*Thanks to SF and all the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
The PX in this Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Finish stands for Pedro Ximénez, which is a type of grape used to produce the wonderful, dark, viscous, sticky-sweet sherry by the same name. The Pedro Ximénez (pronounced PEHD-roh hee-MEH-nehth) grape seems to have its roots in Southern Spain, having been grown there since the early 1600’s, and can trace its ancestry back to a table grape from Arabia named Gibi. If you’re anything like me, the most pressing question on your mind at this very moment is, “who was Pedro Ximénez?” Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a very clear answer. There are stories of a grape vine-bearing person – a bishop named Ximenès, or a soldier named Pedro Ximen, or even a Dutch or German guy named Pieter Siemens – bringing the varietal to Spain, but seemingly all of these don’t hold up under much scrutiny. And since I don’t have much time for this kind of scrutiny right now, the identity, or lack thereof, of the person responsible for this particular grape will just have to wait for another time.
Instead, how about a few fascinating words about the sherry named Pedro Ximénez? As I mentioned before, PX sherry is incredibly sweet stuff. The main grape used in most sherry varieties, the Palamino Fino is harvested when the sugar levels reach around 11-12.5%. In contrast, Pedro Ximenèz grapes are harvested with around 13.5-14.5%. And it doesn’t stop there. After harvesting, PX grapes are dried in the sun, turning them raisin-like and concentrating the sugars even more. In her excellent book, Sherry, author Talia Baiocchi states that Pedro Ximenèx sherries can reach over 450 grams of residual sugar, almost twice as sweet as Aunt Jemima syrup, and more than twice as sweet as most other dessert wines out there. Most PX sherry is aged in the Solera process, where a system of batching and re-filling casks as they are partially emptied provides producers with a way to maintain very consistent quality. Unlike most other sherries, PX actually loses alcohol during maturation. The weight and sugar content are less easily absorbed by the oak, and therefore the alcohol evaporates faster than the water does. This is significant because it means that to meet regulations, PX often needs to have more fortification to reach the minimum requirement of 15% alcohol.
With all that in mind, how does a PX cask affect a whisky? Well, obviously a layer of sweetness will be added, but there may also be a relatively greater influence from the wood itself. Since PX doesn’t penetrate as deeply, perhaps there is more “active” wood available to influence the spirit compared to other ex-wine casks. The Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Finish, Impex Single Cask #680 was initially aged for four years in an ex-bourbon cask before being finished in a PX cask for four months. This particular expression, cask #680, was distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2015 as an exclusive for Kilchoman’s U.S. importer and distributor, Impex Beverages.
The Nose: Surprisingly lighthearted, I was expecting a darker sweet-smoky challenge. There’s complex fruit notes of apple cider, tangerine juice, brandied cherries…maybe raisins, too, and a hint of himbeersaft, that raspberry syrup I’d pour over ice cream as a kid. The peat is present throughout but is lightly phenolic, not overly strong, and a little brine-y with green-ish woodsmoke. The spice from the wood is subdued and a little fruitcake-y; vanilla, cinnamon, and faint touches of clove and star anise. Adding a little water brings out more raisin-y notes and amplifies the wood and spice but quiets the complex fruit and the peat.
The Palate: Uh, whoa. A surprising but pleasant jumble of flavors. The fruit notes are front and center initially with vibrant citrus notes of juicy orange and lemon curd, and bruised apples and baked berries. Hints of fruit-infused chocolate and a little marzipan make a brief appearance before being submerged by the peat and smoke. Along with some hot cinnamon, ground black pepper and raw ginger, there are some sharp, oaky tannins here. Couple all that with the slightly ashy peat smoke and things get a little rough towards the end. The addition of water really helps settle the palate down. Some of the fruity complexity disappears, but water gives things a bit more room to breathe and takes the edge off the wood and peat.
The Finish: Slightly odd in that it’s shortish with simple sugars and vanilla, and then longish with its smoky, ashy peat, hot cinnamon, and peppery oak tannins.
Thoughts: Interesting, slightly challenging, slightly disjointed, and mostly satisfying. The PX influence is light but obvious as it adds a layer of fruit and subtle spice. At times though, it does feel like it’s influence is just laid over the top of everything. At strength, the nose was very, very nice, but the palate moved a bit too quickly to its sharper youthful demise. Water helped to integrate everything more, but it seemed a little bit of the PX complexity was lost. Still, like I said, an interesting, enjoyable Kilchoman, perhaps not a good starting point, but certainly something of interest for fans of the distillery.
- Baiocchi, Talia. “Wines of The Sherry Spectrum.” Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2014. 64-65. Print.
- “Pedro Ximénez.” SherryNotes. N.p., 2015. Web. Oct. 2016.
- Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, and Jose Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, including Their Origins and Flavours. New York: Ecco, 2012. Print.