Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Artisan Whisky of the Year”: Kilchoman (Summer 2010 Release)

February 17th, 2011

The Artisan Whisky of the Year recognizes small production distillers making hand-crafted whisky, regardless of where they distill. Sometimes, artisan distillers peacefully coexist with larger, higher production distillers. So it is with Kilchoman, located in a rural farmland setting on Scotland’s famous distilling island, Islay.

Operational only since 2005, the owners of Kilchoman began bottling their peat smoke-infused whisky in small batches shortly after the whisky became legal at three years of age. We were blown away by it. The inaugural release (three years old, 46% ABV), occurred in the fall of 2009, but the first whisky exported to the United States was the Summer 2010 release.

Summer 2010 is this young distillery’s fourth release and it’s aged entirely in bourbon barrels. Previous releases that we have tasted and reviewed (the inaugural release and the Autumn 2009 release) were finished in sherry casks. We miss the sherry, to be honest. It softened the whisky, added a new dimension, and perhaps even masked some of its youth. Still, this is a very nice whisky: brisk, vibrant, and bracing, with plenty of raw peat smoke and tar, along with pear, citrus, vanilla, licorice root, bourbon barrel char, clove, bitter chocolate, and suggestions of olive brine and high- end mezcal.

In addition to the standard Summer 2010 release, there were also two single cask, cask strength bottlings purchased by two specialty retailers. They take everything that is good about the standard release and give it to you “right out of the barrel.” 

If you like smoky whiskies, and you like them youthful, vibrant, and bracing, then Kilchoman is the whisky for you.

Be sure to check back tomorrow. The “American Whiskey of the Year” will be announced here!

58 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Artisan Whisky of the Year”: Kilchoman (Summer 2010 Release)”

  1. Marc says:

    A well deserved win! The guys at Kilchoman are doing great things. This distillery has a long future ahead, and I look forward to it.

  2. George Jetson says:

    Can’t argue with this one. I fully agree about the Binny’s cask strength, haven’t had the Calgary version. I do miss the sherry “roundness” of the inaugural release, but I applaud the distillery for a giving us a glimpse behind the curtain with the bourbon barrel releases. One of these nights, I’ll have to set up a vertical with all of the releases to date and track their progress. I missed out on the new make to use as a baseline.

    • George,

      You should come try the Calgary bottling… Doesn’t need a drop of sherry. Very lush, salty and smoky with creamy vanilla. I will post a sample for John to review when I make my way down to California in March (its difficult getting samples accross the border). Its been a huge hit with our customers up here.


      • George Jetson says:

        Hey Andrew, I was hoping to make it to the great white north for a Flames/Hawks game and stop by the Kensington to score a bottle, but not to be this year… Sounds like your cask is a winner.

        • Perhaps we can arrange a trade? Is the Binny’s bottle still available? I’ll be in the US twice in March, once for the Universal Whisky Show in Las Vegas, and once in Palm Springs to visit my folks. You are in Chicago?

          • George Jetson says:

            Hey Andrew, great idea! Yes the Binny’s CS is still available and I’d love to trade. I am in Chicago. Let’s exchange emails off-line.

  3. B.J. Reed says:

    Great choice – I am truly amazed at the quality of the whisky for its age – We visited the distillery in March of last year and were impressed with with everything about it. The addition of John MacLellan can only strengthen the team at Kilchoman

  4. Brian Bradley (Brian 47126) says:

    Good choice John! it is an amazing whiskey–not just for it’s age–its just darn good all around. I still wish it was a touch cheaper; however, I could say that about almost anything. Kilchoman fills that lovely space right between Ardbeg and Caol Ila. I have enjoyed each release–from one month to the summer release. Kilchoman, please keep the hits coming!

  5. Red_Arremer says:

    Great pick. Though the youth is indisputable, I was really surprised how good this one is. There aren’t many new artisan distilleries putting out young stuff that can vie with Kilchoman.

