Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Kilkerran Heavily Peated – a story that was never meant to be?

The Kilkerran Distillery just recently celebrated its twentieth birthday. The range of expressions from the distillery is becoming more and more clear, with regular releases of a 12 and 16 years old, more special 8 years old at higher strength, and for some years now also a Heavily Peated. 

When researching in my own archives for a photograph to publish alongside my tasting notes for Springbank Local Barley releases of recent years, I found an interesting line. It was found in an article in the Dutch whisky magazine De Kiln, which I had just become editor-in-chief of in that time. We are talking second half of 2009. At my request, Floris Kooistra (one of the WhiskyNerds) wrote a review of our visit to the Springbank Distillery. Here is where a picture was taken of the grain bins filled with all kinds of barley ready to be malted. 

Floris wrote: “We notice that one of the bins contained peated malt for Glengyle, even though the owners had stated there would never be a peated Kilkerran. Our tour guide, sales manager Peter Currie, was reluctant to admit it, but we caught him red-handed. There had been experiments with peated Kilkerran, the results of which he kept under wraps.

Whatever came from these experiments, and if it lead to adjustments in peating levels or intel on how long to age the spirit, it is a fact the batch-released Heavily Peated is now an expression enthusiasts look forward to every year. My good whisky friend Rowald actually hosted a tasting with the first 6 or 7 releases. The first few batches seemed made from an equal mix of bourbon and sherry casks, always a bit more of the first though. Last few batches leaned more heavily on bourbon casks. The scores, with one exception, are always in the high 80s. I only ever bought one bottle myself, and from the last few drops of that one, I present you today’s tasting note.

Kilkerran Heavily Peated, batch 6, bottled at 57,4 % abv

Makeup: Batch 6 of a series supposedly called ‘peat in progress’, vatted from a batch matured in 75 % bourbon casks and 25 % sherry casks. According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook, the barley is peated up to 80 ppm.

General impressions: Deliciously smoky indeed, with lots of dry barn smells rising from the glass. I once read an amazing quote about making whisky: “Distilling is a winter sport … best done by farmers.” Very accurate, and when left alone, I bet they would come out with a whisky like this Kilkerran. There is tons of fresh lemon and barley that must be the result of ageing in bourbon cask, and just enough slivers of dirtiness coming from the sherry casks. All extremely balanced. Production levels at Glengyle are still modest, and we hope to see that change in the future, but at least you can be very picky about getting the best casks. Glengyle did a superb job on that.

The attack on the tongue is a bit salty, with a brown underlying tone of spicy chocolate. The alcohol makes this a strong dram for bearded men and strong-willed women, but you might miss some nuance so we added a drop of water. The same barn reappears when nosing the glass, but now the barn is wet. Few days of rain has happened and the stable employee walked in with wet Wellies. Mud all over the place, mixed with hay, and maybe some cow droppings too. Kintyre is farmland after all and Kilkerran must be very familiar to farming families. Slainte!
But not too fast, there is also some barley sweetness now coming from the glass. This reoccurs on the palate as well. But after settling again, this briny character remains until the sun goes down on a beautiful day in Campbeltown.

Conclusion: This was and will remain my favourite batch so far of the Kilkerran Heavily Peated expressions that I managed to taste. It is truly stunning and I would love to one day compare a 10 years old to a Longrow 10 years old, and perhaps a peated Glen Scotia at that age. I would not be surprised if Kilkerran then came out on top. A hard-hitting peated whisky if there ever was one.

Score: 90 points
Disclaimer: taken from a self-owned bottle. Pictured is the Glengyle Mill, a piece of machinery that was bought from the Craigellachie Distillery. It is not the only item that acquired second-hand for this distillery.

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