Machir Bay is the DNA of Kilchoman, Islay’s Farm Distillery. It was the first commercial release of a young brand eager to make a name for itself in the company of its 200-year-old neighbors. In my previous post, I mentioned that Kilchoman was the first distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years. It’s also the smallest. Everything from the size of the distillery’s footprint to the machinery used to produce the spirit is what you would define as “small batch”. To give you a little perspective on this comparison, the volume of liquid produced at Kilchoman in a full year is equivalent to Caol Ila’s weekly output.
The name “Machir Bay” comes from a famous 2-3 mile beach in close proximity to the distillery. This seems to be the common theme within the name selection process at Kilchoman. Several expressions have been named after nearby bodies of water or other natural landmarks, all done so with pride for the island of Islay. Machir Bay (the whisky) has evolved quite a bit since its first release. Today, it’s a vatting of spirit matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks for approximately 6 years, married and then finished in Oloroso sherry butts. This “double maturation” adds a bit more depth and color to the core expression, something that was not possible in the distillery’s first few years of production. Like all Kilchoman whisky, Machir Bay is both non-chillfiltered and naturally colored. It’s is bottled at a the distillery’s standard 46% ABV.
In the glass, the spirit is a bright straw gold color, almost like a Chardonnay. On the nose, a very light and fresh aroma with a cold breeze of sea salt and coastal peat smoke. The smoke is present but not very dense, making it far more approachable than some of the more popular single malts from Islay. Beneath the layer of smoldering ash are wonderful aromas of fresh citrus peel, malted cereal and freshly cut grass. Everything is bright and fresh one you move past the smoke. The earthiness is unmistakably Islay but it’s not thrown in your face as it is with many others. It’s very subtle and almost calming. There’s a whisk of baking spices, likely derived from the small proportion of sherry casks used for maturation. It’s faint but it’s just enough to pull everything together in one light, approachable but very smoky aroma. I believe this is the fifth dram from this bottle and already the spirit is more aerated, less punchy if you will, than the first pour. Very nice.
On the palate, an immediate wave of malted grains, lemons rind and a touch of vanilla cake icing. The granulated sugar note is very much present but it’s delivered along a thin, almost aerated body. As light as it may be in spirit, the texture of the liquid itself is oily and viscous. Then comes the smoke. Oh my! And powerful too! What started off as a surprisingly sweet, almost faint dram has morphed into the bold, peppery Islay malt it really is. There’s some freshly cracked sea salt and a faint vegetal note that I have been enjoying more and more with each taste.
The finish is medium to long as rich malted cereals trail with a nice herbaceous note that reminds me of rosemary and pine needles. Overall, a very well balanced spirit with quite a lot going on once you give it some time. Those of you familiar with Islay malts may find this to be light and breezy, almost refreshing. A great introduction to the house style of a young distillery making high quality, unique whisky.