I have to admit that I wasn't on the Kilchoman bandwagon when they first started releasing their feisty, smoky, precocious Islay single malts. Being that they were the hot new distillery in Scotland, breaking ground on Islay for the first time in almost a century, I was bit unnerved by the fact that they were selling young whiskies at old whisky prices. The craft whiskey movement in the U.S. had already been rubbing some customers the wrong way, namely because they weren’t as cost efficient as the big boys. A two year old, “hand-crafted” bourbon might sell for more than three times the price of something like Buffalo Trace 10 year. Because we’re a society that has constantly been told “older is better,” we automatically assume that we’re being ripped off.
What we don’t always know is if the extra money it costs the little guys to make the whisky is ever worth actually spending. Sure, they can make a $100 white whiskey with local, organic barley and bio-dynamic farming, all with single pot still batch distillation – the question is: should they? With Kilchoman, the jury was still out. The first release showed potential, but the price still seemed a bit high. Their second release I tasted, however, really spoke to me – the sherry aging of the Spring 2011 was something quite needed and it made the malt taste much more mature. Their next release, a 100% Islay local barley malt, absolutely blew me away, even though it clocked in at $100. I'd always known that age was nothing but a number in terms of quality, but sometimes one needs to be convinced of that with physical evidence. There's simply a stigma against young malts because people think they can’t taste as good as the older ones. However, if a young whisky does exceed the quality of an older malt, shouldn’t it be just as expensive if not more so?
Our new Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $92.99 is perhaps the finest young Scottish single malt I’ve ever had. I've tasted young Ardbeg, young Lagavulin, and young Caol Ila, but they've never been as good or as exciting as this single malt is (some of the older ones haven't been either). The nose is a sparkplug of phenolic energy - peat, smoke, salt, oil, vanilla, sand, sweet barley, with accents of white peach and dried fruit. Smelling it must be similar to sitting by a beach campfire while eating a Charleston Chew. The complexity continues onto the palate where black pepper and rich Bourbon wood enter into the equation. It's so enjoyable I smile just thinking about it. It's not going to please everyone, but I've learned with experience that we can't worry about that all the time. Those who prefer the relatively dainty Lagavulin 16 won't want to fool with this. This whisky is like a laser, or a freakishly loud alarm clock. It's like going to the eye doctor and seeing a clear image through the examination machine - you didn't realize how blurry everything else was until that moment. I didn't realize how bored I had become with peated whisky until drinking this.
When we talked with Kilchoman about purchasing a cask, I was really hesistant. "What are we going to do with that much young whisky?" I thought. Now I know. We're going to sell the hell out of it.