Kilchoman 100% Islay: 2015 vs 2018

Kilchoman is Islay’s small “farm distillery”, and as such it pays a great deal of attention to the ingredients, in particular to the barley used in whisky production. One of the most successful products from this distillery is the Kilchoman 100% Islay: as the name says, this one is produced with barley exclusively grown on the island of Islay. Moreover, the Kilcho-men completed every step of whisky-making at the distillery, from the malting to the bottling. It’s a nice concept, and it is meanwhile a pretty established annual release in the nice Kilchoman range, as the first one came out already in 2011. I am always curious on how editions evolve and on how whiskies compare to each other, so today I decided to stare at a fight between two versions, and will share with you my thoughts while the samples of the 5th and the 8th releases will punch each other in the malts.

Kilchoman 100% Islay (50%, OB, 2015)
It’s a fairly young whisky (around 5 years old), matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels (fresh and refill). It shines proud of its pale colour like a noblewoman in the Middle Ages. I hope not to be too much of a commoner for this one.

Nose: A strong and acrid smoke, deep and ash-like. Vanilla and lemon, some malt. I kind of smell something like beer in the midst of all this smoke. Wet earth, something damp and maybe vaguely… rotting? OK, it doesn’t sound maybe very appealing, but it is actually a great nose.
Taste: A powerful smoke pushes aside a very well integrated alcohol. Heavy and mighty, very malty and salty, and no, I’m not writing down all the words ending with “y” I know. There is a vague floral side to it too (violets?), with sugar and hash popping up randomly in this flowering field at the seaside. Sweet and spicy.
Finish: Clean but with a heavy smoke on the aftertaste. Quite sweet and sugary too.
Overall: A very nice malt, seriously. Peaty to the right point, with other qualities and elements that, if they don’t make it the most complex and surprising malt ever, they do make it super drinkable. I’ll give it a 85/100.

Kilchoman 100% Islay (50%, OB, 2018)
This one is the result of the marriage of 23 ex-bourbon barrels and 7 ex-sherry butts (Oloroso), where the whisky has been matured for more than six years. Like the previous one, it’s a young whisky, but the ageing process is quite different: how is it gonna affect the precious liquid?

Nose: Very different, and very interesting. The peat smoke is synaesthetically lighter, clearer, fairer. Intense and marine, with salty chocolate and salty peaches. A caramel cookie enveloped in a voluminous and voluptuous smoke. And before you ask, the answer is yes, I was just looking for an occasion to use the word “voluptuous”.
Taste: Very biscuit-y, with a strong peat smoke that is somewhat less prominent and savage than it was in the older version. Super salty, intense, with honey and… miso? It’s definitely not unidimensional and it possesses a deliciously fruity side too. The cereal traits are not too prominent at first but they come up strong after a while. On a side note, I also think that this kind of cask “marriage” works muuuuch better than the sometimes rushed “finishes” that we often witness in other whiskies. Kudos to Kilchoman for this decision!
Finish: Long, smoky, intense and oily, with dried fruits dying hard.
Overall: My personal preference goes to this one, and I’ll reward it with a whopping 88/100. The comparison was very entertaining, and I’m happy to see the evolution of a very interesting concept. Honestly, if I had tested them blind I would have not guessed it was the “same” malt, probably because of the difference in maturation. Or, more realistically, because I suck at blind tastings.

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