Until Kilkerran’s whisky began to be available a few years ago there were only two functional distilleries in Campbeltown—once the heart of Scottish whisky production. These distilleries were/are Glen Scotia and Springbank. Now Springbank does produce the Hazelburn and Longrow malts as well, but as any whisky geek will tell you, these are merely production variants of Springbank, produced at the same distillery. Kilkerran, however, is distilled at a completely different distillery. Confusingly, the distillery’s name is not Kilkerran but Glengyle. And Glengyle has a long and convoluted history: it was founded in the 1870s but by the early 1900s was not really making whisky anymore. After a number of abortive attempts to get it going again throughout the century it was finally re-started in 2000 by the same people who own Springbank—bringing the distillery full-circle: it was originally started by a member of the same family who’d broken away from the Springbank business. However, at this point Glengyle was a brand name owned by Loch Lomond (who operate Glen Scotia) and so Kilkerran was the name chosen for the malts made at the reopened Glengyle distillery.
To recap: Kilkerran is the whisky made at Glengyle, which is owned by Springbank, who can’t put the name of the distillery on the label because it’s the name of a whisky produced at the neighbouring Glen Scotia distillery, which is owned by completely different people.
As at Springbank, there’s an artisanal ethos that goes into making Kilkerran. And I have to say that despite the fact that the distillery uses equipment from the defunct Ben Wyvis and from Craigellachie, its whisky is very much in line with the Springbank profile. Those who give a lot of credence to issues of “terroir” will note that it may not be a coincidence that Kilkerran is matured in Springbank’s warehouses. A more likely explanation is probably that the two distilleries’ production methods are probably very similar.
Kilkerran/Glengyle has released a number of editions of “Work in Progress” each year since 2009—I’ve tasted a number of these and have liked them all far more than most other young malts released by new distilleries. They’ve steered clear of gimmickry—the WIP progress releases have largely been from bourbon casks, with a couple of sherry cask releases in recent years, and with one exception they’ve all been at 46%. Thanks to this consistency it’s been actually possible to see the changes over time—unlike say with Bruichladdich’s PCx series for their Port Charlotte line or Edradour’s various wine cask releases for the peated Ballechin line. All of this has culminated with the release this year of the Kilkerran 12. I assume this means that there will be no more “Work in Progress” releases.
As noted above, I’ve liked all the WIP releases I’ve tried so far. My only complaint is that they didn’t put release/version numbers/years on the labels. The releases were distinguished by the colour of their labels and when you’re in a dimly lit shop it’s not always possible to be confident that the label you’re looking at is not the same as the one on the bottle you have at home—this was particularly a problem with some of the early label colours. This review is of the 6th edition, and I believe it is a 10 year old. (It’s also the easiest label to tell apart from the others as it is pink.)
Kilkerran Work in Progress 6, Bourbon Wood (46%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Peppery peat, a faint hit of rubber and then putty and quite a lot of bready, yeasty notes (think dough for rye bread). Gets brinier as it sits with the putty edging into wet concrete. A bit of lime too after a bit. With more time that putty/rubber note gets just a little too acrid/plasticky for my liking but there’s also some coal/soot to go with it. With even more time the plastic recedes and the lime expands. Water amplifies the lime even more and brings out the sackcloth that had shown up early on the palate.
Palate: Peatier here and it’s a sweet, peppery, mineral peat. Some sackcloth too. On the second sip there’s a lot of lime (more zest than juice). Nice mouthfeel. Nothing new with time but it all gets very nicely integrated. Let’s see what water does. Water brings out sooty smoke and salt and integrates them nicely with the lime.
Finish: Long. The pepper and peat first and then the sweetness expands. Gets saltier as it sits. Longer and sootier with water.
Comments: Lovely, austere, old-school whisky. And yes, this is very much in the general Springbank profile—tastes like a less aggressive Longrow in many ways. Which does beg the question a little bit of whether it makes sense for the same company to make two peated whiskies of a similar kind at two different distilleries. As with a lot of Longrow, there’s something Talisker’ish about this to my palate. Just that plasticky note on the nose keeps it out of the next tier for me.
Rating: 88 points.
Thanks to Florin for the sample!