Glenfarclas distillery tour review

Last day of the holiday and time for one last tour. Glenfarclas had been on my bucket list since the last time I was in Speyside (3 years ago), so I was looking forward to this one.

As the tour began, we stood in front of a number of portraits (below) and were introduced to the Grants (John and Georges), the family that have owned the distillery for generations. Much like when you do a Glenfiddich or Balvenie tour, a great deal is made out of being “family owned”, but it does feel a little different here. The family still live on site (in fact we saw them making a snowman in their driveway from the window in the wash back room), and there is something about the location and the whole operation that just *feels* like a family business.

Into the distillery we went and the first site was the biggest malt mill I have seen (It didn’t say porteus either). Apparently this bad boy can grind 8 tonnes per hour but has lasted since the 60s because it’s never been run at 8 tonnes per hour. This may raise some questions in your mind. All I’ll say is, mine too but I didn’t ask them as it didn’t seem like that sort of tour.

Onto the tun room and the wash backs, both made from stainless steel. The brilliant thing about this room just wouldn’t come out on my camera phone. The large windows to the left of this picture of the wash backs look out onto the snow capped Ben RInnes (and we are pretty close to it here). A fantastic setting for a workplace!

The stills looked fairly tall and had a bulb to help promote a lighter spirit (though some of this may be negated by the descending line arm). The spirit safe was roped off as you can see from the pictures. I really didn’t like this touch. Other distilleries don’t have problems with rogue tourists twiddling knobs and collecting feints etc, so why are these guys worried?

We were not taken to a warehouse, but we were allowed to look in the window of the filling store. Now here is where the tour guide told us something that I found very surprising. Apparently Glenfarclas use sherry casks and, if they use bourbon barrels, they must be 3rd fill (or 4th, 5th etc) so that, in the words of our tour guide, “they don’t impart any flavour to the final spirit and affect Glenfarclas’ sherried profile”. I can see the sense in this as Sherry casks can cost 10-12 times bourbon casks and this might be a way to get more spirit at the right age cheaper. I was just stunned that they’d admit to this on a tour. Surely something like “We prefer bourbon barrel notes such as vanilla to be more mellowed, as they would be after a number of fills, so that they add a subtle complexity to the profile of Glenfarclas”, would be more par for the course?

The tasting was to be held in a room panelled using wood from a salvaged ship, the SS Empress Australia. Nice!

The tour usually comes with a tasting of Glenfarclas 10 year old. However, I had heard on Whiskycast that there was a new distillery only edition available. The whisky was the last distilled in 1999 before the turn of the millennium and had been maturing in Sherry since then. The bottles are sold as 1l and are at cask strength. Our guide let me taste this instead (after I explained I had a full bottle of Glenfarclas 10 at home). Here are the dramstats:

  • Price £60
  • 1 litre
  • ABV 56.3%
  • Distillery only

Nose: Honey, vanilla, brandy snap, fig rolls. There is a blend like quality to the malt (i.e. in the flavour profile) and this is no bad thing. Maple syrup comes through with a little water.

Palate: Lots of honey and caramel. It’s slightly sickly, very sweet and a touch biscuity with fig rolls. Sherry is definitely there but it’s not a deep rich oloroso type sherry, but almost a cream sherry. There is a very creamy mouthfeel with maple syrup and barley sugar coming through with a touch of water.

Finish: Pepper, barley, fruity biscuits (fig rolls, gariboldis), with lingering honey and barley sugar.

Verdict: It’s definitely not what I was expecting from a sherry cask but it’s pretty awesome and £60 for 1l cask strength is a freakin’ steal!

Overall Verdict: Overall I liked the distillery and the whisky but I was disappointed with the tour. For a family place, there were too many corporate touches that served to make the visitors feel unwelcome (e.g. not showing warehouses and roping off the spirit safe). I am holding these guys to a higher standard, yes, but they do make a lot of their family ownership, and yet you don’t feel as if you are invited into their home as a guest, but as if you are a health and safety concern. When the experience is compared to that offered by William Grant and Sons at the Balvenie or even Glenfiddich, though the scale of the operation is huge in comparison, you still feel like they are showing you around their home. However, for the price of the tour (£5), this is definitely a place to visit. The breathtaking nature of the location, the view from the wash backs and the dram at the end are worth the entry fee.

