*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
The word “terroir”, liberally tossed around with reckless abandon by the wine world, is a more nebulous and even dubious term when occasionally tossed around by marketers in the whisk(e)y world. A loose definition of the word could be “a sense of place”, more specifically it refers to the effects that local climate and geography have on the wine, tea, coffee, etc. that is produced there. Whisk(e)y, especially Scotch, often defines itself and even prides itself on the regions in which it is produced, but how much “terroir” is actually involved is a bit harder to pin down. For example, most Scotch distilleries use a local water source but very, very rarely do they use local barley and malt the grain on site. In some cases, the malt is produced hundreds of miles away from the distillery…not a lot of terroir there, you see. Distilleries also claim that the location of their warehouses influence the final product, especially when they’re in a more coastal locale. While it’s difficult to prove how much influence the maturation location has, it’s nice to imagine that a coastal whisky is going to have more brine or “sea-influence” than its landlocked brethren. However, the whisky business being a fairly big one and most distilleries being owned by large corporations, it’s become much more cost-effective to mature whisky in large central locations, well away from the whisky’s point of origin. So, while the spirit might have been produced at that romantic location on the coast and marketers make good use of that location in their advertising, a good portion of the whisky can be aging miles away in a large industrial warehouse complex visible from space…again, not a lot of terroir in that.
This isn’t a slam against the whisky industry…well, maybe a little, but my point isn’t to run down the industry, just to point out that while a distillery’s location certainly has some effect on the final product, it’s difficult to claim any amount of terroir when so much of the process happens elsewhere. In direct contrast to this is Kilchoman’s Inaugural 100% Islay. This is perhaps the only whisky I can think of in recent times that was made completely, grain to bottle, there at the distillery. The barley came from Kilchoman’s own farm, was malted at their own floor maltings, was wort-ed and washed in their own tuns, was distilled in their own stills, matured in their own warehouse, and bottled there on the premises. So…like they say, 100% Islay, a fantastic achievement that Kilchoman should be very proud of. That said, with the idea of “terroir” in mind, does this whisky taste more “Islay” than other Islay whiskies that have parts of the production carried out off-isle? I would have to say no, but for me that does not lessen the achievement at all. In this day and age of mass production and production compromises just for the sake of efficiency and profit, it’s refreshing, somewhat relieving, and even a little inspiring all at the same time that a whisky like this can be produced.
The Nose: Early notes of pears in syrup, lemon curd and dry, ashy peat smoke are joined by under-ripe pear notes and more pungent, oily peat. While the peat isn’t very “big”, it is very present. Lesser notes of tobacco leaf, vanilla bean and, though it took me a while to realize it, a nice chocolate phosphate. A lemony sweetness hovers over it all. A little water plays up the smoke and peat more but cuts away a bit of the sweet citrus.
The Palate: Tinned pears and sweet lemon are joined by a nice chocolate-nut spread maltiness (Nutella, anyone?), which is in turn joined by the dry, slightly woody, ashy peat and smoke. Towards the end just a bit of tannic spicy wood emerges with a bit of pepper and ginger. The palate has a remarkable consistency, that sweet citrusy quality rolls along throughout, being joined along the way by the peat, smoke and wood. Adding a little water, like with the nose, brings out more smoke and peat, cuts that pleasant sweetness and surprisingly adds more of the youthful brashness that I was expecting without it.
The Finish: Sweet citrus, dry ashy peat smoke, vanilla bean, a bit of white pepper and an even smaller kiss of pickled ginger as it fades away.
Thoughts: I’m a fan, I continue to be impressed by this distillery. I’ve thought highly of the four previous release I’ve tried from them and I think very highly of this one as well. In some ways, though, this was the simplest, or perhaps most pure, of the four. It lacked a bit of the complexity I found in the ones that touched a bit of sherry oak, but it also somehow avoided some of the subtle youthful harshness of the others. A remarkably tasty, consistent malt with the flavor profile carrying through the entire dram, adding layers as it goes. I’m very excited to see this kind of release on the shelves and doubly excited that it’s this good. Definitely recommended.