If ever there was a whisky distillery to which the moniker "craft" could be applied, then this is it. Based on a working farm in rural Islay near the glorious dunes of Machir Bay, Kilchoman is the newest of Islay's 8 distilleries and opened a mere 7 years ago.
The approach is along the typical farmhouse bumpy track, but at the end of the road there's the tell-tale distillery roof shape. It is still a working farm however, which the cows, sheep and ponies in the field attest to. This comes in handy for the disposal of the draff (spent grain) from the mashing in of the wash (unhopped beer). The lees of the stills are also spread on the fields as fertiliser.
We had another appointment that day; so did not have time for the full tour, instead opting to stop for lunch and a quick poke around. My first taste of cullen skink was great, as was the amount of filling in the paninis. (Didn't take any pics...too hungry!).
A good proportion of the barley used in the whisky is grown locally and in part floor malted at the distillery. The water from a nearby burn. The distillery has a single wash still and spirits still; so its very small-scale in proportion to everyone else on the island.
I get a chance to chat with the stillman as he prepares to switch the spirit safe from middles to feints and am offered a taste of the new make. Its a lot sweeter than the finished product and the high ABV means it evaporates straight off the tongue leaving the ghost of peat, some smoke and apricots. Its interesting to compare this to the alcohol at the start of the run, which noticeably still has some higher alcohols present. This all gets mixed together before cask filling.
The casks are all stored and aged on the premises in a racked warehouse. There's no mistaking which distillery its from with the distinctive bright blue barrel ends. They're mostly bourbon casks but there's some sherry wood in there too which is mostly used for finishing the whisky. Being so young its only recently that the distillery has been able to release spirit as malt whisky and will be another 6 years or so until they have a 12 y/o ready for sale.
The distillery has recently released its newest expression...Machir Bay. It " is a vatting of 3, 4 and 5 year old, matured in fresh bourbon barrels and finished in oloroso sherry butts for 8 weeks, 46% ABV." I bought a miniature of this to try at home, here are my thoughts:
Pouring the palest shade of straw, the alcohol and peat content is immediately apparent, this is a beast. In the mouth is smoke and a touch of phenol, but not overpoweringly so. That higher ABV begins to evaporate before the swallow leaving a sweet finish as the whisky warms down your into your belly. There's no sign of the promised tropical fruit...yet. But add a wee drop water and it opens up completely. The proteins (still in the drink as this hasn't been chill-filtered) swirl around in a vortex and juicy pineapple comes to the fore. The burn is taken off the alcohol, but it still warms the throat all the way down. There's some tar, aromatic pipe-smoke and a hint of apricot at the end, with a lingering finish. Its a complex wee beastie and I can't wait to try the older variants as they become available.