Editor’s Note: These whiskies were provided to us as review samples by Kilchoman. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
There are nine active distilleries on Islay, but one of the most recent is Kilchoman. It sprang up in 2005 at Rockside Farm on the west side of the peninsula. Although grain is grown on the farm near the Rhinns of Islay, the farm cannot produce enough to meet the needs of the distillery. However, Kilchoman’s 100% Islay is made from Optic and Publican barley varieties from their farm.
Kilchoman is now on the eleventh edition of its 100% Islay. Unlike some earlier editions, Kilchoman has recently begun experimenting with maturation in different sherry casks along with ex-bourbon barrels. They call it 100% Islay because they boast the whisky is “Scotland’s only single farm single malt.” Every part of the process, including malting, is done on site.
2022 also marks the release of the latest Kilchoman Madeira Cask Matured limited edition. The Madeira Cask Matured first debuted in 2015 for Kilchoman’s tenth anniversary. Madeira is a fortified wine and is different from sherry. Sherries like Oloroso or fino are not heated while aging. Madeira, named for the island it comes from, is heated to produce flavors like roasted nuts, stewed fruit, and toffee.
Both of these whiskies from Kilchoman have an ABV of fifty percent. The differences between them will of course be the grain origins, but also the effects the sherry butts and the Madeira hogshead have on the new make. If you are looking for higher phenol parts per million in your single malt, the Kilchoman Madeira Cask Matured reigns in at 50 ppm versus 20 ppm for the 100% Islay. This year’s bottling has made 12,000 bottles available for the 100% Islay and 17,000 bottles for the Madeira Cask Matured.
I loved the nose on both the whiskies from Kilchoman, however, the palates on both were surprising. To see why I preferred the Kilchoman Madeira Cask over the Kilchoman 100% Islay, you can read below.
Tasting Notes: Kilchoman 100% Islay
Vital Stats: 50% ABV. 20 ppm. Islay single malt made with Optic and Publican barley varieties from 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 harvests. Matured in 26 bourbon barrels and 7 Oloroso sherry butts for a minimum of 9 years. The 11th edition is limited to 12,000 bottles. 750ml $125.
Nose: The aroma brings to mind muddied mulch and stinky hiking boots sitting in a corner to dry. The body is full of leather, like a baseball glove, and saline. It is smoky with a hint of butterscotch and almond.
Palate: Orange zest and segments with simple syrup greet the tongue first, but what quickly follows is smoke and soot. The whisky has the taste of dirt. I can only describe it as hiding a cigarette inside your mouth so as not to get caught. Sharpie comes along at the end with a hot bite from the ABV.
Final Thoughts: While I love peated Islay whiskies, especially when they’re stinky, the Kilchoman 100% Islay 11 Edition didn’t please my palate. I don’t mind the sootiness or smoke of the whisky, but it is the Sharpie flavored finish and stale cigarette notes I did not find appealing.
Tasting Notes: Kilchoman Madeira Cask Matured
Vital Stats: 50% ABV. 50 ppm. Islay single malt matured for 5 years and 3 months in 46 fresh Madeira hogsheads. Limited to 17,000 bottles. 750ml $100.
Nose: Drunken raisins greet the nose with gumption. It reminds me of hot buttered rum. There is lots of nutmeg and French vanilla. Among the soft earthen smoke is marzipan.
Palate: The sweetness hits, but it is hot and spicy. Compared to the nose, the whisky is more grainy like porridge than fruity. The dram starts off light and balanced, and then, like the flick of a light switch, it drastically changes. All of a sudden it is overpowered by tar, dirt, and campfire smoke.
Final Thoughts: While I absolutely love the nose on the Kilchoman Madeira Cask Matured, the overpowering tar flavor sets this whisky back. For the most part, the palate is great until it isn’t. I wish the transition of tone and flavor was less drastic than it is.
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Courtney Kristjana is a leading whiskey taster in the country. She left a career in Gerontology after an article on Heather Greene inspired her to follow her passion for whiskey. She is studying to become a Master of Scotch and someday hopes she is nominated for the Keepers of the...