...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Single Malt Report: Kilchoman Machir Bay 2012

There can be power in youth.  And Kilchoman's got it.  All the other distilleries out there now bottling very young malts and selling them high can only dream of the product coming from the little farm on Islay.  I loved me some of that Summer 2010 release.  Wise Josh from The Coopered Tot went all Jimmy Stewart over the 2006 5-year bottling.  David D from K&L says their new make is best he's ever tasted.  And I think that's the key, the spirit itself is lovely from birth.

I've only tried two of their whiskies and now I desire trying them all.  The Summer 2010 was sampled at a pub.  This Machir Bay was sampled from my bartered 750mL bottle.  And 100 degree weather be damned, did the whisky in this bottle go quickly.

"Yum-a-dum-dum," to quote Dave Attell.  Machir Bay is a little softer and sweeter than the Summer 2010; maybe a little easier to get one's mind/palate around it.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  Here's my snippet about the distillery from earlier:
Built in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new Islay distillery in 124 years. They began distilling in 2006, keeping the production small (about 5% the capacity of the average distillery, 1% of the size of Diageo's Roseisle distillery). 
What's really admirable about these folks (led by Anthony Wills) is that everything is done on site. The distillery is surrounded by a farm that grows 100 TONS of barley for their product. They do their own floor maltings by hand on site. Their barley malt distillate residue is fed to the cows on the land. And when the whisky is ready (no carmel color, no chillfiltering), it's bottled by hand right there on the premises. This is old-school, roots whisky production.
Now, they do have to get some off-site barley to keep up with the demand, but they do a tremendous job keeping the ingredients local.

This particular Kilchoman, Machir Bay, appears to be their effort towards releasing an annual non-vintage malt at a price under $60.  The current concoction is as follows:

  • 60% 3-year-old, matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels
  • 35% 4-year-old, matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels, then another two months in ex-Sherry casks
  • 5% 5-year-old, matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels

Let's have a taste, shall we?

Bottling: Machir Bay 2012
Age: see above
Maturation: see above
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Its color is light amber, very similar to Laphroaig actually.  BIG oak meets BIG malt in the nose.  Brown sugar, pastries, liquory pudding, vanilla beans, tiramisu, and wet tree bark, all resting on a pillow of peat.  The palate starts with burnt wheat toast, peated sugar cookies, and mild cheese.  After a few minutes in the glass the whisky starts generating notes of moss, embers, a sweet cigar.  It's lip-smackingly desserty.  It finishes with a lengthy lovely burst of sweetness.  Dying embers of peat bricks.  Vanilla and brown sugar.

WITH WATER (approx 38.3% ABV)
Oak gets stronger in the nose.  Very buttery, lots of vanilla and barrel char.  Hints of chlorine.  Lighter peat.  On the other hand, the palate is all peated spirit.  Then there's cinnamon, molasses, and nutmeg.  The nutmeg lingers on into the finish.  It's joined by a cloud of peat smoke from a peat cigarette.

Did I mention I like this?

As far as Kilchoman releases go, the price is right.  A lot of their vintage bottlings (not to mention the single casks) have been considerably pricey.  I know that $55 isn't cheap whisky, but it's a hell of a lot better on the wallet than a $80 5-year old.

A final note, I've underplayed the peatiness of this whisky.  It's quite apparent.  Kristen could smell it from three feet away.  But it's not a medicinal peat; it's not a tarry peat; it's not a supernova (nor a Corryvreckan).  If you like Ardbeg 10 or Lagavulin 16, then this youngin' should hit the right spots.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 88


  1. I picked up a bottle just before I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Still trying to wrap my head around it, because it's a very peculiar and dirty kind of peat. The anise/licorice bite I get right at the end is also kind of off-putting, but I'll give it a few more drams before I post a real review.

    1. The anise note actually sounds intriguing, but I'm a bit of an anise fan. Machir Bay definitely changes in the bottle -- well at least mine did, after two months. I wonder if the dirty peat note is the peat cigarette character I keep noticing.

  2. Mine is half-gone, too! It just works so well as a warm-weather whisky. I'm really hoping to sample one of their sherry cask releases in the not-too-distant future.

    Jordan, I agree that it is a very distinctive flavor of peat, but I quite like it. I hadn't noticed the anise flavor that you mentioned, but I will see if I identify it the next time I have a dram. By the way, excellent post on NAS whiskies today! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. They actually have a number of bottlings for sale online, bourboned or sherried. That newer 2006 vintage sounds good to me. Thanks JLR for the original Machir Bay trial dram!

  3. An enthusiastic review! Just curious, what keeps this out of 4-star territory? Just the price, or something to do with the whisky? I'm thinking about picking up a bottle, but I'm wary of Kilchoman because of the youth. It's "reasonably" priced here at $54. Generally a few dollars more than I like to spend on a bottle, but I think supporting the little guy is (or, can be) worth a few extra dollars.

    1. Hey Ryan! The enthusiasm is genuine (it wasn't only due to the second glass of Cabernet I had while writing). It can be a bit of a sweetie, especially as it oxidizes. To me it's considerably better neat and doesn't stand up to much water. Rating-wise, I LOVED the Summer 2010 bottling (less sweet, and very complex, even in a crummy glass at a bar) and gave that one 4 stars. The Machir Bay is a smidgen down from that. But it's also $15-$20 cheaper now. And it's probably better than 90-95% of the whiskies out there. Since they're probably going to keep this bottling going every year, I'd be happy to get another bottle in 2013. And I agree with you about supporting the little guys.

  4. Excellent review. This one regularly calls to me. I've been haunted by that 5 year stuff and wondering if the Machir Bay would work the same magic. Sounds like an affirmative. Thanks so much for the call out. I really appreciate it!

    If I get a chance to try it I'll comment back again.

    1. You (and Kilchoman) sold me on that 2006. I'll be keeping an eye out for that. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  5. And thanks for the "Wise Josh" comment. I'll try to live up to it (and will probably fail).

    1. You, sir, have no need to try to live up to it. You are already there!

  6. The 2013 edition of Machir Bay is pretty cool. Kilchoman packaged two Glencairns with the bottle so it makes for a great gift for Christmas.