 

The Balvenie distillery tour

I picked up this tour whilst out distillery bagging earlier in the week (see this post). I rang the number on the sign and it turned out they were open by appointment, so we booked a tour.

After the crazy blizzard that blighted our trip to Glendronach, it was actually a lovely day. We’ve really seen all 4 seasons in Scotland on this trip!

Upon arriving we were welcomed by our guides David and Noni. We were offered tea, coffee and shortbread and a chat around the sofas whilst waiting for the other members of our party. Right from the start this tour had a different feeling about it. As if you were guests of the distillery to be looked after as you would be in a restaurant or hotel.

We started the tour in the Balvenie maltings. It turns out that Balvenie malt a percentage of their own Barley and even have a farm that grows a portion of it. The barley that they malt is peated to a low level and is mixed with unpeated malt that they buy in.

Here is the malt barn

Below are the floor maltings. It turns out that The Balvenie actually employ a large team and today there were two workers managing the barley and making sure it was turned. We were shown how Barley used to be turned by hand and I got to have a go. Hard work and not difficult to see how so many got monkey shoulder!

We then opened the kiln doors to look at the barley being dried with peat smoke. It turns out that there is a coal fire for generating heat and a small amount of peat is burnt in a separate oven with the smoke mixed in with the heat from the coal fire in the chimney.

From there it was into the main distillery. Interestingly the Mash tun for Kininvie is also in the tun room of the Balvenie. Kininvie is a single malt used in monkey shoulder and in the grants blends and has it’s still house behind Balvenie. Both mash tuns are stainless steel.

In the wash back room we were able to taste both the wort and the wash. They were really going for the whole experience here.

After seeing the stills, it was then outside for a ride in a Jeep down to The Balvenie’s own cooperage! From there we were able to watch the coopers working on casks. You could stand there for hours watching these guys work!

Then it was on to the famous warehouse 24. There were no photos allowed in here, but we did get some unique experiences. Firstly we had a look at tun 1401 and opened the bung to smell the contents. There is some awesome stuff in there!

Next our guide dipped the dog in a 39 year old Bourbon barrel to fill a 20cl bottle for a later tasting. This was a special for warehouse 24 members (though of course everyone in the party was allowed a taste).

Lastly, and most excitingly, we were then shown downstairs to a room with 3 casks from which we could take our own samples by dipping the dog. The idea was that for £25 you took the copper dog, dipped into your cask of choice and filled your own 20cl bottle. I had a sniff of each cask and thought a 16 year old first fill oloroso butt was excellent (and I wanted a go at dipping the dog!).

After what had thus far been an amazing tour, it was onto an extensive tasting.

In addition to the 5 drams you see above, we were able to nose and taste the new make and we also had a go at the 39 year old warehouse 24 special. The 5 drams were The 12 and 17 year old Doublewood, the Single Barrel 15, The Caribbean Cask 14 and the Portwood 21. The Single Barrel 15 was an advent calendar dram and was reviewed here.

Here are some dramstats:

The Balvenie New Make

Nose: Prunes, dates, honey sweet malt, slightly grassy with a vegetal note (peas).

Palate: Very juicy dried fruits and honey sweet

The Balvenie 12 Doublewood

  • Price £30
  • ABV 40%

Nose: The new make comes through. Sweet honey, biscuity, vanilla with a touch of raisin and fig.

Palate: Honey sweet raisins and vanilla. Slightly peppery and spicy with oak. A touch biscuity.

Finish: Peppery oak, vanilla and honey sweetness. The oak dries and tingles.

Verdict: It’s excellent and a top top entry level malt. It’s one you can often get a good deal on in a supermarket too!

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask

  • Age 14 years
  • Price £43
  • ABV 43%
  • Finished in caribbean rum casks

Nose: Honey and golden syrup, banana chips (the sugary ones), a hint of coconut, granola and hob nobs. Hazelnut.

