Kilchoman US Tour 2017

Last in our trilogy of familiar friends revisited was a whisky from Kilchoman… We sampled blind and truly struggled with this one. We should have guessed it… we really should have… but were flummoxed.

What did we find?

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength “Kilchoman 2017 Tour” 60%, Bottle 642/840

  • Colour – A light gold
  • Nose – Peat, sweet, bacon sizzling on a pan, super sweet, tangy citrus, marmite, very fruity, confectionary, marzipan, icing sugar, cinnamon candy then shifted character to reveal sacred ash, tamarind, jaggery then earthy, mineral, oily briney
  • Palate – Surprisingly soft initially then strong, spiced cinnamon, ashy
  • Finish – Aligned with the palate… cinnamon spice
  • Water – Nicely balanced, very oily, chocolate

We couldn’t quite determine was the distillery… We ran through all the usual suspects and dismissed as didn’t quite match our recollections of the “signature” peat style. There was no doubt this was a most enjoyable dram.

And the reveal? Kilchoman?! Remarkable!

And no ordinary Kilchoman. It was picked up by our host in the US during the Kilchoman 2017 US Tour lead by Anthony Willis.

We all puzzled a bit as the whisky didn’t display what we would consider typical characteristics of Machir Bay or the cask strength Kicholman’s we’ve sampled in the past.

Bottom line, did we like it? Yes!

For one, he simply had to go back home to compare the recent impression with the standard Machir Bay. He later reported back that indeed – the sacred ash quality that we discovered does have hint in the original – just one that hadn’t “registered” quite as strongly before. Proving that our memories and ways of storing different drams into different categories can be a bit blurrier than we think!

Other Kilchoman sampled over the years…

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Kilchoman peat pairing dinner!

To say it was a special evening was an understatement! We began with three whiskies from Kilchoman having exactly the same peat level (50 ppm) yet each remarkably different.

Then after the initial blind sampling, the whiskies were revealed then move on to the real fun – whisky & food pairing!

KilchomanPeat2

1st course – Machir Bay

Machir Bay with salad:  A delightful salad with smoked cheese, smoked olive oil, smoked almond, smoked salt, light greens offset with bursts of cherry tomatoes.

Pairing experience? 

Whisky was very smooth, softened all the peat, some speculated that the salad surprisingly conquered the whisky making it delicate and dainty which was a complete contrast to the character we found sampling alone. Like gelding a stallion.

 Kilchoman Smoked Salad

2nd course – Sanaig

Sanaig with main:  Choice between a smoked winter vegetable ratatouille & smoked applewood chicken with an almond mash potato.

Pairing experience? 

Brilliant match with both veg & non-veg options! The food brought out the sherry elements in the whisky with the nose taking on a gorgeous sweet raisin, plum almost port like quality that balanced the smoked flavours beautifully. The cracked black pepper in the potato mash added just the right heat. An excellent combination! Some attempted with the 3rd whisky but that simply did not work.

 Kilchoman Sherry Cask Chocolate Ganache

3rd course – Sherry Cask Strength

Sherry cask strength with desert:  A lovely chocolate cake with a Sherry Cask Strength whisky ganache.

Pairing experience? 

While sherry with such a chocolate desert is a perfect combination, cask strength with peat is a tough combination to pull off. Suggestion of a Glendronach or something with a little less ‘kick’ may have been a better compliment. In this pairing, the whisky spice dominated however the whisky spiked sauce? A fabulous luscious indulgence!

How did the whisky-food pairing fare overall?

  • Machir Bay and salad pairing was absolutely on the right track, though curious how the smokey salad flavours conquered the whisky
  • Sanaig and main course pairing was perfection. Absolute balance between the elements, complimenting beautifully
  • Sherry Cask Strength and chocolate pairing was a gamble…. In this case, the whisky spice was more pronounced than the delicious chocolate however no one was really complaining 🙂

Overall a marvellous evening – three unique expressions from Kilchoman paired with delightful dishes.

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Kilchoman Peat Pairing Evening

Our original Mumbai based whisky tasting group consistently pushes the bar when conceptualising evenings.
We rotate hosts with each responsible to curate the experience – both whiskies and food to follow.
Over the years, we’ve had whisky and food pairings before.

Some of us even enjoyed a delightful dinner years ago with Anthony and Kathy Willis featuring Kilchoman Machir Bay and 100% Islay paired with a multi-course north Indian meal at Neel, Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai.

None of this could prepare us for the unique experience in store for our March 2016 whisky tasting evening.

Our host began with a fabulous concept to explore the nuances of peat. Three different expressions from Kilchoman at identical 50 ppm which demonstrated the effect of the casks on the character with increasing percentage of sherry.

To then take this a step further, she then wanted us to explore how the peaty whiskies paired with three courses weaving in elements of smoke.

We first sampled in rapid succession the trio of whiskies blind. Then they were revealed to re-visit each paired with  carefully planned, beautifully presented courses.

Here is what we enjoyed from Kilchoman:

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Kilchoman Machir Bay 46%

Kilchoman is one of those distilleries to watch… years ago they effectively pushed the boundaries of complexity for a YOUNG Islay whisky. And just keep getting better and better. The travel retail exclusive Coull Point is a current ‘everyday dram’ favourite. I’m eagerly awaiting an opportunity to try their 10 year anniversary whisky.

At the 2015 IWSC Awards, Machir Bay won gold, it also won best Islay under 12 year at the 2015 Scotch Whisky masters and boasts of many other recognitions.

