By golly, they’ve done it again. While I always hope and intend to say insightful things about whisky, now and again all metaphor, analogy or apt digression must be supressed in place of an indulgent grin. Nice one, Kilchoman. Get in there, etc.
The email promised a new range from the youngest of Islay’s eight distilleries. Loch Gorm (named after a distinctly peaty body of water near the distillery) joins Machir Bay in a regular line up of two whiskies, which doesn’t seem terribly extensive. You might also be forgiven for thinking that core ‘range’ is not terribly accurate, considering that both expressions are intended to showcase the Kilchoman spirit as it evolves. The first incarnations, emerging from Islay’s western shore since 2008, have suggested a seriously precocious whisky, however, and indeed a couple of months ago, the International Whisky Competition announced Machir Bay as its Whisky of the Year 2013. This is an extraodinary accomplishment for a single malt which is still, relatively speaking, in its nappies.
Loch Gorm introduces the peaty product from Islay’s farm distillery to the close, sensuous attentions of Sherry casks from the off. Aged in the freshest Oloroso butts, the Loch Gorm whisky is then finished in ex-Sherry hogsheads for six weeks. Kilchoman does not artificially colour or chill-filter its whiskies.
Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2013 46% £56
Colour – medium amber.
Nose – immediate youthful fruity sweetness led by poached pears in syrup and a dab of punchy passion fruit. The peat lends a warm cherry cola aroma. It is definitely Kilchoman under there: dazzling bright barley with the sweetness of tablet and authenticity of green malt. Almond pastry. The smoke keeps its distance at first, evidenced perhaps in a sweet and oily pepperoni heat. Lime pickle and mango chutney. The peat sits at the foundation, providing its own sweetness.
Palate – a cascade of sweetness with raisins and dried cranberries. The malt is the chief delight for the sweet of tooth. The peat digs in with a thick and fuzzy texture before drying to leave impressions of the kiln, as well as that outstanding malt and echoes of walnut.
Finish – increasingly dry with a beautifully acrid and industrial peat character. Singed hay, rich caramel and vanilla pod.
With water, this moved into another gear with a nose of dried fruits and coal smoke, double cream and milk chocolate. Red apple, orange and cinnamon appeared, before things became heathery and bog-like. With time, strawberry coulis and lime-doused Granny Smiths emerged, with a blackcurrant character to the peat. Fabulous. The palate begins with a charming softness, before sharpening to pin-point and precise flavours. Fruity sherry accentuates the apple/pear core of the Kilchoman spirit. Strawberry jam next, with thick charred peat which reminded me of Toulouse sausage. To complete the picture, juicy peach arrived. The clean and malleable barley sets up a beautifully simple and well-judged finish, with apple strudel and dying beach bonfire staying true to the Kilchoman character.
So…? What a joyous, satisfying whisky. Manager John MacLellan and Dr Jim Swan have mitigated whatever risk may be attached to drawing young peated whisky from Sherry casks to reveal another, even fruitier side to Kilchoman. This is a seriously sweet whisky at times, but the strength and purity of peat wins out in the end.
If you can come by a bottle, grab it. I can think of no better companion to a twilit summer evening.