Palate: Banana chips, hob nobs and flapjacks with golden syrup and chopped nuts.

Finish: Lots of golden syrup, nutty hob nobs and a hint of banana chips.

Verdict: This was my favourite Balvenie and I had a couple of drams in a whisky bar later in the week. One I shall be picking up I think.

The Balvenie Doublwood 17 years

  • Price £70
  • ABV 43%

Nose: Green apple, prune and raisin. Sherry comes through with cinnamon spice and a peppery note.

Palate: Peppery sweet, toffee and honey.

Finish: Toffee and caramel with peppery oak then a toffee vanilla fade.

Verdict: It’s a nice dram and there is nothing wrong with it. But I prefer the 12 year old version and so I wouldn’t spend the extra £40 on this.

The Balvenie Portwood 21

  • ABV 40%
  • Price £80

Nose: Marzipan, dark muscavado honey, juicy dark fruits.

Palate: Sweet, rich, peppery oak and treacle toffee.

Finish: Very drying oak with red wine, blackcurrant and jammy sugars.

Verdict: Excellent stuff but I actually prefer the caribbean cask.

Balvenie 1974 Bourbon cask (taken from the cask whilst there).

Nose: Honey, vanilla, citrus, lemon pith, rose water, peat smoke and lots of oak. This just gets woodier as it warms up.

Palate: Icing sugar, vanilla, honey and wood.

Finish: Very drying oak, woody with a touch of smoke.

Verdict: Since you can’t buy this, there is not much point in my saying whether I would buy it or not.

Overall verdict: A really excellent tour. So much happened and it lasted for about 3-3.5 hours! Loved the maltings and the cooperage and the part in the warehouse. We also got a thorough tasting and were made to feel throughout like guests of the distillery, not tourists. The most professional tour I’ve done and value for money at £25!

 

 

Glendronach distillery tour

Today was snowing badly when we woke up and we had planned a tour of Glendronach which meant a 20 mile drive across the hills. We’d be fine though on well managed Scottish roads right?

So we got to Dufftown and took the road to Huntley and it was all good until we got into the hills. Suddenly it went from clear road to 1 foot of snow on the road. Turns out it was drifting in off the fields. We turned round and tried another way. Again we were turned around by snow drifts. There was only one route left and i was losing hope of making it. We went through Keith and down the A96 which seemed clear. We made it through, hurray!

The guide at Glendronach was surprised we’d made it and staggered that we’d want a tour in this weather. I remarked it was perfect weather for standing in a still house. Warm! The tour was on…

The wort inside the mash tun

I stumped for the £15 tour which included “a range of older and single cask Glendronachs” in the tasting. Sounded like a bargain to me (and was). There is a connosieur tasting for £25 that involves taking samples out of casks but that needed booking in advance. I shall be going back!
So off round the distillery we went in the snow. This was a really good tour. Firstly we were allowed to take photos anywhere, including in the still house. No “your device could cause a spark and an explosion with the alcohol vapours” concerns here. Another thing that made the tour for us was the guides adaptability. We made it clear that we’d done lots of tours and she left some of the obvious details out (explanation of what grist is for example). This left her able to go into more details where we wanted them (distillery history, work force, still shape) and made the tour go at what felt like our pace.

Here is the mash tun, wash backs, stills and spirit safe.

It was too cold to head into a warehouse and the snow was really coming down plus, like I said, I intend to go back for a connoisseurs tour at some point, so I can wait. On a cold blizzardy day like this, it was time to sample some older and single cask Glendronachs!

To warm the taste buds up, we started with Glendronach 12. You can read my tasting notes for this dram here.

Next up was Glendronach 18, named “Allardice” after the founder of the distillery. This may be 18, but there are up to 33 year old whiskies in this and, for me it oozes quality. Here are the dramstats:

  • Price £55
  • ABV 46%
  • Non chill filtered
  • Not coloured

Nose: Malty, rich dark fruit, malt loaf, deep rich sherry with prunes, dates and currants. You can smell the oloroso!