    As far as the price, Brian, we can only hope that it doesn’t go up too much as the stuff ages– Maybe they’ll do the pricing like Benromach has between the Traditional and the 10 yo (though of course they’re starting a lot higher than the trad.).

  6. two-bit cowboy says:

    Nice pick, John, and congrats to Kilchoman. I did a head-to-head — Summer and Winter 2010 — a few nights ago. Neither won the race; both are terrific, and there are some distinct differences.

  7. lawschooldrunk says:

    Three cheers for Kil-my-wallet-man!

    Nothing makes me happier than to see a start-up who uses Ardbeg or The Macallan as role models for their pricing scheme.

    • timd says:

      I pay for quality and enjoyment (somebody else posted this below, too). For a smaller outlet with less volume – but higher (perceived/tasted) quality, I pay for it. $70 for a 3 year old? Sure, it’s high – but I also pay more for organic products and hormone free milk, and when I want Laguvilin 16 – which costs much more than Laphroaig 18… and so on and so on.

      I agree, in principal that Whisk(e)y – especially Scotch – can be ridiculously overpriced especially as you get into 20+ year old bottlings – relative to MY enjoyment of them. But I picked up the Binny’s CS of this and find it wonderful – worth every penny I paid (and then some – but don’t tell them that!), on the other hand I just bought a bottle of Beam’s super premium R1 for $22 on sale, and think I may have over-paid a bit… And I love Rye. So I’ll support them at this price until I no longer enjoy it enough to be worth it. (Same with Ardbeg – I’ve never bought a bottle of Roller Coaster, and don’t expect to, but love much of their other expressions)

    • B.J. Reed says:

      I think I have said this before but I am willing pay some price differential for an independent distillery that has made a huge cash investment and who has to generate cash flow as early as it can until the whisky has a change to mature and in enough volume to increase revenue –

    • lawschooldrunk says:

      Obviously, enjoyment and cost are subjective.

      All I’m saying is that I am not a bank’s loan officer and it is not my responsibility to fund a start-up. Timd, you mentioned Ardbeg rollercoaster and I assume the reason you did not purchase it was because it was too expensive. This is because Ardbeg has no reason to offer it for less when purchasers pay the asking price.

      Pick your favorite value-for-money single malt. Now imagine if I convince everyone but you to pay 5 times the price and keep paying it. It only encourages the distillery to keep that single malt at that raised price. This will exclude you from that offering because it is too expensive only because so many besides you are willing to pay more.

      Now imagine if I convince everyone to not buy another single malt. That distillery will be forced to lower the price. I’m saying that we have no one to blame for high prices but ourselves. Which is why I do not buy products at absurd prices and I don’t care if they need immediate revenue. They haven’t done anything for me so why should I do anything for them? You think that if I pay $70 for Kilchoman now, that when they have more cash flow in 20 years they will give me a free bottling in thanks? Hell no they won’t do that. Because any way you slice it, while they do want to make good whisky, they want to make money more.

      Do you think that once they become established in the market that they will lower their prices? They won’t; why would they? If you are willing to spend $70 on a 3 year old, don’t expect their products to become cheaper as they age! At this rate, you’ll be paying more than $100 for a 9 year old. And on, and on.

      Look at daftmill. You think Francis Cuthbert doesn’t want cash flow? He does. You think people won’t purchase daftmill 3 year old? They will. But I sense there is a certain integrity in daftmill distillery that is lacking from Kilchoman.

      Now, I have nothing personal against the people of Kilchoman distillery. I am excited when new distilleries start. Just don’t expect me to pay absurd prices because there are plenty of other distilleries who are economically more reasonable.

      Anyone for Old Pulteney 12 year old?

  8. mongo says:

    i haven’t had the official summer release but the binny’s cs is indeed very good, and a strong argument against the standard age/quality position.

  9. Jewmalt says:

    Kilchoman is showing a lot of promise. A great choice in my opinion, John.

    I know some have issues with the price of the whisky. I personally don’t pay for age, I pay for quality, balance, complexity and most importantly, enjoyability!

