Sanaig is the newest addition to the core lineup from Kilchoman, Islay’s Farm Distillery. Similar to the introductory Machir Bay, the whisky is made from a vatting of both ex-bourbon and oloroso sherry casks. The difference with Sanaig, however, is that it contains a much higher proportion of sherry influence. This makes for what we can expect to be a richer, sweeter spirit with much more spice.
The name “Sanaig” comes from a rocky inlet near the distillery, toward the west coast of Islay. This follows a common theme within the name selection process at Kilchoman. Several expressions have now been named after nearby bodies of water or other natural landmarks, all with pride for the island of Islay. Sanaig is the newest.
With this whisky we venture into a unique category of single malts that I like to call “Sweet Peat”. It is the beautiful style of combining heavily peated malt with some sort of wine cask influence (typically sherry, port, madeira, etc). For me, this makes for some of the most memorable whisky experiences to be had, offering an explosion of flavor in multiple directions. Examples of other distillery bottlings include the Laphroaig PX Cask, Octomore 7.2, and a personal favorite of mine, the Kilchoman Port Cask Matured.
Like Machir Bay, Sanaig is non-chillfiltered, naturally colored and bottled at 46% ABV. In the glass, the whisky has a deep copper hue to it. Generally speaking, the greater the proportion or the more time spent in sherry casks, the darker the color. The color of this whisky is indicative of a spirit matured in both sherry and ex-bourbon casks.
On the nose, oh my! A full and complex aroma of dark fruits, gingerbread and clove. The smoke is rich and dense but it’s almost as if it has originated not from Islay peat, but from a pile of smoldering cedar sticks. The sherry casks have added warmth and density to a Kilchoman spirit that is otherwise a cold and mildly coastal. There’s a brilliant aroma of freshly ground coffee and a hint of heavily-oaked white wine. It’s all very rich and so seductive too. I could nose this one for hours.
On the palate, an absolute explosion of flavors from juicy nectar fruits to cocoa and raisins. While Sanaig is made from whisky predominantly matured in sherry casks, the vanilla, citrus and honey flavors from the small proportion of American oak is also very much present. The body is somewhat thin but it’s beyond flavorful. There is so much going on in this spirit that it simply cannot be deemed a social dram. It’s a whisky that requires, and really deserves, the drinker’s full attention. On the palate the peat is a bit more earthy but it’s also subdued when delivered alongside the rich, sweet flavors of the Oloroso sherry. The finish is long and malty with added layers of fresh herbs and baking spices.
In conclusion, this is perhaps my favorite of the three core Kilchoman expressions that I’ve been enjoying these past few weeks. It is a complete whisky drinkers dram with an absolute explosion of different flavors representing the very best of Scotch whisky as a whole. For such a young distillery, Kilchoman has mastered the art of the “Sweet Peat” and for me, has set the bar for all others. The only thing I would change? The ABV of course. It’s such a beautiful whisky that I would love to experience at cask strength. At the end of the day, however, 46% is suitable for most palates and it keeps the price very reasonable for us all to enjoy.
That concludes the Kilchoman introductory tastings! Thanks to everyone who followed along. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about Kilchoman, Islay, or even whisky for that matter.