Kilchoman Machir Bay

Kilchoman. I was skeptical. After a year of overpriced, underaged malt that I referred to as “new distillery charity”, my local champion of all things Kilchoman (David D. at K&L) managed to sell out an entire shipment of Machir Bay, Kilchoman’s new NAS and first “permanent” bottling… in one day. OK, I thought, maybe there’s something to this Kilchoman business. I took the plunge and bought a bottle of Machir Bay when David got his second shipment. He was kind enough to also let me sample some of the newly-arrived K&L Exclusive 5 year-old Kilchoman single-cask (from a Sherry butt). According to the distillery, Machir Bay is a vatting of 3-, 4- and 5 year-old peated malt (aged in ex-bourbon) which has finished for just 8 weeks in sherry butts. In accordance with Kilchoman’s craft attitudes, Machir Bay is bottled at 46% ABV, without coloring or chill-filtration. Score one for the little guys – this stuff is exactly as good as it was cracked up to be, and totally worth the $54 price tag (at last!).

Color: Very light straw.

Nose: The first impression is of unmistakably Islay peat and white chocolate. Faint florals -lavender?- twine with the lemony, slightly acidic peat. Not particularly smoky or earthy, but ethereal and vegetal. Like a pile of freshly-mown hay and flowers just starting to smoulder. The heat of its 46% ABV is detectable, but not offensive. Decidedly subtle, for a fully peated malt. After a rest in the glass, I can detect juicy peach, which might come from the ever-so-brief sherry finish.

Palate: Thin body. Lemon in waves upfront, with a background of vanilla frosting. After the slight (very slight!) burn subsides, there are ample waves of grain (hehehe), a faint layer of fresh strawberries and fruit punch, and a continuous high note of (hay) peat.

Finish: Long. Somehow avoids being bitter, despite all the phenol. A moment of lavender honey, followed by dry bark, lemon peel oil, and spent charcoal.

With Water: A few drops of water cause the peat to begin smoking. Tobacco, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and crushed mint. The palate is much sweeter, with crumbly snickerdoodle cookies, vanilla extract, and banana cream pie. This malt is undeniably improved by the addition of water!

Overall: Subtle and accomplished, if light. The peat is masterfully understated, and plays beautifully with the naturally sweet lemon, honey, and floral elements. Don’t let the ‘light’ moniker distract from the fact that this is very highly peated malt, with far more subtlety than, say, Laphroaig, but a lot more power and sinus-burning peat than Highland Park. It does very much stand alone among the Islay malts, though, being light and playful, but also masterful and persuasive. Very impressive for a malt with an average age significantly under 5 years. I’ve made this a “Must Have” whisky for peat-lovers: you can’t miss the revolution in Islay whiskies, and now you don’t have to pay charity prices for it!

For what it’s worth, K&L’s 5 year-old sherry cask is a different animal entirely. At cask-strength and with a pungent, resinous personality, it’s some big whisky. Candle wax, burning balsamic reduction, dried cranberries and smoggy, industrially earthy peat. It tastes somewhat like elegant, masterful cask-strength Islay peated malt stored in a volatile sherry cask – somehow dark, resinous and fungal, and also acidic and brightly fruity. In places, the sherry overwhelms the peat. This is definitely not mainstream whisky, and its internal contradictions take some analysis to appreciate. For fun, I splashed a bit into my glass of Machir Bay and was rewarded with an elevated level of fruitiness that played very nicely with the peat. There’s a whisky cocktail for you – 3 parts Kilchoman Machir Bay to 1 part K&L Sherry Cask Kilchoman, neat. Too bad K&L’s cask runs $110 a bottle. Too rich for my blood, in more ways than one!

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Kilchoman is the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years. Construction finished in 2005 and the distillery began producing spirit for an Islay-craving world. Unfortunately as is the case with any Scotch distillery, that whisky won’t be able to compete with its peers until it has aged sufficiently. In order to stay in business, Kilchoman began producing very young “preview” bottlings to attract interest, showcase distillery potential, and raise funds. The first, in 2009, was aged 3 years and 3 months. Producing only 100,000 liters annually, the small distillery is attempting to stick to its “craft” roots – growing barley on its own farm (the upcoming “100% Islay” release will contain whisky made exclusively from this barley), using its own floor maltings, and eschewing chill-filtration and the addition of coloring agents. Kilchoman promises to be one of the best craft single malt Scotches when it reaches a competitive age.
Kilchoman Machir Bay
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $54 - $60
Acquired: (Purchased bottle) K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA, $54.

