Kilchoman Sanaig Scotch Whisky Review

Editor’s note:  I have the pleasure of presenting the first guest post here at  Jay Whittemore from Tasty Whiskey shares his thoughts on Kilchoman’s Sanaig.  I’m a fan of sherry cask-matured peated whisky, so I’m a tad jealous I didn’t get to sample this fantastic whisky.  Please welcome Jay, and be sure to check out his blog. – Bobby

Photo courtesy of Kilchoman.

Photo courtesy of Kilchoman.

Kilchoman – the small family-run farm distillery based on the west coast of Islay – recently issued a press release announcing that Sanaig, their 46% ABV sherry cask matured Scotch (~$75), won a double gold and “best of category” awards at recent competitions.

Bobby and I have both previously reviewed other Kilchoman offerings, so I figured it was high time to add to the collection.

The “TL;DR” recaps (with links to full reviews):

Kilchoman notes that Sanaig will join its core range of expressions, and that this release is matured in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels before being transferred for further maturation in Oloroso sherry casks. With the recent introduction of NAS sherried Islay single malts by Ardbeg (Dark Cove) and Laphroaig (Lore), Sanaig seems positioned to compete in this same stylistic category.

The color is a light golden brown (worth noting: Kilchoman doesn’t add any coloring additives to its whiskies, and they are also not chill-filtered). The aroma is richly peaty and heavily maritime in character, which is typical for Islay single malts. It makes me think of old dock ropes, first aid kits (gauze, BandAids, iodine), smoldering bonfire pits at the beach, and something more minerally/rocky, like rain evaporating off pavement. On the palate, Sanaig starts sweet with vanilla and caramel. Then peat smoke shows up on the midpalate, steadily building into a long finish, which also introduces a nice roasted walnut element and some bright cooked fruit flavors (apple/peach).

Kilchoman Sanaig is excellent, and definitely recommended.  The classic Islay flavors are here in full force, but they are nicely balanced by underlying sweetness. Given the production notes, I believe this sweetness is coming from both the ex-bourbon barrel maturation as well as the Oloroso sherry barrel finishing. All of which is to say there isn’t a gigantic sherry influence similar to what you’d see in a first-fill sherry cask expression or a PX-finished whisky. In no way does that detract from the experience; it’s just worth tempering your expectations for a “treacly sweet peat” experience.  8/10

(tasting sample generously provided by Kilchoman; views are my own)

And Then There Was Kilchoman

Cask No. 1 in the warehouse at Kilchoman Distillery. Photo courtesy of Kilchoman.

Cask No. 1 in the warehouse at Kilchoman Distillery. Photo courtesy of Kilchoman.

The Kilchoman distillery is the new kid on the Islay block.  Built in 2005, it’s the first distillery built on the Scottish island in over 120 years.  Their first distillate was barreled later that year.

One interesting thing about Kilchoman is that it’s built on a farm, and grows about a third of its own barley.  The rest comes from Islay’s Port Ellen Maltings.  Their website (see link at bottom of this post) lists so much information about the distillation process it will leave a smile on every whisky enthusiast.

Kilchoman whiskies feature no chill-filtering and natural color.  Since the distillery was founded in 2005, clearly none of their whisky is older than 10 years old.  In fact, most are between 3 (the minimum aging to be called Scotch whisky) and 7 years old.

Machir Bay

Photo courtesy of Kilchoman

Photo courtesy of Kilchoman

Named after a beach close to the distillery, Machir Bay is Kilchoman’s core expression.  It’s aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks, which is unusual as most of Kilchoman’s whiskies are aged in bourbon casks.  Machir Bay is bottled at 92 proof.

Right off the bat, there’s some fat peaty smoke.  But there’s much more to the nose.  Bold tropical fruit and honey add sweetness, while the bourbon barrel maturation give a bit of vanilla and spice.  All the aromas carry over to the palate.  Bright citrus, smoked fruit and a candy-sweet toffee are the big flavors here, and they work together beautifully.  The finish is a bit on the hot side, probably due to the whisky’s youngish age (there’s no age statement on this whisky).  That continuing theme of sweet smoky fruit continues through the long finish.

I have a soft spot for peated whiskies that are fully or partially matured in ex-sherry casks.  There’s something about that smoked fruit note I enjoy.  Machir Bay is a fantastically rich, sweet and smoky release from Kilchoman.  Recommended!


100% Islay 5th Edition

Photo courtesy of Kilchoman

Photo courtesy of Kilchoman

Everything about this whisky is Islay.  The barley is grown and malted on Islay.  The water is from Islay.  It’s distilled and aged in Islay.  You get the picture.  This Kilchoman expression is bottled at a hearty 100 proof.  The company’s website states the peat levels here are lower than their other expressions.

Kilchoman 100% Islay is sharper, crisper and overall lighter than Machir Bay.  The nose is all lemon peel and barley grain, with an undertone of smoke.  It’s not a heavy smoke.  Rather, it’s light and helps carry the bright citrus forward.  I also get just a little sweet fruit in the background.  The entry doesn’t have the initial hit of alcohol I expected for a 100 proof whisky.  Instead, the burn slowly develops as Lemonhead candy, grain and light peat in the form of grass quickly become the dominant flavors.  I detect some vanilla towards the end of the mid-palate.  The finish is a little hot, but leaves behind a sweet grain note.

I appreciate what Kilchoman was going for here, but I’m not a huge fan.  It feels a bit too young for my own taste.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad whisky.  I think it’s the beginning of what could be an outstanding release in a few years.

(Note: Review samples were provided by Impex Beverages.)