...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Kilchoman 2010 Vintage

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Though some of the Machir Bays soared, I'm feeling more optimistic about these Vintage releases overall. The 2007 was good, though not as grand as I'd hoped. The 2008 was probably about as great as a 46%abv 7 year old whisky can be. Now I'm leaping up to the most recent Vintage (though a 2011 may be coming out this year), the 9 year old 2010. As of the moment these words are typed, this is the oldest Kilchoman I've ever tried. Of course that record will be topped soon......oops, I probably should've thrown a spoiler alert in there.

Region: Islay
Age: Nine years (2010 - 2019)
Maturation30 bourbon barrels and 3 Oloroso Sherry butts
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: 15,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose begins with a lovely note of a recently snuffed candle, with clove and brown sugar in the background. Pine and charred veg appears next, followed by pineapple and fruity cinnamon. A hint of manure in the background. It's mostly peated pineapple juice once the whisky is reduced to 40%abv, with hints of cinnamon and grass in the back.

The palate's salt is nearly excessive until it mixes with a vegetal note creating something like a veggie broth. Serrano pepper above, cardamom and flower blossoms underneath. The smoke gets sharper, bitterer and more metallic with time. That bitter, metallic smoke makes up most of the diluted 40%abv palate. It gets grassier and more floral, while losing the salt.

Smoky residue and cassia lead the finish, followed by black pepper and ocean water. Once it gets diluted to 40%abv, the finish gets very ashy, bitter and grassy.

Like all of this cluster's Machir Bays, this whisky's palate does not take water well. Thus it's not just a 5yo whisky issue. Though it's preferable at the 48%abv bottling strength (two points higher than its predecessors), this whisky struggled next to the 7yo 2008. It has a cracking start with an engaging nose, but the palate feels stunted and doesn't air out well. Its lack of oak is novel in today's Islay market, but the mouth and finish needed something more, a couple bolder casks or maybe more time. Perhaps that was the role of the three sherry butts, but they've disappeared within.

Next week: Kilchomans that are 100% not from Port Ellen barley. But for now...

Availability - Available on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, though mostly in Europe
Pricing - $90-$110
Rating - 84 (with the nose keeping it aloft)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage

Following the 5 year old 2006 Vintage and the 6 year old 2007 Vintage, Kilchoman released the 7 year old 2008 vintage in 2015. Unlike my experience with the 2007, I come to this review without expectations as I've never tried it before. Though often tempted to buy a whole bottle of it, I settled on purchasing a 60mL sample instead. Let's see how it fares against its previous, though younger, sibling.

Region: Islay
Age: Seven years (2008 - 2015)
Maturation: "bourbon barrels"
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is very beachy, lots of seaweed and salty air. A little bit of soot in the background. Bits of black licorice and fruity yeast here and there. With time, it develops a rich apple pie note. Diluted to 40%abv, it gets farmier and yeastier, while also picking up notes of apples and pineapples, pine needles and vanilla extract. And most importantly, black walnuts.

The palate's smoke is by turns savory, peppery and sooty. It has a nice combo of baking spices, brown sugar and almond extract, though it never gets too sweet. A slight metallic note in the background grows a bit once the whisky is reduced to 40%abv. Roses and tart apples in the background, earth and peppercorns in the foreground.

Lemons, baking spices and chiles lead the finish with gentle smoke and sweetness lingering behind. It gets bitterer and smokier when reduced to 40%abv, with a little bit of tartness around the sides.

This is the vintage I should have purchased. Unlike the 2007, the palate does not cower beneath the nose's excellence, and the finish is quite nice. The peat reads loudest in the nose as well, mellowing out in the palate. I prefer it neat, but the nose takes water very well. There's a quality here I had really hoped I would find during this cluster, the sort of merit that makes me think, "THIS is what I was looking forward to."

Availability - May still be found at some European retailers
Pricing - $85-$100 (w/VAT)
Rating - 88

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Kilchoman 2007 Vintage (my bottle)

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Kilchoman began their "Vintage" series in 2011 with the 2006 Vintage (all of five years old), and have been releasing the next vintage every other year, each one also a little older than the next. For instance, the 2007 Vintage appeared in 2013 and had a 6 year age statement, and 2019 saw the 9 year old 2010 Vintage. These tend to be bourbon cask-only batches — though the 2010 had <10% sherry casks — so it's a nice way to experience the progression of the distillery's single malt, something akin to Kilkerran's Work In Progress series.

I first tried the 2007 Vintage at an official Kilchoman event seven looooooooong years ago. It was matched up with five other Kilchomans, three of which were pricier single casks. According to my handwritten notes, it won the night by some distance. I even wondered if it was the best Kilchoman I'd had yet.

