Kilchoman Distillery: A Farm-to-Glass Experience on the Isle of Islay
Nestled in the heart of Islay's picturesque countryside, Kilchoman is one of the youngest distilleries on Islay. But, it has quickly earned a reputation for producing exceptional whiskies that showcase the island's terroir and craftsmanship. In this article, we'll delve into the brief history of Kilchoman Distillery, explore its unique farm-to-glass approach, and summarise its range of excellent whiskies.
Kilchoman Distillery, founded in 2005, is one of the newest addition to Islay's whisky landscape. Despite its youth, Kilchoman has already made a name for itself. It is producing exceptional whiskies that embrace Islay's rich heritage while carving out a unique identity. Here's a quick canter through Kilchoman's brief but bright history.
Establishing a New Distillery on Islay (2005)
Kilchoman Distillery was founded by Anthony Wills, a whisky enthusiast with a vision to create a small-scale, farm-based distillery on Islay. His goal was to produce high-quality, hand-crafted whiskies that showcased the best of Islay's terroir. The distillery was built on the western side of the island, near the village of Kilchoman, and is surrounded by the beautiful Machir Bay.
Kilchoman is unique among Islay distilleries, as it is the first new distillery on the island in over 124 years. Despite the challenges of establishing a new distillery in a region with such a storied whisky history, Kilchoman has quickly gained recognition for its innovative approach to whisky making.
Farm to Bottle: A Unique Approach to Whisky Production
Kilchoman Distillery embraces a "farm-to-bottle" philosophy, which sets it apart from other distilleries on Islay. The distillery grows its own barley on the adjacent fields, operates its own floor maltings, and sources water from a nearby spring. This emphasis on local ingredients and self-sufficiency is a testament to Kilchoman's commitment to quality and sustainability.
Kilchoman's first spirit ran from the stills in 2005, and the distillery released its inaugural whisky, the Kilchoman Inaugural Release, in 2009. This young whisky, aged for just over three years, received widespread acclaim for its complexity and depth of flavour, showcasing the potential of Kilchoman's approach to whisky making.
Expanding the Kilchoman Collection
As the distillery has matured, so too has its range of whiskies. Kilchoman's core range now includes the Machir Bay, Sanaig, and Loch Gorm expressions, which highlight the distillery's signature balance of peat, fruit, and maritime influence. The distillery also produces limited edition whiskies, such as the annual 100% Islay release, which is made entirely from barley grown on the distillery's farm and represents the epitome of Kilchoman's farm-to-bottle philosophy.
Kilchoman has also experimented with various cask types for maturation, including ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-wine casks. These experiments have resulted in unique and intriguing limited-edition releases that showcase the distillery's creativity and versatility.
A Bright Future for Kilchoman Distillery
Despite its relatively short history, Kilchoman Distillery has made a significant impact on Islay's whisky scene. With a focus on quality, innovation, and sustainability, Kilchoman has proven that it is possible to create exceptional whiskies that both honour and challenge Islay's rich traditions.
The distillery continues to grow and evolve, with plans to expand its production capacity and develop new expressions. As Kilchoman Distillery looks to the future, it remains committed to its founding principles, ensuring that the distillery's unique character and exceptional whiskies continue.
Kilchoman Distillery: A Farm-to-Glass Process
Kilchoman Distillery has quickly gained a reputation for its innovative approach to whisky making. By embracing a farm-to-bottle philosophy and using locally-sourced ingredients, Kilchoman creates whiskies that showcase the island's unique terroir.
Barley and Malting
One of the key factors that distinguish Kilchoman Distillery is its commitment to using locally-grown barley. The distillery grows its own barley on the adjacent fields and sources additional barley from nearby farms on Islay. Kilchoman's annual 100% Islay release is made exclusively from barley grown on the distillery's farm.
Kilchoman operates its own floor maltings, a rarity in the Scotch whisky industry. The barley is steeped in water, spread out on the malting floors, and turned regularly by hand. The germinating barley is then dried over a peat fire, which imparts Kilchoman's signature peaty character to the malt.
Milling and Mashing
Once malted, the barley is milled into grist, a mixture of husks, grits, and flour. The grist is mixed with hot water in Kilchoman's semi-lauter mash tun to extract the sugars from the grains. The sugary liquid, called wort, is drained from the mash tun and cooled before it's ready for fermentation.
The wort is transferred to stainless steel washbacks, where it's mixed with yeast to begin fermentation. Fermentation at Kilchoman typically lasts for approximately 96 hours, which is longer than many other distilleries. This extended fermentation process helps develop the fruity and floral notes in the whisky.
