*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Ah, 2007. It was only seven years ago, but in the whisky world, it seems a lifetime ago. Back then, there were a great many quality single malts still hovering around the $30 mark, and if you wanted to get kind of fancy, there were quite a few whiskies under $100 that were around 20 years old. Bourbon was ridiculously cheap, it was a little shocking to see a bottle priced over $40, and rye…well, there were rumblings of its comeback but in a retail sense it was still hanging on for grim death. There were only a handful of “craft distillery” offerings, being then more or less just curiosities. I remember seeing the names Van Winkle and Stagg on bottles that were reasonably priced and actually sitting on liquor store shelves. The most expensive bottles in the world were priced in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands. There were very few whisky blogs pedaling their smut. The whisky community in general was much smaller, and pleasantly enough, there were far, far fewer whisky aficionados constantly bitching about prices and then posting crappy pictures of their huge collections on various and sundry social media sites. Sigh…the romance and quaintness of a bygone era. As Thomas Wolfe said (thanks to Ella Winter), “You can’t go home again.”
In 2007, Islay’s newest distillery, Kilchoman, had been running spirit for only two years. While there were sporadic releases of new make and barely-aged stuff before, the first actual whisky, a three year old, was released in 2009. Since that time there have been many seasonal releases, single cask releases, and even a few independently bottle expressions, but it’s really only been in the last two years that the distillery has started to solidify their core line-up. To mark these periods of maturity, Kilchoman has now offered two “vintage” expressions, the first being the five-year-old 2006 Vintage, and the most recent, this six year old 2007 Vintage. Aged entirely in fresh, new American oak barrels, this is the oldest release yet for this successful young distillery.
The Nose: I feel like I say this about Kilchomans often, but…briney, savory peat and ashy woodsmoke wrapped in a caramelized, subtly citrus-y sweetness. Lots of bonfire at the beach notes; wet driftwood and ocean sand, dry woodsmoke. The sweetness comes via smoked sea-salt caramels, lemon meringue, and poached pears. Quite a bit of vanilla, relatively speaking, both vanilla bean and french vanilla ice cream. There’s definitely a bit of sweet-savory BBQ as well with hints of earthy clove and even a bit of eucalyptus tucked in the background.
The Palate: Nice, slightly creamy entry with more citrus – Meyer lemon and tangerine – and burnt toffee sweetness. Progresses leisurely into nutty, slightly salty orgeat syrup notes, and then the carbolic sea-side peat and that same, dry, slightly ashy woodsmoke. A nice bloom of herbal spice towards the end, candied ginger, drying clove, vanilla bean, white pepper.
The Finish: Long and lingering, with all the main elements drifting off nicely, lemon curd, vanilla, brine-y savory peat, ashy smoke and subtle earthy spice.
Thoughts: It seems that each review of a Kilchoman release, I say that it’s the most ___ yet from this young distillery. Well, I’m not going to stop now, so you’ll just have to start paying more attention the dates. So once again, at least until the next one comes out, I think this is probably the most fully realized and integrated release yet from this young distillery. There’s certainly a lot of distillery character here and at the same time, the spirit has made good use of the fresh oak to smooth some of the rough edges away. While I don’t necessarily dislike it, one of my least favorite aspects of many Kilchomans is that youthful ashiness. The 2007 Vintage has a bit of that ashiness, but it’s much more rounded and integrated here. I think the fresh oak has traded some of the previously-found fruit sweetness for more of a vanilla caramel sweetness, but it’s a good trade-off. Extremely well-made stuff that represents the distillery beautifully. Highly Recommended.