Last week’s review featured whiskies from three different Islay distilleries (Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Caol Ila). We’ll stay on Islay for another week but this week’s reviews will all be from a single distillery: Kilchoman. They’ll also all be of Kilchomans specially bottled for the American market—which sometimes seems like it might be the majority of Kilchoman’s bottlings. The first two were bottled for the gargantuan Texas chain, Spec’s, and the third for the Southern California Whiskey Club (who these people are, I’m not really sure). The two Spec’s releases—both from 2021—were from bourbon casks. Friday’s Southern California Whiskey Club is—as you will see—a little different. So, two classic casks and then a slight twist. We’ll also take the week in descending order of age. In fact, this 13 yo cask is not only the oldest of the three I’ll be reviewing this week, it’s the oldest Kilchoman I’ve yet reviewed, and probably ever tasted. It will have to be rather excellent indeed to come close to justifying the $190 currently being asked for it by Spec’s. I have to admit I find that price to be rather inexplicable—is it in line with what’s being charged for Kilchomans being bottled by other stores as well? Anyway, let’s see what the whisky is like.
Kilchoman 13, 2008, (56.1%; bottled for Spec’s; bourbon cask; from a bottle split)
Nose: Bright carbolic smoke and a fair bit of salt. More phenolic still on the second sniff with rubber gaskets from old medicine bottles and a big whack of Dettol; there’s a malty sweetness behind it all and also some powdered ginger and aniseed. With some airing the big smoke seems to burn off, allowing some fruit to emerge (charred pineapple, lemon) along with some cereals. Water pushes the smoke back further and softens it on the whole, pulling out a fair bit of vanilla.
Palate: Big, bright smoke here as well with a fair bit of cracked pepper and a vegetal, bell peppery note as well (charred green bell pepper); something almost mezcal’ish. Rather hot at full strength; the texture is not thin but it’s not rich either. On the second sip the oak seems quite prominent (was this a first-fill cask? a re-charred cask?). There’s more pepper with time but the fruit doesn’t quite emerge here; the oak does subside some. Let’s see what water does. It pushes the smoke and pepper back here as well and finally lets the charred pineapple out; the oak is now more subdued as well. Not as much vanilla here as on the nose, thankfully.
Finish: Long. The smoke and the pepper both crest on the finish, leaving salt and wet stones in their wake. Less smoky and peppery and sweeter here too with water.
Comments: This is probably the smokiest, most phenolic Kilchoman I’ve yet had—or at least it’s up there. A bit of a blunt instrument as a result and tastes somewhat younger than its age. It’s fine if you want a bruising peated whisky but there’s really nothing here to recommend it over far cheaper alternatives—and yes, it makes the increasingly expensive Lagavulin 12 CS seem like a good value.
Rating: 85 points.