Kilchoman, the youngest distillery on Islay and one distillery I was very curious to visit – a small, boutique-like and independent distillery on Islay with growing good reputation and fan base.
We arrived 2 minutes late after getting lost through some back back back road (not sure it’s a legal road anywhere else in the civilized world) straight into the tour gathering with John MacLellan, the Distillery manager. Oh, didn’t I tell you? It was a Wednesday, and On Wednesdays, there’s Distillery manager tour at 1:30pm!
John MacLellan previously was with Bunnahabhain distillery for almost 21 years, from mashman to distillery manager before he came over to Kilchoman to manage it.
So John took us through all the regular stations and in addition we also talked about the distillery, its goals, life style of small/boutique distillery. It was interesting to see the quirks of farm distillery – like how their malting floor isn’t used only for malting but for storage and other activities – it’s the drawback of being a farm distillery.
Couple of interesting tidbits and points from the tour:
- Kilchoman targets the high-end market. They do not envision Kilchoman whiskies being on supermarket shelves. Kilchoman is high-quality premium whisky.
- The peat should be only semi-dry. Only semi-dry (and semy-wet) peat is easy to manage and still produce good quantity of smoke when kilning with peat. The level of wetness in the peat means a lot.
- The washbacks are steel made. John said that in Bunnahabhain the washbacks are made of traditional Oregon pine wood and he doesn’t notice any difference in the spirit produced. (as was also said during our tour in Laphroaig).
- Kilchoman have small stills but they are close to their maximum production capacity (John thinks they can get to 140,000 litre a year) but there are no plans to expand the distillery and production beyond this limit. They work strict hours, make sure it doesn’t get to 24 hours a day workdays and doesn’t work on weekend.
- During a visit in the old warehouse space (They recently completed building a new warehouse and most of the casks were already transferred there), we had the privilege to taste an 8 years old sherry cask Kilchoman. the oldest Kilchoman available commercially is 7 years old (the Kilchoman 2007 vintage) and this one beats it with one more year and is also sherry cask. What can I say – it’s a cracker!
- Kilchoman have their own bottling station (only Kilchoman & Bruichladdich have bottling station on Islay). While we were there we found out that France is a very stronge market for Kilchoman with large sales and special/private bottlings. We could see their October bottling/shipping activities and boy, they were busy!
After the tour we went back to the visitors center where we tasted 2 drams – Machir Bay 2013 and 100% Islay 2nd release – both were very good with a slight edge to Machir Bay in my opinion but those were not optimal tasting conditions so take that with a big pinch of salt.
If Laphroaig tour was the emotional highlight of the trip, the Kilchoman tour was the nerdy/geeky/professional highlight of the trip. There’s nothing like a tour on a small scale distillery coupled by the best guide there is – the distillery manager. John was a great guide and we enjoyed it a lot, learning even more about whisky, how to make it and the whisky market. Very recommended tour if you can be there on Wednesday at 1:30pm.
Distillery In a nutshell
Name: Kilchoman Distillery
Owners: Kilchoman Distillery Co. Ltd.
Location: Rockside Farm, Bruichladdich, Islay
Water source: Allt Gleann Osamail burn
Stills: 1 Wash stills, 1 Spirit stills
Capacity (yearly): 110,000 litres
Tour in a nutshell
Tours availability: Standard Tour: Mon-Fri 11am & 3pm, Managers Tours – Wed 1:30 pm
Cost of tour: £6 / £27
Length of tour: 1 hour / 2 hours
Distillery Exclusive bottles: Feis Ile bottling may still be available during summer.