I know I just reviewed a Kirkland malt recently, but this one caught my eye and I wanted to get a review up in case anyone is standing – right this moment – in a Costco looking, puzzled, at this very label and wondering whether they should buy it.
Getting the easy stuff out of the way: This is a single malt scotch whisky, from a single distillery on the island of Islay in Scotland. It is heavily peated like other Islay stalwarts (Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, etc.) and should not be considered unless you know you’re ready for a face-full of smoke and weird brine flavors in your whisky. It is bottled at the impressive strength of 50% ABV (100 proof), which is higher than it “needs” to be – most of Kirkland’s single malts have been 43%, so it’s got a bit more octane in the tank. There is no age statement on the bottle, which generally suggests it is under 10 years of age. It could be, legally, 3 years or older but after tasting it I’d say it’s probably in the 6-8 year zone.
It, like all of the other Kirkland scotches, is bottled by independent bottler Alexander Murray using casks from an undisclosed distillery. Theories on which distillery abound, but Alexander Murray is very good at keeping that particular type of secret. The Internet seems split between thinking this is a Caol Ila (a common source for independent bottlers) or a Port Charlotte (made by Bruichladdich distllery). I don’t have a guess – it could be either of those, or even something like Bowmore.
Like all Kirkland malts there’s no telling when they’ll sell out of this particular batch or whether they’ll bottle a second batch. If they do, it could be from a different distillery or be in some other way different. The shelf at my local Costco was nearly cleared out, so I may already be too late and this might already be sold out everywhere. Happens a lot.
Lastly, is it any good?
Nose: Heavy peat, distinctly “campfire” (as opposed to briny) in nature. There are, however, some maritime elements that identify this as an Islay malt. Robust aroma, but with a reasonable nose tickle. Notes are basic Islay: woodsmoke, ashy peat, faint sea spray, mild vanilla malt. There’s nothing extra, but also nothing missing.
Palate: Medium body. Peaty and a little bitter upfront, with an expected level of tongue burn for 50% ABV. Then barbecue sauce, smoked oysters, and charcoal.
Finish: Long, and warming. The peat develops more ash, almost to the point of cigarette butts, and lingers as long as you expect a peated malt to linger. It fades slowly, without evolving.
With Water: A small splash of water has no apparent effect on the aroma. The palate might be a touch sweeter, with more of that “barbecue sauce” note, verging now on teriyaki. The same continues through the finish. Water here is pleasant, but not required. Feel free to proof it down a little, if the 50% ABV is a little too hot.
Overall: What is exceptional about this bottle is not the aroma or the flavor. It’s a very middle-of-the-road Islay malt with familiar characteristics and no unexpected twists. What is unexpected, though, is the price. This drinks like a typical $50+ Islay single malt at 10+ years of age, but is doubtless younger and costs only $36. It’s not better than Islay heavy-hitters like Laphroaig 10 or Lagavulin 16, or anything from Ardbeg… but it is cheaper than all of them, and you give up very little in the exchange.
I very much appreciate the 50% ABV – you get a little extra oomph for no extra money, and the additional concentration over the more-typical 40% ABV or even 43% ABV helps keep this one out of the “smoky but bland” bucket.
Also, for the uninitiated, this bottle could be an easy way to try out a peated malt without going the other “value” route and getting the extra overhead of medicinal/iodine weirdness from a Laphroaig or even Finlaggan at Trader Joe’s.
Alas, like all Kirkland bottlings this one is not long for this world and when it sells out, it’s a coin flip whether it will ever be replaced by a subsequent edition (and a coin flip whether it will be as good). If you see it on the shelf and “value peated malt” is a category that interests you, this is worth picking up.