Tour of Kilchoman Distillery
I recently toured all of Islay’s distilleries and will be writing a feature story on Islay in the upcoming issue of Malt Advocate. Here is an exerpt of this upcoming feature, my visit to Kilchoman.
It was my wife Amy’s first visit to Islay, so we both agreed it would be more fun to drive from Glasgow and take the ferry to Islay than fly directly to Islay. It gave us a chance to explore the Campbeltown peninsula on the way (and, of course, the Springbank, Glengyle, and Glen Scotia distilleries), stop for lunch in Inverary at the splendid George Hotel (great food, atmosphere and cask ales) and visit the Loch Fyne Whiskies shop.
We checked into the Port Charlotte hotel on Islay on a very rainy Sunday afternoon. Our next three days were already booked with scheduled tours of the other distilleries, so Anthony Wills, the Managing Director of Kilchoman was nice enough to open up the distillery and show us around on his day off. Kilchoman is Islay’s newest distillery, situated on the remote northwest part of the Island in the middle of quiet farmlands.
“Our goal is to become self-sufficient,” Anthony explained to me as he showed us around. “From barley to bottling, we want to do the entire operation here on the farm. Even the waste material from the distilling operations like the draff and pot ale is fed to the cattle or spread on the fields. We’re taking whisky back to how it was done years ago, when there were farm distilleries, and it was done illicitly.”
Anthony described the Kilchoman whisky-making process to me as we toured the distillery: “Approximately 40% of the barley used to make the whisky is from the farm. The rest is purchased from the Port Ellen maltings on the island. The barley from our own maltings is approximately 25-30 ppm phenol [moderately smoky]. The barley we order in from Port Ellen is more phenolic, closer to 50 [very smoky]. We keep the barley in separate bins and our plan is to make two separate whisky expressions-one from our own barley, the other from Port Ellen.”
Regardless of the barley type, it is all processed through one stainless steel mash tun, one of four washbacks (fermentors), and two copper pot stills before being put into casks. Nearly 80% of the spirit is aged in used bourbon barrels, while the remainder is aged in oloroso sherry butts. I asked him if he had any intentions on experimenting with more esoteric wine casks similar to what Bruichladdich is doing. “Not at this time,” he said.
Like most start-up operations, making Kilchoman whisky hasn’t been without its problems. They had a fire in their kiln last year when drying the barley with anthracite. “It got too hot in there,” Anthony told me. “We put in an indirect heat oil fire system to prevent any future fires, but we couldn’t do any floor maltings last year because of the fire.”
I asked Anthony about the new make spirit and what he thought of it. His response: “The first cask of Kilchoman spirit was filled in December, 2005. We wanted a whisky that is floral, fruity, and peaty, and I think that’s what we got.”
I tasted a sample of the spirit, distilled in January, using the Port Ellen malt. It was clean, with strong peat notes, sweet malt, along with some delicate background fruit.
Their oldest spirit won’t legally be able to be called whisky until the December of 2008. According to Anthony, whisky made from the Port Ellen maltings will be called “Kilchoman”, while the whisky from the distillery’s own floor maltings will be called “Kilchoman 100% Islay”. Once the whisky becomes of legal age, Anthony said that their current thinking is to bottle it each year, one year older, perhaps on the same date each year, until the whisky reaches a mature age of ten or so. Until then, you can purchase 50 ml samples of the cask-strength spirit at the distillery’s visitor center.