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  • For some reason, I didn’t comment on this when I first read it, but I’m glad to see you’re appreciating Kilchoman now! Machir Bay was my first (and so far, only) foray into their brand, but I really enjoy it. I have yet to try any of the sherry cask releases, although my local store has the 92 proof version for $70. It’s a bit too much for me to spring without tasting it. Several reviewers seem to agree with you that a future version containing both bourbon and sherry aged whisky would be very welcome. I think I would be more apt to purchase such a release blind. We’ll see.

    • I tried this particular scotch in an advent calendar. Your description is accurate. I will simplify it though. This tastes like new make. That is whisky that has just been distilled and hasn’t been aged at all and tastes very grainy, hence the hay flavor. It also has a color very similar to new make which is nearly clear.
      It is unique for sure, but not worth 50 bucks a bottle.

      • Hi Steve! I agree that the hay notes (and several of the other characteristics) are consistent with new-make. The difference, for me, is that most new make (actually all new-make that I’ve tasted, both scotch and bourbon “white dog”) tastes and smells like nail polish remover (acetone), which is an awful spine-shuddering experience. I never find that note in any Kilchoman which is why I continue to recommend them. They are young, yes, and grain-forward, yes, but they are not “raw” in that acetone way. To me, anyway. Cheers!

  • The best whisky out there for the price, IMHO. I have 3 bottles at $51 each and that is with high Illinois liquor taxes. I had the Kilchoman 100% Islay, but at double the price, it didn’t taste doubly as good. If you see a bottle of this, buy it on the spot, because if you are a peat-lover, you won’t be disappointed…not a “slammer” with peat like Ardbeg but you still taste it there balanced by the sweet side.

  • Excellent value Islay whisky. I opened a bottle over the Thanksgiving holiday and sharred a few few drams with friends. The crew liked it.

    I am glad to see the SN picked up on white chocolate as well. I got a quick wiff and it went away.

  • My Costco just stocked 2 cases of Mahir Bay today, $49.99 a bottle. Great deal! Grabbed 2. Check yours before they sell out for the holidays.

  • I finally got to try it and I have to say it is one of the most impressive peated scotch I have tried so far. $54.99 in Colorado (but I have seen the price go up above $60.00 in most stores here as well). It is simply delicious. I love how peat layers with the other flavors and aromas instead of being the only game in town. Fantastic stuff!!!

  • I love this, but my bottle got a bunch of black growth in it. Has anyone ever seen this. I wrote to them, but they haven’t answered. The cork is fine and I don’t think anything got in it. I have a picture I can send.

    • Hi Eric, I’m not sure. I once had a bottle of Springbank that had little black flecks in it. They were bits of charcoal (from the inside of the casks) that had escaped the barrier filtration process, and are perfectly harmless. I can’t say for certain that’s what’s in your bottle… If it’s “growing” on the inside of the glass (above the level of liquid), then it could be mold. If it’s below the level of liquid it’s not alive (nothing can grow in 40% alcohol). If you’re really worried about it, you could take it back to where you bought it and show them and ask for a new bottle.

      • Definitely below the surface. And definitely came out of nowhere. Bottle is half done, so something got into it somehow.

        • I found a conversation on Reddit about a similar thing, and the answer was it is proteins condensing out if the whiskey is not cold filtered and then gets cold at some point. If kilchomen isn’t cold filtered, that could be the answer.

  • Your review : So erm you also knew my girl friend , They had much in common .. I had to wait 40 years for her to mature , then after one night … She was gone … just like the whiskey .

  • Just got a bottle from Costco for $43.99, can’t beat that. I didn’t detect that overwhelming dank peatyness on the nose (like Ardbeg 10)… this was brighter. My initial sip was somewhere between the Laphroaig 10 medicinal quality and the more complex Ardbeg 10 but brighter with butterscotch and peach flavors. After letting it sit for 15 minutes it started to open up, got a little smoother. It’s fruitier (brighter) than the Laphroaig and Ardbeg and has a specific bite to the nice long finish. This is definitely a different dram than the afore mentioned “peat monsters” and I like it. I’m tried it neat as always but I’ll try to add a little water next time as it tastes stronger than the advertised 46%. I drink Corryvrecken and Laphroaig Cask Strength neat so I should be able to handle this. The Port Askaig 110 proof is a little harsh though… This is a little similar to that.