Palate: Prunes, dates, rich oloroso, currants and malty

Finish: Burnt caramel, treacle, dried fruits and sherry. There is a hint of wood smoke (Glendronach barley is peated to 1ppm in these expressions but this is the first time it’s come through). Dry oak.

Verdict: I’m drinking this, loving it, and staring across to the shelf at the price in disbelief. I am not used to being able to buy whisky this good for only £55. This went straight into the shopping basket.

Next up was Glendronach Cask Strength.

  • Price ~£55
  • ABV 54.8%

Nose: Alcohol burn, apple and dried fruits. Slightly malty with orange, a touch of toffee. The orange gets big with water.

Palate: Lots of dried fruit and sherry, malty and slightly tropical but lots of raisins and orange. Hint of gariboldi and fig rolls.

Finish: Pepper, oak and dried fruit. Big, creamy toffee and orange.

Verdict: This was excellent. The only reason I didn’t buy it is because I preferred the profile of the 18. I think the price is good and the whisky is high quality. I am really enjoying this tasting!

Now we go up a notch for the Glendronach Managers special, a bottle you fill straight from the cask:

  • First Fill Oloroso Sherry Butt
  • ABV 59.2%
  • Distilled 1993
  • Price £85

Nose: Big sherry, tonnes of fruit, touch of pepper and burnt cinder toffee. With water chocolate comes through and the fruit really ramps up.

Palate: Sherry, chewy! Cough syrup. With water it’s a dried fruit explosion with chocolate and malt loaf.

Finish: Raisins, dates, figs, sherry, cola and drying oak.

Verdict: Wow. The longer this sits in the glass, the more comes through. This is a great butt! I really wanted a bottle of this, but looking round the shop there were other single cask oloroso expressions at £10 cheaper from the same year but pre-bottled. I wondered if the £10 was a tourist rip off and a premium on “bottling your own”. I asked our guide what the difference was and she said she preferred the managers special, but offered me the chance to taste the other one (another sign of how good this tour is)

Glendronach single cask distillery only 1993

  • Refill Oloroso
  • ABV 56.1%
  • Filled 1993
  • Bottled June 2012

Nose: Oloroso, HP sauce, malted barley (factory smell), dried fruit.

Palate: Sweet, sherry, oak.

Finish: Drying oak, fruit but perhaps a touch too oaky for me.

Verdict: This is a good whisky, but it’s nowhere near the Managers special and my notes reflect that. If I’d not had the managers special, I expect these notes would be very positive and I’d even be tempted for a bottle, but I was standing with a dram in each hand and the Managers special was absolutely excellent, definitely worth at least £10 more (I don’t mind paying extra for quality) and I bought a bottle of that too.

There was one more surprise. I asked for a bottle of the 18 and the Managers special and our guide phoned the distillery manager! It turns out that when you buy the manager’s special, the manager comes and fills the bottle for you, signs the bottle, chats about it and poses for a photo! This just put the cherry on an excellent tour for me!

Here we are

Overall Verdict: I really enjoyed this tour. Glendronach has become my favourite distillery over a handful of excellent experiences with their whisky and after a brilliant tour and tasting. It’s safe to say a bottle of this stuff will always be on my whisky shelf.

Glen Grant distillery tour

Following an awesome morning tour at the Macallan, we headed down the road to Glen Grant distillery and gardens.This place is owned by Campari and Glen Grant is the number 1 selling single malt in Italy. The tour is £3.50 for which you get a good tour, 2 drams and access to the gardens as well as £2 off a 70cl bottle should you wish to buy. All in all a total bargain considering it’s worth the money to go round the garden.We were allowed to take photos throughout the distillery (thank you Campari for showing common sense), so here are the mash tun, wash backs and stills.These are the first stills ive seen with purifiers. Gadgets at the top of the still that send heavier elements back into the still for a lighter spirit. I wonder why they didnt use taller stills or more horizontal line arns, but who am i to argue with their success?After a quick look in a warehouse it was back to the visitor centre for the most ridiculous dvd we’ve seen at a distillery. Some actor pretends to be Major Grant, the man responsible for the distillery’s success, wearing a vast, comic, fake moustache that moves from scene to scene. Seriously if Eric Morcambe had worn it, everyone would have laughed. Anyway, the fake major rambles for 10 minutes about his life and then we go for a quick tasting. On to a tasting of two whiskies, Glen Grant Major Reserve and Glen Grant 10 yr.