Irrational exuberance followed, as it does.

Not only did I buy a bottle, but I started obsessing over every subsequent vintage release. Should I buy it, should I not buy it? This actually continued right up through 2019. But I didn't buy any other vintage. Nor did I even bother to open my bottle.

Now I have. And now I will review the 2007 Vintage.

Region: Islay
Age: Six years (2007- 2013)
Maturation: "fresh and refill bourbon barrels"
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Outturn: 10,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from the top third of my bottle)

A swirl of cigarette and Black & Mild cigarillo smokes fill the nose's foreground. Anise, halvah and soil linger in the background. It gradually develops a gummy worm sugariness and a hint of copper. It gets a little darker when reduced to 40%abv, with more industrial metallic smoke, dirty hay, old Parmesan rind. More on gumdrops than gummy worms in the background.

The palate begins with a mix of sea salt, tart limes, gentle earthy bitterness and a sort of coastal smoke. Not much sweetness. Though the bitterness grows, it never overwhelms. The smoke gradually gets ashier. The palate's texture is curiously thin, as if the whisky was chillfiltered. Simple sweet smoke and brine take over once the whisky is diluted to 40%abv, with some hints of almond and cashew butter in the background. Again the smoke gets ashier with time.

The long but simple finish holds bitter smoke and charred burgers. A little bit of tart citrus offers some brightness. At 40%abv, the finish is lightly sweet, ashy and briny.

Seven years later, I have a soberer (though not for lack of trying!) take on the 2007 Vintage. This is a good whisky. Period. It's not the best Kilchoman I've ever tried, nor will it land in the top five of this very cluster. It's softer and rounder than any of last week's Machir Bays. It also stands up to dilution better than any of this cluster's previous seven Kilchomans.

As I've found with most young whiskies, this one's excitement descends with each aspect. The nose establishes a sturdy style different than most other Islay single malts, while also being a bit dirtier than the Machir Bays. The palate begins well, though I wish its eventual ashiness was quieter. It finishes in a satisfactory fashion, no more, no less.

Mark it. This is the ninth Kilchoman, but the first to make me contemplate, "How great would this be in __ more years?" And now there's two-thirds of a bottle left for me to ponder over.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - $70-$80 back in the day
Rating - 85

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.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, 2020 edition

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)  

If you're getting tired of this series-within-a-series, I can sympathize. While I'm glad it's reaching its conclusion, this series has begun to reveal the limits of ~5 year old peated whisky.

Kilchoman gave up in 2020, though not like the rest of us. They decided to release the Machir Bay Cask Strength (MBCS) worldwide. (Though not as part of the regular rotation.) The data out there are limited, but I'm guessing the outturn is larger than the previous one-offs. The last "Original Cask Strength" release utilized quarter casks, while this Machir Bay Cask Strength has regular(?) bourbon and sherry casks. There's some Xmas stuff on front label, and these words on the back label:

Before reducing a batch of our Machir Bay to its regular bottling strength of 46%abv, this release was bottled at cask strength...

If you've read any of this week's reviews then you'd know my skepticism about the first part of the above statement. But I (seriously!) would just like some good whisky, so here it goes. Again. For the last time.

At cask strength, 58.6%abvDiluted to 46%abv
There's just a wall of butter and caramel blocking everything else in the nose for the first few minutes. Peat and anise break through first, then popcorn (with butter and caramel, natch). And brown sugar. Salty ocean air, yeast and apricots show up after 30 minutes.The nose starts with caramel corn, simple syrup, ash and something metallic. It needs some time, then the coastal note drifts up from the background, followed by moss, cinnamon and roses.
Peated Robotussin (I'd drink it) in the palate. Charred beef and ash. Hints of roses, mint and caramel in the background. Starting at the 20 minute mark the whisky takes a turn towards tequila (joven, maybe?), with a little bit of lemon and brown sugar.Ooookay, this palate is big on vegetal, smoky silver mezcal (yes I know tequila and mezcal's relationship, thank you). It gets sweeter with time, until the simple peat smoke takes a backseat to a lump of cinnamon and golden raisins.
It finishes sweet and ashy. Pears and tequila. A squeeze of lemon.This finish reads hotter, somehow, with a mix of bitter ash, golden raisins and lemon juice.


One of the reasons I was drawn to Kilchoman's single malt was because it was not reminiscent of mezcal. I like mezcal, but all those baby Taliskers on the market burned me out on mezcal-esque scotch, so that's a problem here. BUT, thanks to too many bad decisions in college, super young tequila makes me queasy, so I actually prefer the diluted version of this MBCS this time. The nose was the best part of each version of the malt, so good that it keeps the whisky from dipping into the C-grade range.

