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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Fail...er...Adventures in Blending: Improving Kilkerran Cask Strength, AGAIN

I love love love Kilkerran's Work In Progress (WIP) single malts, all of them. They're brilliant and possibly the best whisky being produced in Campbeltown at the time. The first batch of Kilkerran 12yo was also a more-than-worthy mate to Springbank 10yo. I'd grab another bottle if I could find one.

So I was very excited to hear that Glengyle distillery was going to release a series of age-stated cask strength Kilkerran batches. I bought a bottle of Batch 1, all ex-bourbon casks, as soon as it materialized. And it took me nearly five years to finish it. It just did not work. Despite being older than half of the WIPs, it read more immature than all of them, very hot and incomplete. I tried to spruce it up with some magical old Famous Grouse 18yo Malt, with mixed results.

In 2020 I tried Batch 4, which was all recharred sherry casks......and I wasn't wild about that one either, as its oak and sherry elements were completely out of balance with the spirit. Then, in 2023, I split a bottle of Batch 7, port casks, and that one went the wrong direction, full-tilt.

Thus I've lost interest in the cask strength batches, especially if Glengyle won't release batches with a mix of sherry and bourbon casks. They blended casks in the first four WIPs (younger whisky may I add) and knocked it out of the park each time.

But what if I did a little blending myself? Well, I did in 2022. And then completely forgot about it. So my two little ~35mL creations sat for 21 months, marrying or merging or cuddling. And now it's time to find out what resulted.

Vatting #1

1 part Kilkerran Work In Progress, Sixth Edition, sherry wood, ~10 years old, 46%abv
2 parts Kilkerran Cask Strength, Batch 1, bourbon casks, 8 years old, 56.2%abv

Full strength, 52.8%abv

Nose: Walnuts, honey, and oranges. Antiseptic, sandalwood, chocolate, and mild peat smoke.
Palate: Slight sooty with a bit of heat. Sweet oranges and Luxardo cherries.
Finish: Soot, oranges, hint of toffee.
Comments: NAILED IT. Oh wow, this keeps many of the best parts from WIP6, ditching the weakest elements of CS1.

Diluted to 46%abv

Nose: Toffee, almond butter, and date rolls. Peat smoke starts out quiet, then expands with time.
Palate: Weirdly bitter, with almonds and black pepper in the background.
Finish: Sweeter and less bitter than the palate.
Comments: The nose works. The palate does not. I'm surprised by how much it changed.

Vatting #2

10mL Kilkerran Cask Strength, Batch 4, re-charred sherry casks, 8 years old, 57.1%abv
25mL Kilkerran Cask Strength, Batch 1, bourbon casks, 8 years old, 56.2%abv

Full strength, 56.45%abv

Nose: Brine, barley(!), and almond extract, with hints of blossoms and industrial smoke stack.
Palate: Very floral and hot. Heavy peat. Tart lemons and a hint of soap in the background.
Finish: Floral, salty, sweet, and very peppery.
Comments: Very good nose, but everything else is out of whack.

Diluted to 46%abv

Nose: Brine, black currant jam, and piney peat.
Palate: Orange marmalade. Plenty sweet with gentler oak and peat.
Finish: Oranges, wood smoke, and a touch of bitterness.
Comments: Much better this way. I wish I had another ounce or two to ponder.

#1 at full strength is the obvious winner, though I'd be happy with a bottle of #2 at 46%abv. Both are complete whiskies, fashioned with dumb luck. I guarantee you that J&A Mitchell & Company's blenders have the stock and skillset to run circles around me, so why don't they give it a try? There's room to grow with this CS series, and I do not mean tequila casks. Kilkerran can still offer coffee-dark sherried or straw-light bourbon cask batches, while also dropping a masterful mix into the series once in a while. No finishes, just vattings. I know I'd buy it.