My sampling journey with Machir Bay is:

  • First sampled blind as part of our regular monthly tastings in Sept 2013
  • Part of a delightful food – whisky pairing with Kilchoman Distillery owner and master distiller – Anthony Willis and his wife in 2014
  • During a convivial evening in Singapore in Dec 2015

The Singapore evening prompted me to pull out from our archives the 2013 tasting notes… which was sampled together with the Glenturret 10 year and Auchentoshan 14 year Cooper’s Reserve.

Glenturret, Auchentoshan Cooper's Reserve, Kilchoman Machir Bay

Here is what we found then…

Kilchoman Machir Bay 46%

  • Colour – Light gold in colour
  • Nose – Such a contrast from the earlier whiskies (Glenturret & Auchentoshan), bold, rubber, smoky, burnt wood and ash on nose
  • Taste – Carried through on palate with a woodsy strength tempered by a sweeter undertone, a difficult to identify element like soft over-ripe dried fruit
  • Finish – A lingering rich charcoal finish which prompted some debate on its age – some qualities of a younger whisky yet refreshingly complex as one would more typically find in an older whisky
  • Water – Add a little water and it bloomed further – bringing out both the sweet and spice with the warmth of burnt wood remaining

There was a challenge in pinpointing this offering – the peat was too subtle for a Laphroaig and didn’t quite fit the qualities of other Islay mainstays – however the region was guessed spot on!

Also aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished in sherry butts like the Cooper’s Reserve, it is far more robust. Machir Bay captures the senses and was the clear favourite – even paired post dinner with chocolate. To learn it is available in India and not ridiculously expensive – my oh my we lucky folks!

Each sample was a contrast and unique. Interestingly, all improved with a few drops of water whether lowland (Auchentoshan), highland (Glenturret) or islay (Kilchoman)! Slainthe!

For those curious, here’s what the folks over at The Vault Fine Spirits (based in Mumbai) have to say about Kilchoman Machir Bay:

Machir Bay, a heavily peated (50 PPM) whisky, is a vatting of 4 and 5 year old ex-bourbon casks, with the 4 year being finished in oloroso sherry butts for 4 weeks prior to bottling. Machir Bay was named ‘Whisky of the Year 2013’ at the International Whisky Competition.

Tasting Notes: The Machir Bay starts with a nose of soft cooked fruits with strong peaty aromas which in turn leads to a palate of mixed fruits and vanilla with an intense sweetness before a long lingering finish.

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Singapore Saturday Sipping… Crown Royal, Bruichladdich, Springbank + Kilchoman

It was one of those sociable Saturday evenings in Singapore…

It also happened to be the home of a fellow malt aficionado and ex Mumbai tasting group member. On my last trip we took on an eight dram marathon at The Auld Alliance. This trip we swapped such revelries for a family and friends affair with great company, delicious food and… yes… a whisky or two or three!

I will openly admit, it was a fully social setting so it wasn’t like I jotted down tasting notes until the last… when we decided to have a little impromptu ‘tasting’ experience to close the night.

Crown-Royal-Northern-Harvest-Rye

Official CrownRoyal website

However, formal tasting notes or not… we still covered four rather distinctive whiskies in one evening!

Shortly after I arrived, a mystery glass was brought out as a teaser. What did I find?

  • Nose – A sparkling quality like having a whiff of proseco or sparkling apple cider
  • Palate – Some spice yet overall smooth, vanilla – clearly not Scottish, not bourbon, not having the sophistication one associates with Japan…
  • Finish – Sweet spice wood then fades away

The ‘punch line’ was that this particular bottle just so happens to be from Gimli, Manitoba… my home province in Canada. And – you guessed it – was Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye which has literally flown off the shelves globally thanks to Jim Murray’s recent recognition of it as 2016 World’s Best Whisky.

The bottle was snagged in the US by a friend’s brother and brought to Singapore… part of the stash that will be coming into India soon. Gotta love globe-trotting whisky!

Overall what did I think? Honestly – it is not bad for a Rye and really quite excellent for $30 whisk(e)y but… come on… world’s best whisky? Seriously?

The Organic Scottish Barley (Whisky Lady)

The Organic Scottish Barley (Whisky Lady)

With this start to our evening, our host then pulled out the Bruichladdich The Organic 50%:

  • Nose – That overripe fruit to the point of being rotten
  • Palate – Young, a bit of spice, sourness
  • Finish – Still a bit ‘queer’

Just not aligning with my mood for the evening… I simply could not wrap my palate around the extra over-ripe quality.

So our host took pity on my pickiness and out came a reliable dram – Springbank 10 year 46%.

  • Nose – Pear, a hint of peat
  • Palate – Yum – cinnamon and nutmeg, rich oak, a bit nutty
  • Finish – Dry, sweet, salty

Khanna (food) then became the focus… was happily consumed and our evening was winding its way to a close. As the deserts and tea came out… so too did a bunch of glasses for a semi ‘proper’ tasting session. What did we sample?

Kilchoman (Whisky Lady)

Kilchoman (Whisky Lady)

Kilchoman Machir Bay 46%

  • Nose – Honey, cough syrup, leather, medicine and surgical wipes, fruity like peach and grape, very light not a hint of peat, vanilla, sweet, like an apple orchard, quite youthful
  • Palate – Peaty, sharp, black pepper, young, woody, bitter cinnamon bark, a little oily, star anise
  • Finish – Dry wine, a rawness
  • Overall – While not mature and still a bit raw it is also like a procosious youngster – lots of promise, worth checking out and quite remarkable for such a young whisky.

Our host shared tales of his visit to Kilchoman’s distillery and shared how it ‘transformed’ expectations of a young whisky. I was again reminded that for me at least, the Kilchoman Coull Point stands out.

What fun to revisit a few whiskies… and a perfect close to a most enjoyable trip to Singapore.

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