies was a stinker — all ranged between 81-89 scores — all of them fractured to the point of near unpleasantness once diluted. The two standard MBs were bottled at 46%abv, and they were reduced to 40%abv, while the cask strength MBs were diluted to 46%abv to see how they would perform at the standard strength. I'm not too shocked to see a single malt read more complex and balanced at 46%abv than 40%. But I found it revealing that not one of the cask strength bottlings performed well at the standard's strength. Each of them was supposedly in the queue for a Machir Bay batch, but each of them would have been a hindrance, or something requiring blending out, had it been used.

All but one of the Cask Strength releases was from a very small batch, with two of them coming from its own single cask. Could they have been selected out by the blenders because of the style/dilution issue? If so, how does that explain the much larger 2020 release, which was the clunkiest of the cluster thus far? Is "Machir Bay" just a brand name, something they stick at the beginning of a whisky for familiarity purposes? Even the standard releases no longer have any specific official age or maturation data, so their recipes could have already changed a few times in less than a decade. Or has Kilchoman found the frontier's end for 5 year old whisky?

Of the seven MBs I would buy only one of them at 46%abv, and that is the 2013 bottling of the standard release, the earliest and youngest of the bunch. Of the five cask strength releases, the only one I'd buy is the 2014 version, also the earliest and (possibly) youngest of the group. I'll also note that those are the only two expressions for which I had both official age and maturation information.

All of this ignores the high quality of these very young whiskies. All seven of these Kilchomans are six years or younger, yet all fall within my definition of B-grade whisky. I'm a tough crowd for whiskies of this age, having strongly disliked both the vast majority of single-digit-aged indie casks I've tried and the official NAS releases from other distilleries. Perhaps my Kilchoman reviews aren't as ebullient as they were eight years ago, and perhaps the earlier releases have the nod over the newer ones, but I continue to be impressed by many of the "Machir Bay" branded whiskies. It's not much of a stretch for one to think the 50ppm new make fuels the quality.

Now it's time to push beyond that 5 year wall to see what happens to Kilchoman single malt with more maturation time.