Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Releases – Kilchoman Machir Bay and Sherry Cask

Islay’s newest and smallest distillery has been very busy in recent weeks with two new releases hitting the shops in quick succession. After various “seasonal” limited releases since 2009 and last year's 100% Islay and 2006 releases these two whiskies break further ground for Kilchoman.

The Machir Bay retails for around £40 and is to be the distilleries first continuous release, released in yearly batches with the vattings for each year gradually using more and more older whisky year by year. This is a great idea which I don’t think anyone has done before and it’ll allow the most nerdy of us to compare the different years against each other. The first 2012 release is made up of 60% 3 year old whisky, 35% 4 year old and 5% 5 year old. All matured in first fill bourbon barrels, vatted together and then finished in an oloroso sherry butt for 8 weeks.

The Sherry Cask release is a limited edition and is the first wholly sherry cask matured whisky to be on general release (I think they might have released some single sherry casks exclusive to certain retailers and festivals in the past). It’s one of Kilchoman’s oldest releases to date, consisting of 5 year old whisky matured in oloroso sherry butts. It retails for around £50.

The first new distillery to be built on Islay for 124 years, independently owned Kilchoman filled their first cask on the 14th December 2005. The distillery is adjoined to a small farm in the north of Islay just south of the beautiful sands of Machir Bay. Its one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, distilling 100,000 litres a year (just under what Caol Ila distils in a week!).

Our Tasting Notes – Machir Bay
On the nose there’s some lovely smoked meat aromas like smoked ham and smoky bacon wheat crunchies. Really really coastal, salty sea air on the beach, rock pools, sea weed, oysters and iodine. There’s a nice tangy fruitiness there as well, like stewed apples and grapefruits.

Flavour wise this one is quite austere with some bitter oakiness, pepper and some heat. Nice hint of chocolatey sweetness and some salted liquorice. Not massively peaty given the age but it’s certainly there in the background giving more depth and complexity. The finish is very very long with more of that salted liquorice.

Our Tasting Notes – Sherry Cask
 Sweet, smokey and coastal on first nosing. Vanilla fudge, malt loaf, raisins, a slight bitter marmite note, the smoke is a little meaty like bacon and also mingles well with a lovely maritime note reminding me of kippers or Arbroath smokies. There’s a little fermenting fruit note too akin to proper rustic farmhouse cider.

The palate is sweet at first like pine honey on slightly burnt toast. Then, gets progressively dryer. There’s a healthy dose of peat throughout with a nice drying grassiness as well. The finish is very long again with flavours of salted toffee and ginger.

What’s the verdict?
I have to say I’m a bit of a fan of Kilchoman and these two new releases don’t disappoint. Neither are as good as last years 2006 5 Year old edition (my favourite so far) but they’re both very good drams that offer something a little different from the norm. The Machir Bay, fittingly, has a lovely coastal profile and the Sherry cask is a worthy addition to the small selection of sherried Islays out there. Although they’re both on the young side, like most of Kilchomans releases so far, they have succeeded in showing that young whiskies can be just as good and complex as older whiskies.

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