Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Kilchoman Sanaig: a fight between the barn and the cask

Kilchoman opened almost 20 years ago as a farm distillery. A small operation, with everything done on site, little stills, and putting out young peated giants ever since that first release back in 2009. That 2009 release was the first whisky after three years, but we must say that Kilchoman also released some stellar new make spirit, or “Anticipation” expressions that was not so new make anymore, and incredibly impressive at just 2 years old. I remember sipping this stuff on the beach of Machir Bay. Magical moment.
Kilchoman thrives with young whisky. Might this be the reason that a widely available age stated expression is still not available, and might in fact never be? The core range consists of the Machir Bay (predominantly bourbon casks) and the Sanaig that we will taste today. Recently, we have come across the announcement that Batch Strength is added to this rather modest core range. There is some re-charred red wine casks involved in this.

But, all of this is not to say that Kilchoman has nothing to offer besides their core range. There is loads and loads of special (yearly returning) releases. I always loved the 100% Islay series, and during Feis Ile I will taste two weird bottlings in the Comraich series, with one on port and one on calvados! Stay tuned for the 30th of May.

Kilchoman Sanaig, bottled in 2017 at 46 % abv

Makeup: An expression consisting of a 50-50 per cent vatting of bourbon and sherry casks. The bottle code for my sample was SAN 1/2/17 17/02 which indicates it was bottled early 2017. 50 PPM is indicated, no colouring or chill-filtration.

General impressions: After almost twenty years of distilling, we can surely determine what a typical Kilchoman should smell like. This Sanaig could well be that: authentic Kilchoman. All on farmy and peaty aroma, bound together by sherry sweetness. Truly delicious and very clean, not an off note to be found, this Kilchoman proudly displays peated malted barley, good cask management and excellent blending. It creates a true farmland vibe. The taste brings more of a fight between the bourbon farm influences and the dominating sweetness of the sherry casks, which are said to be oloroso casks.

On continued sipping the sweetness of the liquid starts to get more pronounced. This is a beautiful contrast with the fierce peated character, that makes you feel like you are drinking a cask strength Islay whisky. Talk about impact! I added just a wee drop of water to see what happens. The aroma from the glass stays more or less the same, maybe with a feeling of beach sand added, while the taste displays more bitterness. I imagine this could please some enthusiasts, and it is indeed really nice, but I will keep my Sanaig neat.

Conclusion: Apparently this Kilchoman Sanaig is quite young, with 4 to 5 years matured whisky. This seems to be the signature Kilchoman style: young, fierce, very talkative on the peat, but also with lots of complexity and playfulness. Recommended if you have a taste for classic Islay whisky.

Score: 86 points

Disclaimer: kindly shared with me from an open bottle by a whisky friend.

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