Glen Grant Major Reserve

  • Price £22
  • ABV 40%
  • Age 6-8yo

Nose: Apple, barley, touch of vanilla, honey, alcohol burn (quite young), hob nobs, buttery.

Palate: Biscuity, hob nobs with apple chips.

Finish: Pepper, vanilla, biting malt.

Verdict: Pretty good for a 6-8 year old whisky.

Glen Grant 10

  • Age 10
  • ABV 40%
  • Price £26

Nose: Honey, golden syrup, hob nobs, apples, quite closed. Vanilla, dried fruit and raisins appear after time.

Palate: Vanilla, biscuity and fruity.

Finish: Slightly oaky pepper kick with a long finish of digestive biscuits and vanilla.

Verdict: for a 10 year old this is pretty good and well priced.

The Garden

Of course Glen Grant isnt just a distillery. There is also a victorian garden. This is great after the tour if you are with your other half (who is kind enough to chauffer you around). It’s very pictoresque and there are one or two surprises…Behind this door there really is Glen Grants whisky locked away for guests. They are brought out here and have their drams with water from the burn! Cool!

Overall Verdict

A really good tour with something for the driver/kids at the end. They had some nice looking distillery only bottles for sale, but offered no chance to sample them. I think they’d sell more if they did. I like being able to take photos, but i would drop the comedy dvd part.

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The Macallan distillery tour

I was really looking forward to this. An 11am tour of The Macallan with an extensive tasting at the end. The price was £20 which, actually turns out to be epic value as the tasting includes 3 whiskies over £100 and one at £400. More on that later. Mrs dramstats was driving so she did the standard tour and without a dram. They charged £10 for this!! Piece of advice one: book a precious tour by phone before you go!The tour is a “no photos anywhere inside the distillery” one. You know, for health and safety reasons. I wonder if things were still directly fired if it would be the same.It was a pretty good tour, they are distilling on a mind boggling scale and the stills, washbacks and tun we saw didn’t even represent half of the distilling power in other parts of the factory. The stills are really short with decending line arms to promote a really heavy spirit. I’m really getting into the geekery behind spirit still shape and character of the spirit! There are 2 spirit stills to each wash still as the spirit stills are so short.After the usual factory part and before the warehouse peak, there was a “wood feature”. On a floor above a dunnage warehouse was a mini museum on cask making and coopering with particular reference to spanish oak. This part was a little boring but at the end there was a cool feature with a number of large glass “vases” each containing a different scent found in whisky. This was good nose prep and everyone enjoyed it.In the dunnage warehouse we saw a cask patched up with a copper “plaster”. This was pretty interesting. I didnt realise they did such on the fly repairs to casks containing whisky. It was now tasting time…Whilst the whisky in this tasting was excellent, the guy gave us roughly 5 minutes per dram, less by the end. That was a real downer but i tried to write fast. The whisky really was excellent! Highlight of the week so far. Here are some dramstats:

The Macallan New Make

Nose: figs, prunes, dates and sultanas. Tyese are crazy sherry cask type notes for a new make! Currants and juicy raisins.

Palate: Dried fruit bomb! Like all of the ingredients of xmas cake without the sherry. Very full mouthfeel.

Finish: Never have raisins been so juicy! Fantastic new make and i can see why it goes so well with sherry.

Verdict: No kidding, if they bottled this and sold it i’d be a customer. It’s amazing stuff. Getting excited about the matured stuff now.

Fine oak 12 year old

  • Price at distillery £35
  • 40% ABV

Nose: vanilla, floral, apple, light chocolate.

Palate: Vanilla, quite sweet with a hint of mocha.

Finish: Hint of cocoa and lasting sweet apple.

