As we speak, brothers Peter and James Wills are on their 2023 European Tour. They’ve loaded up the Landrover with Kilchoman goodies and are making their way across the European mainland, promoting the distillery and new releases wherever they go. I have a few of them on the tasting table today: the new Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2023 and the Kilchoman 2023 European Tour.
Kilchoman is respected and admired by many but has never really been a personal favourite. Now, I’d like to emphasise it’s not them, it’s me. Their approach to whisky-making is right up my alley. A farm distillery with its own maltings? I mean, come on. I couldn’t ask for much more.
But when given the choice, I almost never go for the heavily peated Islay style. My favourite distilleries on the island would be Bowmore and Bruichladdich, followed by Bunnahabhain. That probably tells you all you need to know about my preferences. I suppose if money were no object, older and thus more gentle Lagavulin and Caol Ila (25+ years) would be right up there also.
As Kilchoman makes heavily peated whisky, and most of their releases struggle to surpass 10 years of maturation, you can probably understand why they’re not quite my favourite. Again, love their philosophy, but my preferences don’t really align with Kilchoman’s style.
Having gotten that out of the way you might wonder why I’m reviewing Kilchoman then. But I’d like to think (or hope) I can recognise quality whisky, regardless of personal tastes. I appreciate a good, smoky Islay dram, even if it wouldn’t be my first dram of choice to relax with.
First up, the Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2023. A vatting of 22 casks with an outturn of 18,000 bottles. 8 casks were distilled in 2013, 6 distilled in 2014, and another 8 distilled in 2015.
Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2023 (46%, OB)
Nose: A soft maltiness with peanut skins, smoked barley husks and a tinge of sauerkraut, but also earthy peat, tar, and black olives. Also a whisper of new tennis balls and walnuts. Taste: Mouthfeel is a little thinner than expected maybe, but the flavours are plenty rich. Salty touches, earthy smoke, tar, and just a whiff of preserved lemons, but also cracked black pepper corns and soft notes of chocolate. Finish: Long with plenty of coastal touches. Also, the Oloroso sherry keeps building.
Colour me impressed! And with prices of Islay whisky on the rise, this might soon be a more affordable option than say, *blasphemy alert*, a Lagavulin 16. Heck, maybe it already is.
Second is the Kilchoman 2023 European Tour. It’s bottled at cask strength and has matured in bourbon and port casks. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a more exact recipe.
Kilchoman European Tour 2023 (58.5%, OB)
Nose: Soft notes of sea spray and anchovy with gentle walnuts, a touch of golden syrup and sultanas, then a whiff of porridge, melon, and coastal peat. Finally some bright citrus touches. Taste: Quite a silky or creamy mouthfeel. The arrival is somewhat spicy. Cloves, nutmeg, pepper. But also plenty of earthy peat, black olives, seawater and mead. A touch nutty also. Oh, and charred lemons. Finish: Long and salty, with medicinal peat, sauerkraut and some subtle stone fruits.
The port influence is rather minimal, in my opinion. Mostly noticeable on the nose, less so on the palate. Good whisky, but I absolutely prefer the Loch Gorm.