KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

First of all:  Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Thanks for following along down this long and windy Whisky Advent road — it’s been a thrill to discover and discuss these incredible whiskies along with you!  Second of all:  UGGGGHHHHHH.  I had thought that I might be able to skate through the 2017 calendar without encountering my nemesis distillery, the one I admire in so many ways but can’t quite wrap my head around hedonistically, the one featured in FIVE prior hopeful but ultimately unhappy PnP whisky reviews from calendars past.  I had thought that by reaching the prestige cardboard door #24 I would be officially safe.  I was wrong.  Kilchoman is BACK.


Advent cannot escape.

To be clear, this is probably very good news for most calendar drinkers, and certainly most whisky connoisseurs.  Kilchoman is a fascinating new distillery, the first that has opened its doors on Islay in over a century (during which time a great deal many of them shut down or were bulldozed), and one of the only ones that plants and farms its own grains (as noted with respect to Vancouver Island’s Shelter Point and its identical approach on Day 11).  This particular bottling of Kilchoman is also a special, exclusive one:  retailing for $200, it is a KWM-selected 25th Anniversary Single Cask, and also the first 10 Year Kilchoman for sale anywhere in Canada (not a huge surprise, since the producer is only 12 years old).  Only 212 full-size bottles — and obviously 380-odd tiny sample bottles — were made out of Kilchoman Cask 255 of 2007, matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and clocking in at 56.6% abv.  I would be more hopeful were it not for the fact that this is the third straight Advent Calendar with a Kilchoman Single Cask in it, and no prior one has turned me around (see here, here, here, here and here if you’re a masochist).

The Kilchoman 10 Year KWM Single Cask is a strange aromatic mix of the refined and the rugged, peaches and cream on top of oily peat, a delicacy in a longshoreman’s vessel.  Tar, pitch, pepper and dank undergrowth roil around, with some of Bourbon’s friendly maple and vanilla trying to peek through.  That off-putting (to me) cheesy Parmesan-rind funk that I’ve come to associate with Kilchoman is the first thing that hits on the tongue, followed by heavy briny peat, scorched apple, iodine, liniment, charcoal and grime; anise and melted plastic predominate the finish.  The complexity is all there, the flavours impressively layered, and any Kilchoman fan will likely find this their finest hour.  It still just misses me, unfortunately.  It’s not you, Kilchoman, it’s me.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 13

13 12 2016

We have now crested the summit of the 2016 Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent calendar and are starting the long trek down the other side, and I don’t mind telling you all that I’m a little bit wiped.  Call it the pre-holiday doldrums, the end-of-year blues, the 13-days-blogging-in-a-row sanity implosion, whatever you like.  One or more members of my family has been continuously sick, on a rolling or parallel basis, for the better part of two months — nothing serious, just enough to make me question any and all extracurricular activities and hobbies.  As a reward for persevering through 50% of whisky Advent despite the biohazard zone that is my household, and particularly for powering through a less-than-likeable Day 12, I was hoping to open the window on Day 13 and pull out a nice little OH COME ON.


I will not rehash my Kilchoman woes, covered off extensively in Day 2.  Suffice to say that it is a really cool new distillery on Islay that’s doing amazing things and that many people deeply enjoy, but that I just can’t bring myself to like despite multiple head-against-wall efforts.  I wish it nothing but success, but it was the last thing I wanted to see today.  However, there was some intrigue that snuck through my malaise with this particular bottling, especially thanks to the mini KWM logo proudly displayed on the front label, and in part also thanks to the almost-shocking 57.5% abv it recorded.  Yes, tonight’s Kilchoman is a Single Cask bottling (Cask 446/2011 to be exact) that Kensington Wine Market purchased and bottled exclusively for the store, which is admittedly awesome, as is the PX (Pedro Ximenez, the grape used for sweet dessert-based sherry) cask finish on the whisky.  While last night’s 18 Year was the oldest whisky in the calendar, this may well be the youngest, distilled in July 2011 and bottled just shy of five years later (and also only five months ago!) in July 2016.