Verdict: i like this. Its very good though our guide is rushing us so i cant really enjoy it. The issue is that i know there is a sherried version on the way…

Macallan 18

  • Price £100 (at the distillery)
  • ABV 43%

Nose: Sherry, dried fruits. Many notes from the new make. Prunes, fig rolls, raisins. Chocolate, orange and cinnamon.

Palate: chocolate orange, sherry, dried fruit, full bodied. Absolutely stunning!

Finish: well rounded and short with chocolate and all of the notes from the palate coming back.

Verdict: initially i was really pissed off with this. I mean £100 for an 18 year old OB?! Who can afford to drink this? But it is so nice! I am coming round to the idea of an affordable bottle for special occasions. After all, if the quality of the whisky is good, the age is kind of irrelevant. Ive got till the end of the week to decide whether to buy one.

Macallan Fine Oak 21

  • Price £230(?!)
  • ABV 43%

Nose: Vanilla, citrus, floral, some of the new make comes through with prunes a d dried fruit. Apples.

Palate: Apple, vanilla, with some prune and dried fruit and a touch of orange juice.

Finish: slight peppery kick, oiky with a hint of orange.

Verdict: Lovely, but £230!!!? Wow. Considering this is part of their core range, who are the people buying this? 3 years on from 18 and the price is up £130!

Macallan 25 year sherry oak.

  • Price £400(!)
  • ABV 43%

Nose: fantastic rich chocolate with prunes, hint of orange lots of dried fruit and sherry.

Palate: chocolate, dried fruit, apple and spices.

Finish: Rich chocolate and christmas cake. Hint of brown sugar and toffee.

Verdict: this is great! Really great! But still, £400 for 25 year old whisky. Out of my league but great to taste. Why could we only have 5 minutes though Macallan?

Overall verdict:

A great tour and the extended tasting is a bargain given the price of the bottles we got to taste. I love the distillery, the still shape, the new make and particularly the sherried versions which complete the new make so well. The prices of the standard bottlings make me baulk and i was gutted after 1 hour talking about wood that we were only given 4-5 minutes with some once in a lifetime drams. I definitely recommend going.

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Benromach distillery tour

On arrival this is quite a pretty distillery that has kept visitors in mind. There is a nice water feature and the front is pretty attractive.We signed up for two standard tours at £5 each. We were the only ones on the tour and it started pretty much straight away. Our tour guide Sandy asked us if we’d been to a distillery before and we replied that we had done lots. Still he went through the basics on the whisky regions before putting a bit of Gordon and Macphail marketing on DVD for us. Then it was time to do the actual tour and we started off in a museum part that contained old distillery equipment. There was an old mash tun, mill, labeller and otyer interesting artefacts. This was the last part i was allowed to use my camera for “health and safety reasons”. Seriously people, the stills used to be directly fired!The tour inside was very interesting and i thought Sandy was pretty good. Benromach is the only distillery on the Scottish mainland where you can stand in one room and see the mash tun, wash backs and stills. The wash backs are made from larch and are the smallest i’ve seen. The stills are small but there is a bulb to prevent the spirit from being over heavy.We then got to see the dunnage warehouse (one of them anyway) and the filling room. They apparently fill all the distilate from the previous week on a monday morning and here are the fruits:A full weeks distilling for only 9 casks! Ibwas pretty surprised.Then it was back inside for the tasting. We were supposed to just taste the 10 year old. But Sandy was good to us and brought the 10, organic, peated organic and a sasscia wine cask finish. He also brought oat cakes for between drams. Good man! Here are some dramstats

Benromach 10 year old

  • Price £31
  • ABV 43%

Nose: Earthy peat (stronger than the 8-12 ppm suggests). Sherry notes, blackcurrant, malty but not too sweet. Raisins and xmas cakes come through, touch of lemon peel.Palate: Honey sweetness, slight smoke, bitter caramel, juicy raisin.Finish: raisins, cherries and a touch of smoke.Verdict: Quite peaty on the nose but not so peaty on he palate. Very sweet on the palate and very enjoyable. With £3 off thanks to the tour this is a total bargain and i’m getting a bottle!

