Kilchoman 100% Islay 5th Limited Edition Review




Kilchoman 100% Islay Limited Edition is truly a remarkable product. It is called "100%" because it uses only barley locally sourced from their own Rockside farm which is then malted in Kilchoman's distillery malting floors and dried with peat from a nearby peat bog. It is distilled in the Still House and then placed in the dunnage warehouse next door for maturation for (in the case of this whisky), 5+ years. The whisky is then removed from the cask and bottled in their own bottling plant situated next to the Still House in the same court yard. There the bottles are filled and packed in boxes for distribution. I do not know of any other Scotch Single Malt whisky which can boast such a thing.

The question is, did all this uniqueness translate into a descent whisky?

My first encounter with this expression came after the excellent Kilchoman Distillery tour (see my previous blog post). Our small group was led into the Distillery tasting room where places had been set out for all of us. I had already spoken to Leah, our guide, and informed her that I do not drink any whisky with ex-sherry matured influence so she had kindly arranged that I be given both the Kilchoman 100% Islay 4th Edition and 5th Limited Edition to try as they were matured in 100% American Ex-Bourbon casks.

The comparison between the 4th and 5th year Editions was very interesting indeed. The two were obviously from the same pedigree, showing the same basic characteristics. The 4th Limited Edition however was much more frisky and "new spirit" driven. I recognised that same zesty fruitiness I tasted from the new clear spirit straight from the Kilchoman spirit safe. (See my last post) but far too young for my taste. So the 4th Edition showed a lot of promise but was still under matured. I was very glad to have tasted this at the distillery but wouldn't consider purchasing it.


Now we move onto the 5th Edition. I could tell, even on first smell and then taste, that this was showing so much more maturity and complexity. The spirit heat had all but dissipated and the whisky was showing so much more character. What a difference one year makes!




Despite enjoying this dram at the distillery tasting session very much, I could not purchase a bottle as I only had a Duty Free allowance of two bottles of whisky to take home to Israel with me. I had already purchased the Caol Ila Feis ile 2014 at the Caol Ila distillery and had also pre-ordered a bottle of Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 from the Grapevine kosher wine shop in Stamford Hill which was some £20 cheaper than the Bruichladdich distillery shop on Islay! So, what I had planned was a blog post describing our wonderful distillery tour at Kilchoman and brief tasting notes from memory from the Kilchoman tasting room. However, last month I was absolutely flabbergasted to see bottles of "100% Islay 5th Limited Edition" in my local wine store here in Yerushalayim. As they say "up North" I was utterly gob smacked because you have to appreciate just how small Kilchoman distillery is and how much wordwide demand there is for its whisky. Here I was staring at these distinctive yellow and blue boxes which I had seen being packed back at the little farm on Islay.

Even more amazing was the fact that they are selling it for NIS 349 which incredibly is slightly cheaper than in London! This is after all, a special Limited Edition expression. In some UK based Internet sites, it states on the page that only one bottle is permitted to be purchased per customer, yet here I am, staring at bottles of the stuff in my local shop. Whoever is responsible for this situation, be it the distillery, the Israeli supplier or the store owner, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.








Packaging and Design:
I take pleasure in a well designed bottle and package. In my opinion the Kilchoman packaging is absolutely gorgeous. Without a doubt the finest designed whisky bottle and packaging I have ever seen, right down to the thick chunky cork stopper which gives such a positive impression when you first pop open the bottle and hold it in your hands. I love the attention to detail as well. Sorry to go on about this cork but it even has an embossed Kilchoman emblem on its top. How cool is that?


I love the original bottle shape which sets it apart from the other Islay whiskies. The yellow and blue colour scheme of the box is very tasteful with an embossed map of Islay in the background. The barley coloured box with royal blue lettering includes a smattering of gold letters as well. The gold leaf effect is not overdone. I think they've got it just right. Any more and it would have looked "kitch".

The information on the label is very informative and clear. The first things I look for on a label are information about filtering, colouring and alcohol strength and of course, an age statement. If I'm really lucky, they might tell me which casks the whisky has been matured in.

The Kilchoman tells me that this expression is bottled at 50% abv, it is Non Chilled Filtered and Natural colour. The back text tells you that it has been matured for "over 5 years" in "a combination of Fresh and Refill American Bourbon barrels". A Perfect start.


Smelling and Tasting Notes:
Friday night, I poured everyone at the Shabbos table a glass of Kilchoman. I was using the lovely Bruichladdich stemmed glass I got as a present when we went for the Bruichladdich tasting experience. I actually prefer this to the standard Glencairn glass.
I added a few drops of water and left it for a few minutes to settle down.
Initial impressions: Clean/pure/natural fresh, slightly soaked malted roasted barley (have you heard of Horlicks Malt drink?) and fresh gentle earthy peat smoke on the nose. Clear notes of citrus and sweet lime with a barley smell of peaty creamy porridge, seasoned with sea salt (not sugar). There was a definite presents of seasoned wood and cardamom spice. Think of freshly made Scottish creamy porridge in a natural wood, unvarnished wooden bowl.



Initial tasting brings "melt in the mouth" English Digestive biscuits which transform into slightly under ripe banana homemade shortcake butter fingers. I say "homemade" because whenever we try  a recipe for the first time, we always halve the stated sugar. In other words, this has the mouth texture of shortcake without the sugary sweetness.

After the earthy peat smoke has made "his" dramatic appearance it retires to the back somewhat to graciously allow its co-star, the delicate floral fruity nature of the whisky to take centre stage.

Delicious notes of citrusy glazed lime peel come through, followed by Yorkshire Tea with full fat milk, vanilla custard and lemon and banana meringue pie filling with a touch of sea-salt crystals.


 

The Finish leaves you with a satisfying long malty polished wood (think of a new mahogany dining room table in a furniture shop), soft heather honey, roasted citrus and banana on a barbeque with a generous sprinkling of a variety of dry spices.





I hope to give you a review of the (also) young 5 year old Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 Peat Monster which at a whopping 167 ppm (yes, you read that right!), is such a lot of fun and surprisingly fruity after getting past all that peat. Bruichladdich is also close neighbours with Kilchoman, with Octomore farm just down the road from Rockside farm. The "100% Islay 5th Limited Edition" however, is still a more than respectable 25-30 ppm peat experience (that's similar figures to the Laphroaig 10) and is much more complex and balanced than the Octomore.

I cannot believe the complexity that just 5 years of maturation can produce. These casks are obviously of the highest quality. This bottle of whisky is perhaps the most powerful argument I can think of against the increasing trend of NAS (No Age Statement) expressions. Here is a young whisky proudly and unashamedly stating 5 years on the bottle and showing maturity well beyond its years. So what that a distillery does not have sufficient stock to bottle a 10 Year Old this year! Bottle at 8 Years and state it on the bottle. If they have used quality casks then they have nothing to worry about.

Now I have had a chance to get to know this whisky in the comfort of my own home, away from the atmosphere of the distillery where you can get caught up in the moment, only to be disappointed when drinking at home, I can say that at the moment, this is my favourite whisky, supplanting my previous all time favourite of the Caol Ila Cask Strength. I actually went out and bought another bottle within the same month just to have one in reserve. I have never done that before.

Conclusion:
So, does all this love, care and attention at Kilchoman translate into a high quality final product? You bet it does! For me, it has everything. Smoky salty peat, fruity taste, creamy barley, long lasting finish, and all balanced to perfection. This is one of the finest whiskies I have ever tasted. 

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