Islay – day two: Kilchoday!


Another day, and yet another hangover cured by a full Scottish breakfast. By far the best yet. Breakfast, not hangover. Haggis and Black Pudding for breakfast? Yes, please! Eggs? Scrambled please! Add bacon, sausage and mushrooms? Hellyeah! Tomatoes? Necessary evil if you want to call it a full Scottish, I guess.

It’s Kilchoday on Islay, so I’m sure I need all the help I can get! Jimmy the tank picked us up pretty soon after our breakfast since Kilchoman is pretty remote. That gave Jimmy time to inform us about his premier league success and his time in different tanks in different deserts in different countries. We were excited and hung over enough to get through it but I spare you the details.

If you didn’t know, I love Kilchoman. Love. So this was not just a little like christmas, this was christmas. So, feel free to imagine me jumping up and down for excitement all the way. I took about a gazillion pictures. Of the way, the grass, everything. I spare you that as well, well most if it.

We took the premium tour which I booked well in advance. Very well in advance, so as soon as I had the flight dates, I send them a mail and scheduled the rest of the trip around the tour. It was just the two of us and two Canadians and our tour guide Nicole. Which made the Premium tour even more premium.

We arrived far to early, enjoyed some coffee in the cafeteria and strolled around the rather big gift shop. Red Kilchoshorts anyone? No? Me neither! To the Kilchocave then!

We started in the middle of Kilchoman’s malting floor which we shared with some hungry sparrows and a nice dram to start the tour. The newest edition of 100% Islay, which positively surprised me as the interplay between the sweet Rockside Farm’s barley and the by now seven years in fresh and refill Bourbon barrels was much better than in previous editions. The review is here. Did you know, they used to use Optic barley but switched to Publican? Now, you know! They produce about 100 tonnes of barley each year which is – different from the original plan – only about 30% of their need. They are one of six distilleries in Scottland to have their own traditional malting floor.

We continued at the Kiln which they use to dry/peat their barley for the 100% Islay range, which they bring up to about 20-25ppm. They get the rest of the malt they need from Port Ellen and since they are too small to have the malt prepared/peated to their specifications, they use the “Ardbeg” malt. I think, I talked about the story how the kiln burned down, didn’t I?

Anachronisticly distiling-wise, we stopped at the Mash-room next. We had the chance to look inside the mash-tun and marvel at the ingenious invention of the spoon sprinkler.

To save my multiverse from collapsing, we then looked at the mill before we continued! Yeah, it’s that mill everyone uses and that were so well engineered that the company went broke because they last forever without service or replacement.

We then had the chance to try the Wort, which is the result of mashing. It was quite interesting, peaty,sweet and very malty. And afterwards we tried the result of 80 – 120 hours of fermenting the Wort and turning it into Wash! Which is pretty much beer and so we had some! It was pretty bitter a bit like ale, still very malty and sweet but now with a bitter fermenting type of note – which makes a lot of sense, of course! – and 8 – 10% alcohol content.

On to the heart of Darkness! The stills! These as well as the mash tun and washbacks were specifically designed and built to Kilchoman’s requests to produce a spirit Jim Swan (who designed the distillery and served as a consultant the first years) and Anthony Wills thought would mature very well, very quick. The wash still is charged with 3000 liters of wash and the spirit still is charged with 1600 liters are amongst the smallest in Scotland. The Wash Still produces 1000 liters of 20% low wine and the Spirit Still produces about 300 liters of Spirit with 69%.

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Prior to bottling the spirit is reduced to 63.5% ABV. Speaking of which, we had some New Make Spirit at said 63.5%, distilled from the Port Ellen Ardbeg malt. Here are my notes.

So it all goes in this beauty before it gets in the casks.

Kilchoman uses wet Buffalo Trace Casks as Bourbon Casks as well as Oloroso Butts and Hogsheads from Miguel Martin in Jerez. In the early years they got their Casks from the Speyside Copperage and only in late 2006 Anthony Wells stated that they are in negotiation with Buffallo Trace. The first time I’ve seen the specification of “Miguel Martinez” Casks is on the bottle of first release of the Loch Gorm (2012), which was matured in Olorosso Butts for 4.5 years. So, 2007 might have been the first time Miguel Martinez Casks were used, or maybe they were used the whole time but Kilchoman never cared to include that on their labels as of 2012.

They also have some Port, Sauternes, Madeira, Red Wine, Rum and other casks laying around…we sniffed some fresh wet Red Wine casks, which reminds me that I loved the 2013 Feis Ile and hope to see a Red Wine as next year’s club bottling.

All bottling and labeling is done on site. We were really shocked to the this beauty to collect the vatting before bottling. But, well, it is an industry after all!

After that Nicole guided us to the tasting room where we had a little tasting and were able to ask some questions. During that tasting, I asked her if they ever had any trouble with the SWA for putting the information about the age of the casks used in their different vattings. After she seemed a bit confused by what I meant, I wanted to show her that the small text at the back of the box states which casks where used and how old they were. Sadly though, that was gone with the “update” of the looks of the boxes, which I think is really a shame because I always loved their openness about it. I’m not really sure how I feel about it and always wanted to shoot them a mail and ask about the reasons. Maybe, I haven’t done that yet because I’m scared to get a reply full of marketing mumbojumbo…

I’ll post the tasting in an extra post the coming days. I have to say, I really enjoyed the tour and the smaller scale – which we couldn’t really appreciate after we’ve been to Laphroaig and co – made it extra special. I highly recommend visiting the distillery and booking the premium tour well in advance. Oh and sign up for the Kilchoman Club if you haven’t already, there were some great discounts at giftshop! And of course you’re able to buy the Club bottlings then…

After the tasting Jimmy picked us up and by pure chance we ended up at Bruichladdich…which is a story of another day to tell.

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