Benromach Sasscia wine finish

  • Price £31
  • ABV 43%

Nose: Rich sherry, raisins, christmas cake and peat smoke. Not winey like i expected.Palate: Malted barley and a slight sweetness.Finish: Pepper, the peat is slightly sweet but the smoke is what comes through.Verdict nothing like as sweet as this type of finish promises. The price is fine but the 10 year old is a better whisky.

Benromach Organic

  • Price £33
  • ABV 43%
  • Virgin casks

Nose: grassy, nutty, barley apple crumble and cream.Palate: nutty with malted barley and fruit crumble.Finish: Slightly hot touch of spicy oak and pepper, hib nobs and oat cakes.Verdict i really liked this. Whats weird is that i get the same crumble note from the organic bruichladdich. I’m surprised that after 6 years in virgin oak this is not a biggar woodier whisky. Its really pretty good. I’m not reviewing the peated version as my notes turned out to be exactly the same but with added peat. Almost as if the same spirit had smoke “added”. I prefered the unpeated.

Tour verdict

This was a very good tour. Perhaps our guide could have left some of the usual spiel behind, knowing we’d been to loads of places, but he did have a wealth of knowledge gleaned from working in distilleries all over Scotland and had some great stories. I like the concept of the lightly peated malt to harken back to older style speysiders and i like the whisky. Thumbs up all round!

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Kilchoman Inaugral 100% Islay

As part of my Islay visit in February 2012, we managed to get across to Kilchoman distillery.

I recommend anyone visiting Islay with a loved one, particularly one not into drinking whisky, that they make a day out of visiting the west coast. Pack a picnic (and a hip flask) and head over to Machir Bay on the west coast. You can have a lovely beach walk, maybe even a beach picnic if the weather goes your way. The more adventurous can have a beach hack with a local riding school.

In February, the weather was dry but very cold and windy. Hardly sunbathing weather! So we had our walk, ate the picnic in the car, then headed round the corner to Islay’s farm distillery for a very personal tour of a tiny place.

And Kilchoman really is tiny! I’ve never seen smaller stills and washbacks! This only adds to the charm of the place and you really feel like this is a farm that also has a couple of stills.

After the tour comes the tasting and we got to sample the whole range at the time, including the then just about to be released Machir bay expression, named after the beach that, if you have followed my advice, you will have just come from. I liked the Machir Bay, but the dram that really caught my palate was this one:

kilchol

Kilchoman Inaugral 100% Islay. This is Kilchoman, but made 100% from ingredients grown on Islay. So they take local barley, malt it themselves on their own malting floor, make the whisky and mature it right there. It’s more expensive, but you could really tell the difference between the 100% islay and the standard Kilchoman. Here are the dramstats:

  • Price: ~£70
  • ABV 46%
  • Non coloured
  • Non chill filtered

Nose: Tropical fruits, banana, mango, passion fruit, coconut, and, of course, peat smoke. Vanilla, creamy barley. Time in the glass leads to sticky smoked chinese style ribs. This is still obviously young though.

Palate: Creamy smoke, more medicinal than the nose. Faint passion fruit and creamy barley. Almost like porridge made with barley not oats, (if there is such a thing).

Finish: Smoked coconut and banana with mango. It’s subtle and very nice. Malted milks fade.

Verdict: It’s nice but it does need a few more years. I’d like to try this at 6 or 7 years old. You get the notes I mention if you work hard, but there is a lot of that youthful harshness to get through first. At £70 I would not buy this again. I realise that growing and malting the barley on Islay adds to the cost of producing the whisky, but you might think that some of that cost would have been offset by only having to have stored it for 3 years and by having barely tired the cask (so that it can be reused many more times). It is, by far and away, the best 3 year old I’ve ever had, but the price is pretty annoying.

You may ask why I bought it, and I think, to be honest, I wasn’t considering price and was treating it more like a holiday souvenir. I’ll be looking out for the 100% Islay Kilhomans and, specifically, looking for them to get older and come down to a reasonable price point. Kilchoman is a great distillery and a great place to visit, but I have come away feeling somewhat of a sucker. 😦