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Monday, March 8, 2021

Kilchoman 100% Islay, 9th Edition

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Kilchoman doesn't source all its malt from Diageo's Port Ellen Maltings. An increasing portion of its barley comes from small Islay farms, including their own. The distillery's new malting floor and kiln provides the capacity to do 30% of their own malting going forward, using these local sources. While the Port Ellen malt has a phenolic content of 50ppm, the 100% Islay malt measures ~20ppm, resulting in a different spirit and whisky.

Since my palate usually enjoys whiskies in the 10-20ppm range, I keep hoping I'd prefer the 100% Islay products over Kilchoman's regular single malts. But it hasn't come to pass. The 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the 100% are the most under-baked Kilchomans I've tried. Does the PE malt's 50ppm hide a spirit's immature side? Or does Diageo bewitch that stuff?

I'm rolling out three 100% Islay barley Kilchomans this week. They're all older than the aforementioned three editions (and the one single cask I kinda liked eight years ago), so I will attempt to approach them with no expectations.

Region: Islay
Age: somewhere around nine years?
Maturationfirst fill and refill bourbon casks
Barley: ~20ppm, sourced from Islay farms
Outturn: 12,000 bottles
Release year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

Apricots, cinnamon, brine and rye white dog fill the nose, in fact this is very close to new make. There are some new tires, new sneakers and toasty peat in the midground. Oats in the background. It improves once diluted to 40%abv, turning into liquid churros (cinnamon, brown sugar and dough), with hints of jasmine and vanilla beans in the background. Notes of bonito flakes and piney peat develop with time.

The palate isn't particularly hot but there is an unmistakable ethyl flavor in the background. A mix of salt, smoke and sweetness sits on top of that, with hints of mint and grass in the corners. As with the nose, diluting the whisky to 40%abv makes it more dessert-like while also adding complexity. It's sweet, but within reason, with notes of brown sugar and Boston cream. Waves of pepper and seaweed provide heft.

At first the finish matches the palate. Then it gets mintier and sweeter, until the salt takes over. Reduced to 40%abv, the whisky finishes with fruity cinnamon, cayenne pepper and Boston cream.

Well I'll be. A Kilchoman that swims! Trying it neatly, all I could think was "Oh crap, not again. How many more editions will it take?" But once I diluted it, the whisky seemed to take on a few more years. I probably woke the oak, but it was needed. It's still the least-formed of the distillery's standard or annual releases, which is curious as these batches include 50-60 barrels. Looking around the Intertubes, I see my opinion does not match that of the majority. That's cool, the majority can keep enjoying this whisky.

Availability - Various 100% Islay editions can be found on both sides of the Atlantic, even in Ohio!
Pricing - $90-$110
Rating - 81 (diluted only)

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