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Kilchoman. The farm distillery that's crushing the NAS market.

Kilchoman. I have to be honest, I tried Machir Bay earlier this summer and wasn’t impressed. I will always try whisky a few times, because you never know if mood or environment can change how you feel about that dram the next time around. I tried not to let this alter my perception going into this tour, but it was down pouring rain the whole time I was there and that didn’t help. I do have to give them credit, they are the youngest distillery on Islay and have made quite a name for themselves in the peat market. They also have paved the way for non-age statements. The majority of what they sell has no age on it. They are the only privately owned distillery on the island and just last year their production was at about 150,000 liters of new make spirit. This year they are on target to hit 200,000 liters of NMS.

Their first casks were laid down in 2005 and that’s why we now have Machir Bay in the market. They want to be considered a true craft/farm distillery and still do floor maltings on site. They grow 20% of their own barley and you can see the crop fields as you go down the dirt road to the distillery. The rest of their malt they get at 13PPM of peat and it’s from Port Ellen Maltings on Islay. The malt that they are producing on site goes to their brand called “100% Islay” and they peat that to 25PPM. Their malting floor has the capacity for 2 tonnes of barley at one time. It is a semi-lauter mash tun with a copper top. They run three waters through the six hour mash. Apparently their natural spring water that runs downhill from about a mile away is naturally brown from the peat. Even the bathroom faucet water was brown. There were only four washbacks up until this time last year when they needed to increase capacity. They cut into the malting floor and added two additional stainless steel washback to make it a total of six now. The fermentation period lasts four about 85 hours and because of the size and air tight seal on their stainless steel tanks, they can let the foam rise with no additives or blades.

Kilchoman is also doing all of the bottling and labeling on site. You can tell pretty quickly that they are running out of space because it is rather tight in the bottling hall and just past the visitors parking center they are building another warehouse. It is expected to be done by the end of the year. As of right now they have been trucking casks about 7 miles down the road to their original warehouses. At this location they hold about 8,000 casks and they are filling casks at a pace of about 30-40/week. They claim to not use a cask more than once and they predominately use ex-bourbon/American oak casks, specifically Buffalo Trace. As with many Scotch distilleries, they are experimenting and releasing bottlings aged in sherry, port and sauternes as well. They actually just launched their “Sauternes Cask Matured” limited edition bottling in early September. There are only about 6,000 bottles available and it has been aged for 5 years in a Sauternes cask.

Due to their farm distilling model and having many parts of the supply chain on site and on the island, they employ quite a few people for a new distillery. As of right now 25 people work there during the busy season and it goes down only slightly in the winter. The business is family owned and run. The husband and wife live on the island and have previous experience in the bottling and wine industry. Their three sons run sales and marketing for the Kilchoman brand. Distribution is across 46 countries and their largest markets are Japan and the USA. Here are a few of the drams I was able to try on this rainy day….

Machir Bay – Non Age Statement

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Sharp cut cheesy peat, peaches, peanuts, some vanilla.

Palate: Wood oak peat, salty dry finish, lemon lime and maybe some sort of nut candy.

When I had this in Rochester, NY my tasting note included salty seaweed, floral and Laphroig like peat (medicinal). I also remember not really clicking with the bartender when I last drank it and wrote in my notes that I didn’t like it. Maybe this was because of my environment, who knows! Either way, it still isn’t my favorite.

Sanaig- Non Age Statement

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Raspberries, sugar covered almonds, plums.

Palate: Red velvet cake with cream cheese icing, tastes young with a wood finish and dried fruits.

Loch Gorm- Non Age Statement

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Fresh raisins, fig newton, oatmeal raisin cookie.

Palate: Sweet berries, raisins, dry sultanas, floral and sweet.

Next up is Bruichladdich..

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