None of this is a ringing endorsement of course, so the Machir Bay run ends on a wobbly note. Because these whiskies were more educational than I'd expected, and we're near the cluster's halfway point, I'll try to post a recap/assessment of the eight whiskies before continuing on. Happy Friday!

Availability - a few dozen USA and Europe retailers
Pricing - $70 - $85
Rating - 81

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, Meet the Peat Tour 2019

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

To summarize this week's results: These Machir Bay Cask Strength (MBCS) limited releases seem to be "Machir Bay" in name only, different in style to the standard Machir Bay and a hot mess at 46%abv. They're all much better at full power. I've reviewed a 2014, 2015 and 2017. Today's it's the Meet the Peat Tour 2019 bottling for the US of A, the last time the MBCS would be limited to a single market.

There doesn't appear to be any disclosure of this whisky's contents on the labelling or official sites. Kilchoman mainly promotes its tour which appears to have been more of a logistics feat than the actual whisky, with stops in the US, Japan and China. Other bloggers have said it's 90/10 bourbon/sherry casks, but that's hearsay so that doesn't get bold font. Age and outturn are also absent, though if anyone has a link to an official statement then please share in the comments below. But the abv is 58.6%, so that's a thing?

At cask strength, 58.6%abvDiluted to 46%abv
My favorite nose of the four so far: Yellow peaches, roses, anise, a salty mossy smoke and a metallic hint in the background.The nose starts with rye white dog, dried sweat, sour apple candy, roasted seaweed and burnt kale. It picks up hints of moss and dried cherries with time.
The very medicinal and coastal peat notes read loudest on the palate. Some lemon and ginger in the midground. Bitter baking chocolate in the background. Almost no sweetness.The palate goes raw again, though not as aggressively as the 2017. Lots of moss and veg, salt and soot. Mint candy appears about 30 minutes in, then nearly takes over.
Coastal and sooty, the warm finish takes on those lemon and ginger notes after some time.Bitterer, sootier and saltier than the palate, the finish eventually takes on the awkward clashing mint candy note.


Fourth verse, same as the first? I'm starting to get punchy here. When the whisky is neat, the nose's angles and the palate's brutality are qualities a number of Islay distilleries wish they could achieve with their official releases. But I really don't care for this at standard Machir Bay strength (46%abv). Again. It feels barely 3 years old at that strength. Again. Keep this one at full strength. Again.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - $75 and up
Rating - 87 (when neat, mid to low 70s when diluted)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, USA West Coast Tour 2017

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Continuing this cluster-within-a-cluster of Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength releases, I bring thee the 2017 USA West Coast Tour bottling.

Unlike the 2014 and 2015, reviewed on Monday and Tuesday, this 2017 was not from a single cask. The packaging shows no age statement and says the whisky is "a vatting of specially selected bourbon and sherry casks" with an outturn of 840 bottles. Because "vatting" is referenced, one wonders if Kilchoman had stopped the sherry cask finish approach to Machir Bay at this point and were marrying casks and parcels instead. One may also wonder if this 60%abv release, like the 2014 and 2015, was ever intended to be part of the regular Machir Bay batches, or if Kilchoman is just using the "Machir Bay" name because it has become familiar to their customer at this point...

At cask strength, 60%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose starts out very hot and tight, requiring 20+ minutes to open up. Then one finds nut butters, ocean-y peat, fuji apples, pineapples, marshmallows and a hint of band-aids.The nose is close to newmake again, with a surprising whiff of barley. Along with the ocean-like peat note comes plenty of sage smoke. Toasted coconut and grilled pear appear in the back.
Compared to the nose, there's a lot more fruit in the palate, specifically oranges and tart stone fruits. Cayenne pepper and Campari flow through the midground, with a coastal smoke integrating well with it all.The palate reads hot, bitter and peppery. Some lemon and pencil lead show up here and there. But it's very raw, almost a palate killer.
Gentle peat lingers through the mildly sweet finish, but grapefruit and Campari looms above it.The finish nearly mirrors the palate with heat, pepper, bitterness and a hint of lemon.


The theme continues: Don't reduce this stuff to 46%abv. In fact, this whisky gets damned near unpleasant at that strength. Keep it at full power where the palate's fruit and smoke win the day. Its nose is the edgiest and least mature of this set so far, but it's still plenty of fun once it opens up. I wouldn't mind knowing the actual age of this whisky's components, because it seems much closer to 3 years than the 5-6 years of my 2018 bottling of actual Machir Bay. All three of these CSes seem like they'd burden a 46%abv batch of Machir Bay, and all work much better at cask strength. Let's see how tomorrow's whisky pans out...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83 (when neat, at least 10 points lower when diluted)