So it seems that back in the good ol’ days, if you consider the good ol’ days to be right around 1600 A.D., there was a little dust-up between Clan MacDonald and Clan Maclean… Islay’s answer to the Hatfields and McCoys, if you will. The MacDonald chiefs had been the Lords of the Isles, Islay in particular, for nearly 200 years, but the bigwigs of Clan Maclean felt they had a reasonable claim to the title after cleverly marrying into Clan MacDonald. After failing to get their point across in peaceful fashion, they decided the only way to make things right was by good ol’ fashioned warfare.
Now, I’m no great student of history, but it seems to me that when two sides decide to go to war, it generally goes pretty shitty for at least one of them. The Battle of Traigh Ruineard on Islay was no different, the MacLeans got their butts handed to them, despite having superior numbers, and lost their chief, the tall-ish Sir Lachlan Mor MacLean, in the process. Ol’ Lachlan’s part in the battle is perhaps the most compelling bit of the whole story. It seems he’d been warned by an all-seeing wise-woman to steer clear of the fracas, yet insisted on going, disregarding the many pointers she’d given to help keep him upright. Incredibly enough, at some point a darkly complected, hirsute dwarf named Dubh Sith had offered his services to MacLean who apparently had something against people of smaller stature, being somewhat of a height elitist, and rudely turned the little guy down. Dubh Sith was not a choosy man, but he did seem to hold a grudge, so he then offered his services to the MacDonald chief, who gladly took him on, not knowing about his somewhat unsporting tendencies. Later, with the heat of the battle leaving him understandably parched, MacLean went to get himself a drink from a well and was shot in the back by Dubh Sith. Like I said, a little unsporting, but I suppose all’s fair in love and war, especially if you’re a darkly complected, hirsute dwarf named Dubh Sith. The whole episode is a rather fantastical bit of lore, and it’s well worth reading a much better account than my snarky, barely accurate rambling.
I mention all of this not only because the last big battle between these two clans happened fairly close to where the Kilchoman Distillery stands today, Sir Lachlan was buried in the churchyard of Kilchoman as well. Instead of feuding clans and sneaky, hairy, sharpshooters roaming the shores of Loch Gorm, we now have Islay’s newest distillery that continues to release its young, remarkable malt to increasing fanfare. The Spring 2011 is their sixth release and made up of 30% four year old and 70% three year old malts, both matured in first-fill bourbon barrels. Interestingly, the four year old has spent an additional 5 weeks in Oloroso sherry butts…
The Nose: Right upfront, full-bodied, complex peat; lightly medicinal, smooth green wood smoke, wet, briney, limestone…yet everything has a lush sweetness to it. Behind the peat, stewed raisins, nice notes of pears in syrup, cola, burnt toffee, and subtle vanilla fudge (not the band, c’mon, sheeeesh!).
The Palate: A somewhat sweet, peat-tainted dark chocolate, malty attack runs quickly into some very clove-y, coarse vanilla bean, lightly drying spiciness. The expected big, peaty swell has some of that characteristic ashy-ness, but it’s softened compared to the other releases, the peat is less rough as well, less medicinal, more rounded brine and wood smoke. Like the nose, there’s a faint wine-y sweetness that hovers over everything here, softening things just a little but and adding a nice, subtle counterpoint to the big, pungent, youthful peat.
The Finish: Spicy, smokey, peaty, slightly ashy and lingering with continued raisiny sweetness.
Thoughts: This may be the most reserved (relative speaking, of course…this is still fairly brash and young) and self-assured yet of all the Kilchoman releases I’ve tried. I wouldn’t have thought that just a few weeks finished in sherry cask would make that much difference, but it really seems to have smoothed out some of the rougher edges a little and added a layer of sweet complexity. Once again, impressive, mature beyond its years stuff from Kilchoman, definitely recommended.