Monday, October 26, 2015

The Evolution of Kilchoman

Saturday morning over coffee, I learned about the Evolution of Kilchoman event, celebrating the distillery's tenth anniversary, at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, DC, on Sunday. Jack Rose's Scotch master Harvey Fry said they'd have more than 40 expressions available.

As it happened, I'd never tried any Kilchoman, though I had heard a lot of great things about this young Islay distillery that has mastered young Islay whiskeys. One of my few, brief conversations with Harvey Fry happened to be about Kilchoman; he told be he'd been an early champion, and he told me the "c" is silent. (The "h" is not; it's pronounced kil-HO-man.) If I were to go to a Kilchoman party, I'd want it curated by Harvey.

I bought a ticket. The advertised deal was $45 for "13 1/4 oz pours (including but not limited to the 10th Anniversary and Inaugural Release) beer, wine and light hors d’ouevres," from 4 to 6 pm on the terrace bar. I wasn't sure what the point of the beer and wine was -- 3.25 ounces of Scotch in two hours doesn't leave me feeling parched -- but I didn't figure it would interfere.

I drove in from the provinces and found a parking space half a block away a few minutes before 4 (the luck all the better since the parking garage I'd been hoping to use is now a hole in the ground).

We were greeted at the terrace bar's door with tasting tickets and a Glencairn glass of new make right off the still. The new make was tasty in its own right; if this is their starting point, no wonder they don't need to wait ten or twelve years until their Scotch is ready.

The expressions available for tasting were divided into three groups:
1. Annual Releases
Annual Release Table.

Machir Bay (2011, 2014, 2015)
Loch Gorm (2007/2012, 2009/2013, 2010/2015)
100% Islay (3rd, 4th, 5th Editions)

2. Vintages
Inaugural Release
2007 Vintage
Spring 2011 Release
Islay Pipe Band 2015 Release PX Finish

3. Single Casks
CV Sherry Cask
CV Bourbon Cask
K&L 100% Islay (2009)
K&L (2008)

We were given four tickets to each group, each ticket good for a carefully measured quarter ounce pour. Since I'd never had any Kilchoman, I went for twelve different expressions, but if you knew what you liked you could turn in four tickets and get a full ounce pour of one expression.

There were a few welcoming remarks from the Impex Beverages rep, from Harvey Fry, and from James Wills, the son of founder and managing director Anthony Wills. All agreed that, as far as anyone knew, the terrace bar was the site of the largest collection of Kilchoman expressions in the world. (Another twenty expressions were available for purchase after 6 pm.)
James Wills, left, talks about the family business.

There were two interruptions during the event. The first was to distribute a taste of Kilchoman Feis Ile 2015, the second to distribute a taste of Kilchoman 10th Anniversary and sing "Happy Birthday" to the distillery. (Yes, of course there was cake; how else do you get people to sing "Happy Birthday"?)

My tasting notes, such as they are, with my favorites underlined:
  • New make: 70%; strong malt flavor, actually a good drink, though nose is just spirit (& corn?)
  • Inaugural release: smoky, sweet, simple. Tasty.
  • Machir Bay 2015: very light
  • K&L 100% Islay: Spicy iodine
  • 2007 vintage: sour (comparatively), sort of a vodka/grain spirit feel (not rough/new make)
  • Loch Gorm 2007/2012: sweet & rich, good hit of peat. Yum. Caramel? Cinnamon?
  • 2015 Feis Ile: nicely complex, bourbon fruit & malt spirit
  • CV Bourbon Cask: Most Speysidey/"Scotch" tasting/nosing so far. Good, not sure it shows as Kilchoman
  • Spring 2011: sweet, gentle, peaty. That's good stuff.
  • Loch Gorm 2010/2015: iodine on the nose, a sweet peaty spicy palate. This is why I like scotch.
  • CV Sherry: Wow. Crazy set of baking spices.
  • 10th anniversary: Elegant, maybe not quite Kilchomany? More of an iodine bite, missing the sweetness
  • 100% Islay 5th ed: lots going on. Not sweet, but peat & iodine are there
  • K&L 2008: delicious, sweet, yum
  • Islay Pipe Band 2015 Release PX Finish: last ticket cashed with 10 minutes to spare. Time for cake! A fun, prickly (CS) dram.

Not a stinker, or a too-young, in the bunch. The Machir Bay 2015 was as close as I got to disappointment. I'd heard great things about Machir Bay, and for whatever reason this didn't make an impression on me.
And then some.

I was impressed by the plan of the event. A quarter ounce every ten minutes gives you a good two-hour survey of a distillery's expressions, and if you're smart enough to not have to drive home any time soon you can always stick around to explore further or revisit a favorite. And, as always, the Jack Rose staff took great care of us.