If Machir Bay is the DNA of the Kilchoman distillery, this is the heart. The Kilchoman “100% Islay” is a reoccurring limited release in which everything from barley to bottle comes from the distillery’s home of Islay. For the people of Islay, this is massive. Whisky is the lifeblood of the island and products like “100% Islay” bring jobs not just to the distillery but to local farmers and everyone in between. Kilchoman has much to be proud of but something tells me that if you ask them to choose one whisky that embodies everything they stand for, this could be it.
Interestingly, Kilchoman is the only Islay distillery that is not located on the island’s coast. Why? It was built with the intention of taking delivery of all materials only by truck, not by sea. Everything that goes directly into the distillery comes from Islay.
So then what makes “100% Islay” different than the other Kilchoman expressions? With this whisky, 100% of the barley is grown in the distillery’s backyard of Rockside Farm and then malted on-site. Other Kilchoman releases use malt from Port Ellen, and while it’s a local Islay operation, their grain used for the malt is imported. Islay conditions make the task of growing barley on the island much more difficult than on the Scottish mainland
Distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2016, 100% Islay has spent 6 years maturing in a combination of first-fill and refill American oak ex-bourbon casks. Like all whisky from Kilchoman, it’s naturally colored, non-chillfiltered and bottled at 50% ABV, a slight increase in strength compared to the distillery’s standard expressions.
On the nose, wow not at all what I would have expected. A light and phenolic aroma with a beautiful hint of peppermint and sage. Compared to the Machir Bay, the smoke in this whisky is much more subdued and in turn, more approachable. It’s more complex and rather different than anything aroma I have encountered from Islay or even Scotland for that matter. I’m not getting the cool, salty breeze I would have expected from a whisky named “100% Islay”. It’s much more fresh and grassy, an aroma truly evocative of the small farm from which it originated.
On the palate, again very fresh and herbaceous with more peppermint and pine needles on the surface. The texture is brilliant; oily and viscous with freshly cracked peppercorn and sea salt. The smoke is present but only just. It’s much calmer, more relaxed than Machir Bay, likely because the local barley they’ve used is smoked to a lower ppm count than the Port Ellen standard. But hold on a moment! Yes, there it is. 50% ABV is just enough to deliver a major kick two thirds of the way in. It’s strong and prickly just the way you would hope for in a whisky such as this.
The finish is long, much longer than with Machir Bay and if you’re like me, you’ll agree that a long finish is never a bad thing. Overall, an interesting one. Generally speaking, when I think of Islay I think of the coast. This whisky is not as “coastal” as I would have expected. But then again neither is Kilchoman. It’s Islay’s Farm Distillery and intentional or not, that is clearly evidenced in this whisky, making for one unique dram. I know some people who claim this whisky to be their absolute favorite from Islay. I can see why. For me, I think it’s a very good whisky but with the assortment of opened Kilchoman bottlings I have at home, I find this one gets lost in the mix. Perhaps because it’s more delicate than the others or perhaps because it’s just so unique and I have yet to find the right time and place for it. Either way, I love the significance of this whisky and what it means to Islay. Well done, Kilchoman.