I certainly got more of a sense of Islay on this Kilchoman than the others in calendars past and present, huge whiffs of bacon and sausage grease, rusty cast-iron pots, motor oil and seaweed, but that pervasive off-putting Parmesan cheese funk that has become unfortunately synonymous with the distillery for me was still there, lingering in the background.  This is as explosively fiery and alcoholic as you might expect for something that’s almost two-thirds pure spirit and absolutely requires water to soften and open, but once it’s hydrated it’s laced with butterscotch and molasses sweetness (thanks PX!) to go along with more transportive memory-based flavours:  freshly polished old leather boots, your favourite armchair with a wet dog on it, a log cabin in the woods with the fireplace crackling.  Concentrated and long-lasting, it leaves traces of oily peat lingering on the tongue for well over a minute after you swallow.  It’s still not my cup of tea, but I will say this:  best Kilchoman yet.  Maybe this is the ray of hope for the rest of December.  Bring on the next 12 days.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 2

2 12 2016

Damn it.  2016 Whisky Advent was off to a happening start, excitement was building, I was sliding into my spirits-writing groove…and then Day 2 came along.  First of all, it took me about five minutes to get the cardboard mini-whisky box out of the calendar (unnecessary cardboard boxes:  not a fan).  Second, once the cardboard maiming was complete and the whisky was free, my heart sank as I again came in contact with the one Scottish distillery that I would LOVE to love, but can never seem to.  Kilchoman has a great backstory (it’s the first new distillery to be opened on the Scottish island of Islay in generations), is an incredible inspiration for the modern Scotch movement (they actually farm their own barley that is fermented and distilled into their whiskies, which is basically unheard of), has a ton of street cred and critical acclaim, but just never seems to have a flavour set I can fully get behind, often featuring an odd hard cheese-y aroma that just doesn’t do it for me.  Completely a personal preference thing, and not a slag on this revolutionary new producer.  I wish it weren’t so, but I am 0 for 3 in Whisky Advent history with my Kilchomans:  Day 15 of 2014 may of been the worst experience, but Day 11 and Day 21 of 2015 didn’t bump it by much.


I’m so sorry, Kilchoman.

This particular bottling couldn’t have played a part in the 2014 or 2015 calendars because it’s a new continuing release inaugurally revealed this year.  The Kilchoman Sanaig, with its rather fetching violet label, is named after a small inlet just northwest of the distillery in the far top left corner of Islay (as indicated on the semi-destroyed box below).  Its deep orange-y colour seems suggestive of lengthy maturation, but since Kilchoman’s only been around since 2005, that’s not possible.  The alternative explanation is the correct one, which is that the whisky has been primarily matured in my nemesis of aging vessels:  Oloroso sherry casks, villain of Advent calendars past.  The oxidized deep-hued Oloroso that previously occupied the casks left a dark stain behind that the Scotch greedily sucks up, lending maximum colour in minimum time.


The Bourbon-to-Sherry Cask Meter on the box is a nice touch.

I was feeling a bit better after the whisky’s visual intrigue, but I stuck my nose in the glass and there it was, that parmigiano reggiano sort of funk, overlaying everything, partially obscuring the supporting aromas of diesel/kerosene, moss, orange peels and molasses.  The Sanaig comes across as way boozier than its 46% abv, delivering heat and smoke and honey on the tongue in that order, begging for a few drops of water to help balance it out.  Hints of apple cinnamon try to peek through the grime, but this is neither designed nor executed to be a “pretty” scotch.  At $92 it’s a value for a Kilchoman fan; I just wish I was one.  Better luck tomorrow?

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 21

21 12 2015

Aaaaaaaghh.  That was my admitted reaction when I opened the door to Day 21, one of four whiskies left in this year’s calendar before the Christmas Day finale from the Single Malt Whisky Society, and came face to face with Kilchoman again.  These last few days before the finish line in the 2014 calendar were home to some real zingers, including my favourite whisky of last year (and one of my favourites ever), the GlenDronach Parliament; to see this coveted calendar spot taken up by a distillery I can’t quite bring myself around to like was a bit painful.  Now, to be clear, as discussed on Day 11 when Kilchoman showed up the first time in 2015:  they are a very highly regarded distillery with a super cool story (the farm-to-table equivalent of the scotch world, Islay’s first new distillery in forever), and I have whisky-savvy friends that go nuts for them, so there’s nothing wrong with them whatsoever, but they just don’t match my taste for whatever reason.  However, if I decipher the label correctly, there seems to be some reason for excitement with this particular bottling, which may only be available in the singular place from which I got the calendar.  The tiny Kilchoman bottle features an even tinier Kensington Wine Market logo right on the official label, which I’m guessing means that this was from a cask purchased by and bottled for the store only.  (Further research just undertaken confirms the theory – cool!)  This Single Cask whisky is from a bourbon barrel identified only as cask #440, from the year 2010.  That means we’re dealing with, at most, a 5 Year malt, one of the youngest whiskies in the whole calendar.