    I just reviewed two of the single cask expressions John spoke of – the Binny’s Single Cask and the Royal Mile Whiskies version. Two nice and very different whiskies:

    • George Jetson says:

      I guess there are a few single cask strength versions out there then. The Whisky Shop in SF, Binny’s, Kensington Wine in Calgary, RMW, etc.

      • Jewmalt says:

        I knew there was one for Kensington, didn’t know there was one for the Whisky Shop (of course I can’t get spirits shipped to CT from CA anyway). Both the Binny’s and the RMW single casks were good but to me, one of the really shined…

        • Vinny Lodidrum says:

          My Father in Law lives in CT and I send him whisky, and brandy, all the time via online stores including the Whisky Shop and Binny’s

          • Jewmalt says:

            Is this something new?? I travel to Chicago all the time so getting bottles from Binny’s is easy – yet, they tell me it is illegal for them to ship spirits to CT. CA, on the other hand can ship me wine but all of the stores I’ve tried say wine only, no spirits…

          • Jewmalt says:

            Hey-hey! CT is not on the list of no-no’s or shipping spirits. Yay! I have a new store! Thanks Vinny!

  10. Vince says:

    I have the binny’s CS and really enjoy it. Great Choice John!

  11. Morgan Steele says:

    I opened this on Burns’ Night and am still enjoying the expression. The youth is unmistakable; but, I find it refreshing and enjoy the bite. I’ll definitely follow-up with future releases.

  12. Quentin says:

    Despite your preference for the sherry-finished versions, you still picked this one as artisan whisky of the year. What does that say about other artisan whiskies’ quality? What else was in the running?

    • John Hansell says:

      We picked the Summer 2010 release for our award because it was the only Kilchoman bottling available in the U.S. in 2010 (a requirement to get the award). I actually like the sherry finished releases (that preceeded this one) even better!

  13. Texas says:

    It’s not a price/quality category, so in that context it’s hard to complain about the price. However I just bought a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask for $47, so even if I could get this in Houston (I can’t), no way am I springing $70 for it.

    In 5 years or so I sure would like to see this distillery bring down prices once they have started to recoup some of the start-up money. In the long run I think it will server them better.

    • Armin says:

      I wouldn’t bank on that. What I think quite a few people (incl the lawschooldrunk) are forgetting are the economies of scale a larger distillery (like in your example Laphroaig) enjoys in comparison to a tiny operation like Kilchoman. They will most likely get better prices when buying their ingredients, will have lower transport costs per unit as they can much easier transport in bulk and much more. That’s something a small farm distillery just can’t compete with. Or if they wanted to only by cutting corners, not something I would want them to do.

      • lawschooldrunk says:

        Good point.

      • Jewmalt says:

        Good point indeed.

      • timd says:

        If it’s still as enjoyable as it is now and in the same price range, and I have the same disposable income, then I will continue to buy it.

        If not… I won’t.

      • Michael says:

        I repeat what I said on another blog:
        I would much rather pay a higher price for Kilchoman than other similar Islay whiskies that are made by distilleries belonging to big corporations.
        By the way, I have a few different expressions of all the major Islay distilleries and, for example, I do prefer Kilchoman Summer 2010 to Arbeg Corryvreckan ( I paid much less for it than for Ardbeg).

      • Texas says:

        I do realize that the Laphroaig comparison is not the best since their volume is so much greater. However, I don’t think $70-$80 for such a young spirit is reasonable. They are missing out on a lot of customers. Far fewer people in these days and times have such disposable income. Whether rightly or wrongly not many people are going to pay that for such a young spirit…

    • two-bit cowboy says:


      You’re getting a deal on Quarter Cask because Laphroaig’s trying to take the pressure off of its 10 yo stocks.

  14. Vinny Lodidrum says:

    John, have you tasted the Kilchoman exclusive Whisky Shop(of San Francisco) bottling? They told me it’s the ONLY Exclusive bottling of Kilchoman anywhere in the world. I found the Summer 2010 release flat compared to the Whisky Shop one.

