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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Never Mind The Coffey Still, Here's The Tea Pot

My neighbours have just erected a shed in their garden. It looks fantastic and, as avid gardeners, they’re quite rightly using it to store pots, tools and other gardening equipment.

For some time now I’ve contemplated putting up a shed, but not for storage of gardening equipment. Oh, no. I would want to create a small area where I can smoke a cigar.

You see, smoking isn't something I do very often and I certainly won’t do it in the house. For starters, I share my place with a housemate and he’s not in to cigars at all. For him to come home to house smelling of tobacco just isn’t on (frying bacon on a Sunday morning? Yes! Stale cigar smoke on a Tuesday evening? No.) so a small shed in the garden would work wonders for this.

However, you can’t stop there, can you? Throw in a Chesterfield chair, a rug, an ash tray, a copy of Monocle Magazine and an old Roberts Radio tuned to Just A Minute on Radio 4 and after a few months you’d be wanting to move the drinks cabinet in. It’s a terribly difficult thing having a cigar without a malt of some repute being within arm’s reach. They are wonderfully comfortable bed fellows, the cigar and the malt.

After a few months relaxing in what, in my own mind has become labelled The Cigar Shed, one might find themselves with itchy feet: you could only sit there for so long without wondering what it might be like if you installed your own mini-still... I could knock out a whisky from the back of my council flat in South London. Cut it with some Peckham Spring Water and you’ve got the perfect dram!

I’m sure it’s the dream of every whisky drinker to at some stage in their life, to produce their own whisky. An utterly bonkers pipe dream, of course..

Well... no. Not at Kilchoman Distillery. Along with a few other ventures across Scotland (most notably Daftmill, but also in the pipeline are Kingsbarn and Falkirk), the guys at Kilchoman Distillery have turned a pipe dream in to reality, opening the first new distillery on the Isle Of Islay for more than 120 Years in 2005. And visiting their tiny distillery is about as close to seeing something which you could have in your shed, as is possible in Scotland.

With a 3 Year Old whisky finally launched in 2009 (read about caskstrength’s visit to the launch here), it seemed that the future wasn't just bright for the new distillery, it was positively blinding. After a stack of honours for the new release, including our first ever Best In Glass award in 2009, we have been eagerly awaiting each release from the Western Islay Distillery and last month came their big new offering: a whisky made 100% on Islay. In fact, 100% at the distillery. My dream of making whisky in my back garden has just been blown out of the water.

Using barley grown on the farm site where the distillery is located, malted in their own floor malting, distilled and matured on site and then bottled at the distillery too, this is a true feat of whisky making. It even transpires that bottling of small batches, such as the Cask Strength Edition of this release (see here on the left), is done using a tea pot by the distillery staff. Never mind a Coffey still, here’s the Tea Pot.

Named "100% Islay" and launched on the 16th June 2011, this 3 year old single malt whisky is matured in first fill bourbon barrels and is available in two limited editions: 11,300 bottles of a 50% ABV edition priced at £69.00 a special distillery only edition, limited to 1,060 bottles, housed in an American white oak presentation box, bottled at cask strength (61.3%) and priced at £149.00.

Using ingredients sourced 100% from the local area is a big mission. But the main question, over-and-above the inclusion of local components, is whether the whisky maintain the high standards set by Kilchoman so far?

Kilchoman – 100% Islay Inaugural Release – 3 Years Old – 50% ABV

Nose: A big hit of smoke rises from the glass and buried beneath is lemon meringue pie; delicate, sugary citrus notes with a fluffy vanilla topping. You might at once mistake this for a young Ardbeg, but there is something more rounded and delicate about the nose, but it certainly owes a debt of gratitude to the Kildalton distilleries.

Palate: 50% abv sits very well with this release. I was a little worried that it might prove too strong, even with a cask strength edition above it in the rage. The smoke takes its rightful place in the driver’s seat here, but the rest of the palate is taken up with malted milk biscuit, more citrus fruit (this time zestier) and now some green apple and cream soda notes.

Finish: This finishes with the lingering nature of a well smoked islay whisky, but some length of pear drops, vanilla scented candles and whipped cream.

Overall: Another cracking release from this distillery. Like the Manchester United youth team, it just shouldn’t be this good at such a young age... but it is.

Watching the development of this distillery is something that will provide an education for us all. With so many long established distilleries making a marketing point out of their age, or the age of their stock, it is a joy to see a young pup such as Kilchoman shout loud and proud about its youth, its verve, its vim and its vigour.