Upstart farm distillery Kilchoman has added a new single malt to its permanent portfolio, next to one of my favorites, Machir Bay. Kilchoman specializes in pristine craft peated malt that is remarkable for being excellent at a young age – like 3 or 4 years young. Like Machir Bay, this is partially sherry-aged. In Sanaig’s case, it’s an extra 10 months of aging in oloroso sherry casks. The marketing materials describe it as being “predominantly” aged in sherry, which is unlikely. More likely, they mean the vatting is “predominantly” oloroso-finished casks, with the remainder being ex-bourbon. That’s just my guess.
Sanaig, named after some inlet or other geographical feature near the distillery (seriously, does anyone really care about this stuff anymore?) is bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration or added color, a classical craft presentation.
Thanks as always to ImpEx for the sample, thus saving me from having to cram yet another full-sized bottle on my shelf.
Nose: Black pepper, charcoal, strong woodsy peat. Deeper in, there are persistent notes of chalk, lime peel, ozone and seltzer. Initially, I had trouble identifying any sherry notes at all. After a rest in the glass, there are some jammy berry flavors.
Palate: Thin body. Not too much tongue burn. Elegant, with wisps of campfire smoke, fresh-cracked grains, and refined sugar. Again, it took a few tries to identify the sherry character, which is similar to the aroma.
Finish: Long. Bordering on savory, like fire-charred seafood with a spritz of lime juice. Dried berries, cocoa powder. Ends with dry peat and mouth-drying oak tannins.
With Water: A few drops of water initially dampen the aroma, but give it a few minutes and there’s kefir lime and shortbread cookies. The finish also becomes more sparkling and is slightly tart.
Overall: An elegant, if straightforward peated malt with an odd sense of sherry being totally in the background. It’s not quite as exciting to me as the Machir Bay was, with its balance of aloof Kilchoman peat and vibrant fruit-forward sherry. Here we have a peated malt as if washed of all its impurities and given a few drops of tincture-of-sherry extract. It smells like clean laundry with a background of scrubbed peat smoke from a molecular gastronomy lab, and tastes like fresh mineral water with freshly-cracked grains dabbed with berry coulis. For my money, I prefer Machir Bay, although I have a feeling that a full bottle of this would grow on me. If you already like Kilchoman, this is a Recommended. If not, try the Machir Bay first. Especially because the Machir Bay is $15 cheaper.