Kilchoman 5, 2006 Vintage Release

Kilchoman 5, 2006
Kilchoman, as everyone knows, is the recently opened, eighth distillery on Islay. They are a small farm operation that produces peated whisky, all of which that I have tasted is of a very high quality and shockingly good for whisky this young–this 5 yo was at the time of release the oldest whisky from the distillery. Their barley is not peated as heavily as some on Islay–as per their website to 20-25 ppm, or about half of Ardbeg [Edit: See the comments below]–and the resulting malt while smoky is not defined by heavy smoke. Prices are high relative to age, but I am willing to give them a pass on this because a) their production volume is very low, which means low economies of scale and b) as a small, independent distillery they need to generate cash till their maturing spirit reaches a higher age. I hope that when it does the Kilchoman 10 or 12 or whatever it ends up being will be priced fairly.

Kilchoman 5, 2006 (46%; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: There’s no mistaking the smoke but it’s accompanied by green fruit and buttery vanilla. Quite a lot of brine too after that and green olives in olive oil. The smoke is phenolic but not bitter. Quite reminiscent of Caol Ila and some slightly older young Laphroaigs. The smoke recedes a little after some time. With water there is some bitterness–but it’s the kind of bitterness you get from pithy lemon zest; and yes, there’s clearly some lemon now.

Palate: Blank for about half a beat and then leafy smoke envelops the tongue. Brine and salt crystals come poking out from under it but where’s the fruit? And the texture is a little more watery than I was expecting from the nose. Gets more medicinal (gauze) and a little waxy on the second sip but still no fruit as such, unless you count a chilli pepperiness/capsaicin as fruit. After a while some lemon begins to emerge but not a whole lot. As on the nose, water pulls it out and now it’s quite a bit brighter with some musky notes on the tail end. Oddly, the texture gets less thin with water (for people who understand chemistry this may not be odd at all, I suppose).

Finish: Long. The salt hangs around for a while but the smoke is what really lingers. The late emerging lemon hangs around for a while too, mixed with brine. As on the palate with water.

Comments: Very nice, but not quite a world-beater yet. Not at 46% at any rate. I have to say that the cask strength 3 yo for Binny’s from a couple of years ago was better despite being two years younger. And despite what I said at top about the ppm being lower than most peated Islays and their malt not being defined by heavy smoke this packs quite a smoky wallop. But that will doubtless recede with age. Water is needed to release the lemon fully.

Rating: 85 points. (Lower without water.)

Thanks to Patrick for the sample!

9 thoughts on “Kilchoman 5, 2006 Vintage Release

  1. I believe only the “100% Islay” releases have the 20-25ppm barley. All other releases are made with barley from Port Ellen, so 50ppm. I googled it and that ‘fact’ is repeated in reviews and threads but nowhere official that I could see.


    • Aha. That would explain it. But I don’t think Port Ellen malting is 50 ppm by default either. Doesn’t Caol Ila get their malt from there as well? Their ppm is quite a bit lower than 50.


  2. I’ve always heard that the Port Ellen produces malt of various peating levels according to each distillery’s specs.

    It’s different than, say, LDI producing the same 95% rye for all of its bottlers. (Really, the two situations are quite different, but the parallel occurred to me so I decided to throw it out there.)


  3. I was under the same impression that Port Ellen contracts to malt barley to the purchaser’s specifications Therefore, I don’t believe there is a standard amount of peat used or that if the malt is from Port Ellen it must necessarily be peated to a level of 50ppm. I thought that most of the distilleries on Islay get their malt from Port Ellen and that most are peated to less than 50ppm. My understanding is that Ardbeg uses malt peated to 50ppm, but that it is at the high end of what is common.

    Thanks, Patrick, for clarifying the difference of the 100% Islay variant.


  4. Malt Madness also says that the barley procured from Port Ellen maltings is at 50 ppm. So they must be asking for it at Ardbeg levels even though that’s not the default there.

    The fact that so many reviewers and bloggers repeat this must mean that there is an official source. I wonder why they don’t just update the information on their site. I guess the “everything done on the farm/distilery” plan that they’ve deviated from is a better story. The question is, when did they deviate from it? Has everything released so far except the 100% Islay been from the 50 ppm malt?


  5. It’s a good illustration of the current urban legend/guessing game style of marketing that goes along with, but is not limited to, NAS – the less the producer says about any particular whisky, the more speculation and “buzz” it generates as people try to “crack the mystery” (it’s saved Blue Label from being called out as a vastly overpriced mediocre whisky in many circles for years). This marketing was taken to its Nth degree with Glenlivet Alpha, where the whole POINT of the whisky, apparently, was to guess the provenance with no given information – a nice game which can be played with whisky of any quality, but which also, in limited release with premium price, neatly shifted the focus regarding Alpha TO its game and away from traditional, mundane QPR questions such as “wait a minute, just how good is it and am I overpaying?”. The Force (of hype) CAN have a strong influence on the weak-minded.


  6. Thanks. Here’s the link for others even lazier than me (if such a thing is possible). This basically confirms Patrick’s post. Unless someone else knows even more, I am going to assume that the lower ppm malt came online later and has not been used in anything but their 100% Islay. Two peated malts at different ppm–a page out of Bruichladdich and Springbank’s book it seems.


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