Kilchoman Distillery uses two copper pot stills – one wash still and one spirit still – to distil its whisky. The stills feature a traditional onion shape and have a relatively small capacity, which contributes to the concentrated, intense character of the final spirit. The wash is distilled twice: first in the wash still and then in the spirit still. The distillation process captures the heart of the spirit, which is collected and prepared for maturation.
Kilchoman whiskies are matured in a variety of cask types, including ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-wine casks. The distillery sources its casks from renowned cooperages and wineries, ensuring that the wood imparts unique and complementary flavours to the whisky. Kilchoman's maturation warehouses are situated near the distillery, allowing the whiskies to benefit from the island's maritime climate.
Kilchoman is committed to preserving the natural character of its whiskies. The distillery does not chill-filter or add artificial colouring to its products, ensuring that the whisky's flavours and aromas remain unaltered. Most Kilchoman whiskies are bottled at 46%, although some limited editions and cask strength releases feature higher ABVs.
Kilchoman's Whisky Range: A Celebration of Islay's Terroir
Kilchoman's whiskies are renowned for their distinctive character, which combines the island's signature peat smoke with a fresh, vibrant profile. The distillery's core range of whiskies showcases the depth and diversity of its spirit, offering a selection of expressions that cater to a variety of palates:
- Kilchoman Machir Bay: Named after the nearby beach, Machir Bay is the flagship expression of the distillery. Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, this whisky offers a harmonious balance of peat smoke, citrus, and vanilla notes.
- Kilchoman Sanaig: Sanaig, which takes its name from a rocky inlet near the distillery, is a sherry-forward expression that is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. This whisky boasts a rich, fruity profile with notes of dark chocolate, raisins, and a hint of peat smoke.
- Kilchoman Loch Gorm: An annual limited-edition release, Loch Gorm is matured exclusively in ex-sherry casks, resulting in a complex, full-bodied whisky with flavors of dried fruit, leather, and spices, underscored by the distillery's signature peat smoke.
- Kilchoman 100% Islay: A testament to Kilchoman's farm-to-glass philosophy, 100% Islay is produced using barley grown and malted on-site at the distillery. This lightly peated expression offers a fresh, fruity profile with notes of citrus, vanilla, and a subtle hint of smoke.
In addition to its core range, Kilchoman also produces limited-edition expressions and participates in the annual Islay Festival, during which the distillery releases exclusive bottlings to celebrate the island's whisky heritage. These special releases often feature unique cask finishes, maturation techniques, or rare combinations of flavours that showcase the versatility of Kilchoman's spirit.
Kilchoman and Independent Whisky Bottlers: A Creative Exploration of the Distillery's Spirit
Kilchoman's collaborations with independent whisky bottlers have resulted in a diverse array of expressions that offer whisky enthusiasts the opportunity to experience the distillery's spirit from a different perspective. These unique bottlings often feature distinctive cask finishes, age statements, or innovative combinations of flavors that highlight the versatility and quality of Kilchoman's whisky.
Independent bottlers play a vital role in the whisky industry, offering connoisseurs and collectors the chance to explore whiskies that may not be available as part of a distillery's core range. These collaborations between Kilchoman and independent bottlers have led to the creation of some truly remarkable whiskies that showcase the distillery's commitment to innovation and craftsmanship.
Visiting Kilchoman Distillery
A visit to Islay would be incomplete without a visit to Kilchoman Distillery. The distillery offers guided tours that cater to different interests and levels of whisky knowledge, providing visitors with a comprehensive and engaging experience of Kilchoman's history, production process, and exceptional whiskies. Don't miss the opportunity to explore the distillery's stunning surroundings, including the picturesque Rockside Farm, the beautiful Machir Bay, and the rugged coastline that has shaped the character of Kilchoman's whiskies.
Make sure you try Kilchoman's whiskies
Kilchoman Distillery stands as a shining example of Islay's enduring whisky-making traditions and its innovative spirit. With its unique farm-to-glass approach, a commitment to quality, and a range of outstanding whiskies, Kilchoman has quickly established itself as a leading player in the world of Islay whisky. Whether you are a seasoned Kilchoman aficionado or a newcomer to the island's whiskies, there is always something new and exciting to discover within the depths of Kilchoman's enchanting spirit. So pour a dram, and let the distinctive flavours of Kilchoman whisk you away on a journey to the heart of Islay's countryside.