    • John Hansell says:

      The Whisky Shop and Binny’s were the two single casks offerings I was referring to above in my post. They are all Summer 2010 bottlings and all very good for their age. (I have samples of all three.)

    • Lawrence says:

      Kensington Calgary has a single cask Kilchoman and I believe Binny’s has one too.

  15. Sam Filmus says:

    Dear John,

    Thank you for the recognition of Kilchoman and awarding it as the best Aritisan Whisky of the Year. We take a lot of pride in it and also a responsibility to continue bringing spirits of the highest quality into the United States. We appreciate your continued support and honest opinions.

    We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Kilchoman fans, bloggers and all the hardworking people at the distillery. Congratulations to all! It takes teamwork to make Kilchoman another nice highlight to the whisky world.

    Take care,


  16. Michael says:

    No doubt, it was an excellent choice of “Artisan Whisky of the Year”! Kilchoman rocks 😉

  17. John Mac Lellan says:

    Thank you to Whisky Advocate for this award for our very first standard release to the U.S. we are pleased to have recognition for the hard work of all concerned.

    Good to see lots of debate in the comments section , better you are talking about us than not. A lot of chat about start-up costs , economies of scale etc all of which are relevant and noted.

    Once again a big thank you to you all for your interest in Kilchoman , watch this space.

    Kind Regards

    • John Hansell says:

      Thank you John for for taking the time to chime in here. (John’s the distillery manager at Kilchoman.) Keep doing what you’re doing!

      (Oh, and that’s Malt Advocate, not Whisky Advocate. But as my wife says: “You can call me anything you want, but just don’t call me late for dinner.” :))

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Thanks John – Can’t think of a better person to be part of the Kilchoman team – (of course I think I said that in an earlier post ) 🙂 – Hope to see you guys again in 2012, 2013 for sure!

    • Barry Jay says:

      Heck, being all over the place when it comes to Whisky and beer, I generally like to go by John’s reviews. I just picked up my bottle of the 2010 Summer Release at Park Ave Liquor in NYC.. A nice dram…enjoying every drop. I always like to support the underdog…those being innovative and taking bold steps….cheers from New Jersey USA!

  18. Keith Sexton says:

    A nice choice. I know the point about price has been done to death (and rightfully so), so I’ll just say this about it: I like this whisky, and eventually I’ll get another bottle, but the price encourages me to buy my second bottle later rather than sooner. I too am curious what the price will be when it’s 10 years old. It sure is nice though, to see a start-up in Islay, making whisky in wonderful Islay style.

  19. John Mac Lellan says:

    Hi John

    Sorry for the Whisky Advocate gaffe , I think the whisky must be getting in through my skin.

    We are of course suitably grateful to Malt Advocate and its staff and readers for this honour to Kilchoman which remains of course a “work in progress” lots of good stuff to come this year .
    Later this year the first appearance of the 100% Islay Kilchoman made with home – grown and home malted barley , this one you will love.


  20. Ed Kohl says:

    Hi John:
    Just wanted to say a thanks for the selection of Kilchoman as Artisan Distillery of the Year. I have been in Minnesota doing my single malt tastings this week and the “buzz” hit the street about Thursday. We now have many new fans in Minneapolis-St Paul and the serounding areas. I will be in Baltimore next week and am sure Kilchoman will recieve the same reception. We are very excited to have Anthony Wills, Managing Director of Kilchoman at Whisky Fest in Chicago so if anyone is going to be ther, please stop by and say hello. Again John, thanks for the support and keep that great magazine, The Malt Advocate, coming.

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Ed – Great to see you out promoting Kilchoman because I want it to be a staple in whisky shops and pubs around the region and the country. Its a great story that needs to be told!

    • John Hansell says:

      Ed, we appreciate your bringing Kilchoman into the U.S. Keep ’em coming!

    • Nathan Way says:

      Ed, Congrats on importing a fantastic Islay. I bought the first bottle you sent and will be saddened to sell the last. In the meantime, Isle of Skye!!!

      Best Regards and hope you’re well.

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