The KWM Single Cask was bottled at cask strength (meaning that no water was added to it to dilute it and reduce the alcohol to a standard 40%, 43% or 46% level).  In this case that means the scotch is at a mind-melting 60.4% abv, meaning that adding water is imperative to this one unless you’re using it for sterilizing wounds.  This ultra-special Calgary-only version of Kilchoman smelled like, well, Kilchoman, a must-be-from-Islay combination of moccasins, smoky peat, solvent, tennis balls, kelp, orange zest and melted cheese.  A little more fruit shone through on the palate, banana and cantaloupe, but the Islay grime still carried the day, with tons of old shoe leather, burnt tires and exhaust, maltiness and toast, with a glycerol-laden viscosity from the elevated alcohol and a sweet smoothness on the finish – the bourbon cask coming through at last.  This was certainly my favourite Kilchoman that I’ve had so far, although also the most expensive at $140, making it one of the pricier 5 year-old scotches on the shelf.  There is certainly a lot going on here for a spirit a half a decade old, but I still can’t say it’s my thing.  I feel legitimately bad about it, Kilchoman.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 11

11 12 2015

This is the kind of impact two years of this Advent Calendar has had on me:  I opened the cardboard door to Day 11, saw the top of a squat, bulbous bottle, and immediately said aloud:  “Kilchoman”.  And so it was.  I remembered the low, round bottle shape from last year’s KWM calendar, when Kilchoman’s entry-level Machir Bay might have been my least favourite whisky of December 2014, an opinion based on personal taste rather than anything in particular wrong with the scotch.  I really wanted to like it too, because Kilchoman is one of the best stories in Scotland, the first new distillery to open on the island of Islay in 125-odd years and one committed to all parts of the whisky production cycle, including growing its own barley to malt and distill, something that basically nobody does.  As a traditional-minded producer (especially for one that just celebrated its 10th birthday), it is also committed to the near-extinct practice of floor-malting, which I’ve strangely discussed before on this blog here and which is also featured in possibly the greatest cartoon whisky-making video ever made on Kilchoman’s website.  Tonight’s attractively named Loch Gorm bottling, named after the peaty lake (bog?) overlooking the distillery, is higher up the food chain than the Machir Bay, on the shelf for $118.  Despite its sherry-based maturation, I hoped that this one would appeal to me a bit more than the last one.


Alas, ’twas not to be.  The Loch Gorm smelled oily in more than one way, both diesel and Vaseline, but wasn’t overly aromatic otherwise, a surprise for an Islay whisky.  Shoe polish, leather, tomato leaf and celery stalks rounded out a fruit-free aromatic profile.  Both Islay’s characteristic peat and the flavour volume generally turned up the volume on the palate, layering tar, moss, smoke and wet pavement on top of bakers’ chocolate, dried fruit and rubber balls, but things tapered off again on the finish, which seemed papery and a touch bitter.  I’m sorry, Kilchoman; I have friends who love you and I know you’re making waves in the industry, but you’re just not my thing.  Onto the weekend, and the halfway point of this spirit adventure!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 15

15 12 2014

Two cool factoids about the producer of tonight’s daily Advent whisky:  (1) it is the first new distillery on the isle of Islay in 120 years, having opened its doors in 2005, and (2) it is a farm distillery, meaning that it actually grows and harvests some of the barley that it then malts, ferments, distills and matures into scotch.  Very cool on both fronts, and hopefully the start of a trend of some newer names in Scotland’s whisky field (ideally not starting with “Glen”).  The distillery in question is Kilchoman, and the feature whisky is their workhorse label Machir Bay, a blend that is bottled once per year using the distillery’s own whisky reserves, such that the components of the blend get older with time as the distillery does.  Machir Bay used to be a blend of 3 and 5 year scotches, but it’s now up to 5 and 6 years.  Interestingly, despite being a mixture of different whiskies, this bottle can still be called a “single malt”, as the “single” in this designation refers to the fact that all of the whisky comes from a single distillery as opposed to a single batch or year.

By FAR the hardest bottle to get out of the calendar yet.  Damn box.

By FAR the hardest bottle to get out of the calendar yet. Damn box.

The Machir Bay was initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, but then transferred to my most dreaded of aging vessels, Oloroso sherry casks, for finishing — that makes at least 8 out of 15 whiskies in this calendar so far that have had the Oloroso treatment.  This one is by far the weirdest.

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