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May 29, 2013

Kilchoman Loch Gorm

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.

The new Kilchoman Loch Gorm.

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.

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June 4, 2011

Rearranging the Furniture at Jura

The other week my kind of press release landed in the Scotch Odyssey inbox. Rather than the latest ‘world’s first’, small-batch, or otherwise whimperingly expensive release, Isle of Jura dropped me a line to say that the finishing touches to their brand new £100,000 visitor centre have been made, just in time for Feis Ile 2011.

The new VC from the inside. There looks to be a bit more room to mill about, debating what to buy.

The new VC from the inside. There looks to be a bit more room to mill about, debating what to buy.

Not much more than a year ago I was in the previous incarnation and couldn’t see anything wrong with it. The visitor felt cosseted beneath the low ceilings, with lots of wood and unusual expressions of Jura single malt crowded onto shelves, between books and perched over doors and windows to catch the eye and confirm that you were nowhere else but in a distillery. There was not a great deal of room to work with but I felt Whyte & Mackay, the owners, had fitted it out well. Nothing in the whisky tourism sector stands still for very long, however, and further imagination, time and money has been dispensed on the precious few square metres that shall accommodate you, should you venture across. (And I would highly recommend it).

I’m especially interested in how the brand people have endeavoured to bind the distillery all the more closely with its local community and the history of its location. Allegedly, the refit sought to incorporate ‘the island’s legends and symbols, reflecting its literary, cultural, and mythical heritage in West of Scotland folklore’ and the ideal aesthetic to do this was believed to be a ‘traditional Hebridean bothy’. 

Whether earnest of playful, the critical point is that those trying to convey the Jura ethos to the numerous brave souls who visit from all over the world have seen the value in provenance and what it means for an industry to have hung around for some 200 years lending not only economic opportunity but also identity to those living close by. The Jura distillery was created to prevent the last of the Diurachs from upping sticks and moving out and that there is a stable population on the island today who may wield such an appellation is in part attributable to its foundation which I find to be an extremely powerful circumstance. The marketing has caught up with this reality: those who work in the distillery, either on the production or tourism side, by geographical necessity live on the island, too. The resulting whisky and how it is celebrated is thereby an expression of these local people who face and overcome local challenges to constitute a significant facet of this global product.

The new tasting table and display cabinet.

The new tasting table and display cabinet.

I would argue that such an intimate and time-sensitive quality will make itself evident following any time spent around Scottish distilleries but Jura’s new visitor centre attempts to spell this out with the pictures of honoured Diurachs on the wall and a tasting table granting access to some of the rarer vintages. People and spirit are combined in what the press release hopes will be an ‘authentic’ manner, making for an ‘authentic’ and worthwhile encounter for those who have overcome many miles and perhaps a choppy Sound of Islay to get there. Not having seen the finished article with my own eyes, I cannot suggest how tastefully this time capsule has been realised. Just remember, though, that it is not a Hebridean heritage centre but rather a vehicle for brand consciousness and I see no reason why the distillery should not have a bit of fun with those landscapes, artefacts and personal histories which contribute to it.

Willie Cochrane, Distillery Manager, sums it up nicely: “Many of those who make the effort to visit Jura do so because of our fine whisky and the rich culture of our remote island. Having a visitor centre that reflects the history and culture of our island, whilst matching the quality of our single malt, will provide our guests with a truer experience of what Jura is all about. More importantly, they will hopefully be more inclined to buy some of our fine whisky and share the magic of Jura with their friends and family!” Mythology, malt, and marketing.

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June 12, 2010

New Make News

Since I have returned, there has been further announcements on the visitor centre front, new bottlings mooted and released and an Islay Whisky Festival.

Feis Ile 2010, from what I could read on the various blogs, was quite an extravaganza. More maltphiles from all over the world flocked like barnacle geese to the tiny island in the Inner Hebrides famous for its peaty, seaweedy whiskies than ever before and were rewarded. As per usual, limited bottlings were made available for festival goers but it is not those I am concerned with. Not that there was any evidence of it while I was there, but Lagavulin have released a new distillery-only bottling. In a similar style to Caol Ila’s it is a no age statement cask strength malt and costs £70, so quite a bit dearer than Caol Ila’s. This is only one in a quartet of Diageo distilleries to soon offer distillery exclusives. Check out the press release at John Hansell’s blog.

Glendronach have followed suit, and they offer an exclusive expression in their visitor centre: a single cask from 1996, said to be a classic example of the house heavily-sherried style.

Cragganmore, too, is rumoured to be releasing a 21YO expression in the near future. Though not yet confirmed, a source at the distillery suggested that a new release could be on the cards at that age.

