Kilchoman, an alternative distillery
Starting from our hotel in Bowmore, with Kilchoman distillery our destination, I had the impression that this will be a small family-run distillery. Having already tasted some of its whiskies, Kilchoman is highly ranked in my preferences and it is one of those brands that I always look out for, in the whisky shops.
Co Founder of www.singlemaltlodge.com
Built on the west side of Islay, it is the westernmost distillery in Scotland. It is located near Loch Gorm and the magnificent Machir Bay. The scenery there is quite different from the rest of the Islay as it is dominated by large flat green plains. Furthermore, the impressive panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean is astonishing, while if someone looks eastbound, the Paps of Jura emerge in the horizon. We were quite lucky on the day of our visit as the weather was fantastic with 100% visibility, since from Port Ellen that we were having breakfast, we could clearly see the northernmost coast of Ireland.
On the main road to Kilchoman, B8018, we took the exit to a small dirt road of around 300 metres that took us to this unique distillery that looks like no other in Scotland. I was astounded when I saw this old hacienda converted into a farm-distillery, something that could never cross my mind before. From the luxury and comfort of previously visited distilleries, I ended up astonished in a farm, staring at the surrounding cows in the fields...!
The history of whisky distillation in Scotland pioneered in farms and following the distillation model of the last century, Kilchoman is a small independent distillery with only 10 years of history that has nevertheless managed to be adored from whisky lovers all over the world. Simple and accessible to the visitor and foreign to any kind of luxury, this is definitely the place that you should not wear your expensive shoes when visiting. This is not your mainstream but rather an alternative distillery.
Kilchoman is one of only 6 distilleries in Scotland that has its own malting floor. In addition, it gives particular importance to barley, with 30% of its usage being cultivated exclusively from the distillery itself, while the rest is supplied – like most other Islay distilleries- from Port Ellen Maltings.
The two abovementioned barley varieties are kept separate during the whole production process. The own-produced barley known as "publican" lies on the malting floor for 4 days and later on goes through the peating process for 10 hours, therefore achieving 20-25% ppm phenols. The barley bought from Port Ellen on the other hand is heavily peated (50% ppm phenols).
Production in Kilchoman started in the year 2005, with the first bottles produced in 2009 quickly sold-out together with the 3 next official bottling processes. In 2011, Kilchoman became the first Islay distillery producing exclusively its own single malt whisky (the Kilchoman 100% Islay) since the whole whisky production process starts from the barley being produced domestically and finishes in the distillery with the bottling process – "from the barley to the bottle as they proudly state"!
1.2 tons of malt will be milled for one mash while the distillery makes 6 mashes a week. Then 6000 litres of wort produced by mashing will go through a relatively slow fermentation process in steel washbacks ranging from 80-120 hours.
Kilchoman has only 1 wash still and 1 spirit still and produces just 140,000 litres of spirit a year making it one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland. The wash still can be filled with 3000 litres of wash and produces 1000 litres of low wines (20% ABV) per run. Added to the above are 600 litres of feints from previous runs to fill the spirit still with 1600 litres, which produces 300 litres of spirit (69% ABV) and 600 litres of feints.
These small stills are responsible for producing a new make spirit with light, fruity, floral, citrus, sweet, and peat smoke character, whose alcohol is reduced to 63,5% ABV from 69% ABV before it is placed into barrels for ageing.
The barrels used for ageing are mainly first fill bourbon casks and to a lesser degree first fill Sherry butts. Only 22 barrels a week are filled, some of which will be aged in a warehouse next to the distillery while most are aged in the warehouses of nearby Bruichladdich, with which Kilchoman maintains an excellent relationship. At present, approximately 3000 barrels are ageing in these warehouses.
Next to the place where the barrels are being filled, the bottling process is ongoing, something that few distilleries do on their own, and guests are given the opportunity to attend.
Of course the criterion for each distillery no matter how beautiful, luxurious or not, is the end product. The liquor. Kilchoman excels in this respect, despite its only 10 years of existence and boasts some excellent whiskies including the Machir Bay which is their core expression, the Kilchoman Single Cask, the abovementioned Kilchoman 100% Islay, the Kilchoman Port Cask, and the latest Kilchoman Madeira Cask.
Kilchoman is not an ordinary distillery. A totally independent micro-farm-distillery without fanfare and exaggerations that while its product is highly demanded on the market, it opts for quality rather than quantity hence the limited and controlled production. It goes against the modern golden age of whisky we live in, remaining completely independent and trying to cope solely through its own resources.
I was infatuated with it immediately. For both the concept but most of all its uniqueness! If you plan to go to Islay a visit to Kilchoman Distillery is a must.
p.s Don't' miss the opportunity to try the cullen-skink dish, the distillery's cafe specialty ... simply delicious.