Kilchoman is both an exciting new trend in craft whisky, and a fundraising PR stunt on a massive scale. Call me cynical, but I don’t personally appreciate being asked to pay unreal prices – arguably a form of charity in this case – to support the future production of quality whisky. This sentiment may make me unpopular with other whisky writers (who seem to unilaterally sing the praises of the new distillery’s super-young products), but I just don’t think the young peated malt is good enough to command these prices.
The very valid arguments in favor of Kilchoman’s capitalization strategy are that by selling young whisky and high prices, they are supporting the distillation and aging of much better products for everyone to enjoy in the future. In addition, the seasonally-released malts have become collectors’ items and will no doubt grace auction halls for years to come.
Don’t get me wrong. The 3 year-old malt I got to try at K&L a few weeks ago showed massive promise and a very clear, crisp, and tasty style. There’s no doubt in my mind that this whisky will be explosive when it reaches 8 or 10 years old. But $60 a bottle? For that I can get a complex, established, mature Islay like Lagavulin 16 (well, almost) or Laphroaig Quater-Cask. Maybe I’m lacking an altruistic gene, but there’s something about the overt (if well-intentioned) money-grab that leaves a bad taste in my mouth… and it isn’t peat.
On the upside for those willing to shell out the dough (or wait like the rest of us), we’re looking at a craft presentation (46% ABV, unchilfiltered, and no color added) peated malt from a distillery that grows AND malts its own barley. With responsible farming, expert whiskymaking, careful maturation, and an ongoing worldwide craze for anything Islay, I’d say that Kilchoman has a bright future.
The Spring 2011 release that I tried is a vatting of 3 and 4 year-old whisky aged in first-fill bourbon casks, plus a partial finishing (only 5 weeks) in oloroso sherry butts (making it “officially” 3 years old). Peated to a whopping 50 PPM.
Nose: Blast of salty peat, smoked pork and lemongrass. Not heavy on the smoke, but more earthy and bright and slightly vegetal. Pleasant and bracing.
Palate: Light body, but relatively smooth on the tongue. More waves of bright young, vibrant peat. Mossy and dusty. No fruit that I can detect.
Finish: Long, continuing the bright peat, which turns lemony, then herbal lozenge. Not even a touch of bitterness. Very nice.
Overall: This shows a LOT of promise, but it’s only really promise at this point. If this were a finished NAS product, I’d price it around $40 a bottle on the competitive Islay market. As it is, though, it’s more of a showpiece or a collector’s item than a drinkable bottle. At around $60 a bottle, you should only pay this price if you’re a diehard Islay fan, a collector, or consider supporting new distilleries a form of charity. I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting the first 10 year-old official bottling… in 2016.