Perhaps more interestingly, there is a new distillery-only tour now available at Glenglassaugh. This recently re-opened distillery on the Banffshire coast in Speyside has completed its visitor centre. There are two types of tour on offer: their standard tour costs £5 and involves a trip to the warehouse; all good so far. There is also a ‘Behind the Scenes Tour’ which will set you back £25 and takes you to the darkest corners of the distillery. Drams are rather special: their new make and also the 21 and 30YO Glenglassaughs.

Of most compulsive and restive interest to me is the news that Glen Garioch are about to release the third vintage in their latest series of limited bottlings. Joining the 1990 and the 1978 cask strengths will be the 1991. I would still expect this to be peaty, their own floor maltings having ceased with the peating in 1994. I will get back to you with a price and strength when I know more.

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May 29, 2010

Bowmore

 

A view of the distillery from the pier down from the Harbour Inn.

A view of the distillery from the pier down from the Harbour Inn.

School Street, Bowmore, Islay, Argyll, PA43 7GS, 01496 810441. Morrison Bowmore (Suntory). www.bowmore.com

Easily in the top ten best-smellers list.

Easily in the top ten best-smellers list.

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      Facing directly onto the fast, low waves of Lochindaal, Bowmore is a gentle giant of a distillery. The obligatory black capitals announce its identity on the sea-facing warehouse wall, staring pointedly across the loch to Bruichladdich distillery. Bowmore blends the old with the new. Their cottages and tasting room are straight out of 5-star hotel luxury and well-appointedness. Bowmore village jostles confidently and familiarly around it, and boasts one of the worst road surfaces I came across on my travels.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £4. See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Craftsman’s Tour’: £40. This in-depth viewing of the Bowmore distillery lasts two and a half hours during which you enter the warehouse (you don’t just stand behind glass) and dram samples straight from the cask. Once back in the tasting room, you can taste a selection of Bowmore expressions up to the 25YO.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      In a cabinet are some seriously old (see expensive) Bowmores, including the Trilogy of Black (£2350), White (£2600) and Gold (£3130) Bowmores. If these are a little beyond your means, fear not because you can find some equally rare stuff. Admittedly the Feis Ile bottlings don’t come anywhere close to the above trio of 44YOs, but there are less than 100 bottles of each: an 8YO from 2008 for £80 and a 9YO from 2009, 57.1% and £90. It is also possible to purchase the Travel Retail line from the distillery: Surf, 12yo Enigma, 15yo Mariner, 17yo and Cask Strength.

My Tour – 13/05/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      ***

Notes:      While I tied the bike up in the increasingly persistent rain (what is it about inclement weather whenever I visit distilleries in the Morrison Bowmore group?) the smell of richly peated malt was being blown about the buildings, damn near hypnotising me. Had Lochindaal been more forthcoming with its own legendary seaweedy aromas, I might just have stood there getting wet. They kiln the barley with peat for 15 hours. It isn’t done on a specific ppm specification, only time. It produces 40% of its requirements on its own malting floors. We were allowed into the warehouse that sits just below sea level. The temperature in there varies only between 2 and 5 degrees Centigrade annually. The Queen visited in the 1980s, and was gifted with her own cask. This she decided to have bottled at around 22 years of age. Some bottles were sold for charity, some went to the Royal Household and one sits in the tasting room for visitors to inspect.

The warehouses: a rare sight on Islay.

The warehouses: a rare sight on Islay.

The floor maltings: a rare sight on the whisky trail.

The floor maltings: a rare sight on the whisky trail.

 

 

GENEROSITY:       (1 dram)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      **

SCORE:      7/10 *s

COMMENT:      As my first Islay tour, it was a superb one. Despte the weather, and the fact that I had to wait for the 11AM tour (the 10AM one being full), I was shown a very good time around one of the most venerable of all malts. The Iain Banks quote from Raw Spirit that if you can’t find a Bowmore to enjoy, then malts probably aren’t for you, is one I wholly endorse, and I loved seeing how it was made. The whole place is kitted out beautifully. The lighting, not something you will hear prasied in many distilleries, picked out all of the wooden vessels and the gleam of the copper wonderfully. Back in the tasting room after a sense of the atmosphere in an islay dunnage warehouse, I elected to go out on to the balcony with my measure of 12YO. I wanted to sip my malt with the air of Lochindaal swaddling me. As I stood and moistened, thinking about returning inside for some water to cut my sample, I realised that the Islay rain was doing that job for me. This was such a pure malt moment, especially after the guide had said that the distillery was struggling with recent shortages of water. The lade that would normally have been gushing was only a trickle. As an aside, I had to buy some of the glasses that they served my dram in. They are beautiful.

Here I got very arty-farty with my Islay malt and Islay rain. It's what it's all about, though.

Here I got very arty-farty with my Islay malt and Islay rain. It's what it's all about, though.

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