...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Five-week Kilchoman Cluster begins

The Glen Grant cluster was inspired by several ancient samples in my stash. This Kilchoman cluster is more personal, or as personal as a branded tempered poison can be. The distillery's development follows my path as a whisky enthusiast. To a point.

A Timeline:

2005 - The Wills family opens Kilchoman distillery. Meanwhile, single malts smite me, and smite me goodly, now and forever.

2007 - The distillery and its warehouses expand. My single malt experience grows beyond the bestsellers as I join my first whisky club.

2010 - Thanks to bars in LA and shops in London, I tumble down the rabbit hole known as single casks. At the same time, Kilchoman sends its first single malts to the US market.

2011 - Kilchoman rolls out its first 100% Islay single malt. Whisky reviews begin popping up on Diving for Pearls.

2012 - It's almost all whisky reviews here, going forward. Kilchoman bottles its first standard release, Machir Bay. 

2014 - Kilchoman travel retail bottlings and $150 single casks begin to appear. My enthusiasm for the distillery — and the industry in general — ebbs. The Diving for Pearls modern era begins.

These clusters are not about whisky pricing, rather they're studies of actual whiskies. So let us remember the pre-2014 era, when the Kilkerran WIPs, Port Charlotte PCs and Kilchoman vintage releases ascended and we enjoyed the remarkable quality of the very young single malts coming from these new brands. I noticed at the time that nearly every reviewer of these whiskies spoke of the future, as in "I can't wait until we see this stuff at 12 years old." Meanwhile, I thought about the present. Since the late James Swan had designed the Kilchoman spirit to be more approachable at a young age, via super-skinny cuts, no one knew how the whisky would change with time. Were we seeing the potential or the peak?

Or, to quote an awkwardly shoehorned line of dialogue from a badly dated film, Is this as good as it gets?

(photo source)

Though I've written about eighteen(!) Kilchomans since 2014, I've purchased only three Kilchoman bottles during those seven years. On the other hand, I amassed a lot of samples. So it's time to catch up a bit and see what's happened during the first decade of Kilchoman single malt releases. This series will include seventeen Kilchoman reviews, stretched out over five weeks. Two of my bottles will be included in the mix and something appropriate will start off the series tomorrow. But I can neither confirm nor deny that a 56-year-old Kilchoman will conclude the course.

Welcome to the Kilchoman Kluster.

1. Kilchoman New Make Spirit from Port Ellen Maltings - "Goddamn I love newmake."
2. Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2013 - "It's young, but neither rough nor raw, and it still seems older than its age."
3. Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2018 - "Though Kilchoman Machir Bay remains one of the best of Islay's NAS entry-level malts, it seems to be acting its age now more than it used to."
4. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2014 - "As bottled, the black walnuts, citrus and truffle salt work delightfully in the palate......I have little positivity to share about the 46%abv version"
5. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2015 - "It's a better, and seemingly older, whisky at full power."
6. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, USA West Coast Tour 2017 - "Don't reduce this stuff to 46%abv. In fact, this whisky gets damned near unpleasant at that strength. Keep it at full power..."
7. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, Meet the Peat Tour 2019 - "...the nose's angles and the palate's brutality are qualities a number of Islay distilleries wish they could achieve with their official releases."
8. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, 2020 edition - "The nose was the best part......it keeps the whisky from dipping into the C-grade range."

Assessing the Kilchoman cluster at the halfway point

9. Kilchoman 2007 Vintage - "As I've found with most young whiskies, this one's excitement descends with each aspect."
10. Kilchoman 2008 Vintage - "There's a quality here I had really hoped I would find during this cluster..."
11. Kilchoman 2010 Vintage - "It has a cracking start with an engaging nose, but the palate feels stunted and doesn't air out well."
12. Kilchoman 100% Islay, 9th Edition - "A Kilchoman that swims......It's still the least-formed of the distillery's standard or annual releases..."
13. Kilchoman 9 year old 2008 100% Islay, cask 549 for K&L - "Another 100% Islay that takes water well......the whisky feels like it's almost there."
14. Kilchoman 7 year old 2011 100% Islay, cask 622 for Impex - "This is mostly cask, though I enjoyed it. Had there been a burlier spirit......to stand up to the cask, this would have been a hell of a thing."
15. Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 2020 Edition - "...this whisky has the big spirit to stand up to the big casks."
16. Kilchoman Summer 2010 Release - "It does smell delightful......But the palate is very one dimensional......it needs friends and happy casks and time."
17. Kilchoman 14 year old 2006, cask 18 for Impex - "The "Mediterranean" style of the neat nose works very well, while the neat palate makes this feel like the first-ever Kilchoman for summer weather."

Concluding the Kilchoman Cluster


  1. I remember asking Anthony Wills at a tasting if they'd keep producing a three year old as I thought it was just as good as anything else out there at the time.

    1. So far, as this cluster is playing out, those early young Machir Bays remain some of their best stuff.

  2. Really interesting question about the potential or the peak. I can't wait to hear what you think. I just had a bottle of the 2010 Vintage, a 9 year old, and I don't think I liked it nearly as much as the 4-6 year old Kilchomans I've had—which I think are excellent—no need for any qualifications about "despite their ages." To me, the 2010 vintage was nearly technically perfect, but almost bland in its perfection.

    1. Now that I've posted the review, I can say I agree. For the most part I prefer the earlier bottlings, across all the releases. I'm not sure yet if there's a dividing line or a slow slide or it's just my imagination. We'll see how this ends. Regarding the 2010 vintage, the palate was disappointing, partly because I enjoyed the nose so much, partly because it was bit flat and simple. I'd take the 2007 and (especially) 2008 over it.