Wednesday 26 March 2014

The Oak Barrel - Kilchoman masterclass with Anthony Wills

It hadn't even been a month since The Oak Barrel Sydney hosted Douglas Cook from Glendronach, when us keen members found ourselves back in The Oak Barrel's tasting room, ready to hear from another Scotman (adopted this time*) about another Scottish distillery. 

(Side note: It was good to see that whilst the whiskies and regions differed, the tartan pants remained a consistent theme!)

This time, that distillery was Scotland's youngest whisky producing distillery, and the (adopted) Scotsman was the Founder, Managing Director and Master Distiller of said distillery.

I'm talking of course about Kilchoman - founded in 2005, and the first distillery to be built on Islay for 125 years. Anthony was in Australia to present his range of whiskies (past, present and future) and tell us a little bit more about the distillery, which has been selling "whisky" (as opposed to spirit) since 2009. On tasting was the impressive lineup of:
  • Kilchoman Summer 2010 (46% ABV)
Kilchoman 100% Islay (50% ABV)
  • Kilchoman Machir Bay 2012 (46% ABV)
Kilchoman Loch Gorm (46% ABV)
  • Kilchoman Small Batch (58.2% ABV)
Having only tasted the odd Kilchoman (both OBs and SMWS releases), I was keen to taste the majority of their regular OB lineup.

Anthony, an Englishman who previously worked as an independent bottler, saw a growing interest in Scotch Whisky in the early 2000s, and (seeing the impact this could have on the independent bottling business) decided to mitigate any future supply issues by starting his own distillery (makes sense, right? Nice if we could all do it.) As a fan of the classic, peated Islay taste, Islay seemed a natural home for the new distillery.

Despite difficulties, Anthony managed to secure the necessary investment and commenced production, engaging Dr Jim Swan (who we met during last year's The Whisky Show) to craft a whisky with a profile that would be conducive to reasonably quick maturation, despite Islay's cold climate. Anthony explained that while Jim originally estimated a 5-6 year maturation timeframe before the product would be of sufficient quality, upon tasting the first new make spirit to run off the stills, he revised this to 3 years (the minimum timeframe for such a spirit to be called "whisky" in Scotland).

Kilchoman have  a strong focus on wood, with first fill barrels used heavily and a steady supply of ex-Bourbon barrels from Kentucky's Buffalo Trace. Starting with a cask filling rate of 12 casks per week in 2005, the distillery now fills 28 per week, and is on target to produce 150,000L of spirit this year. A small amount in comparison to many of the established players, no doubt, but consider that number against the global penetration Kilchoman have managed to achieve in a relatively short space of time, and you have an impressive feat.

I'll leave the tasting notes for another post to follow soon after this one, but suffice to say that despite my initial hesitation given the youth (and given what I'd heard from some other whisky writers I respect), I enjoyed every single expression.

  - Martin.

* He's English

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