It is fair to say that the single malt scotch whisky market is a competitive one. Scotland is not short of distilleries and over the last few years there has been a huge surge in the number of new distilleries opening, or even re-opening. Now imagine that competition but distilled down (as it were) onto a small island that already has cult status amongst whisky fans worldwide, and on that tiny island there are already 7 fully operational distilleries which all have their own dedicated followings and have all been running in one form or another for over 100 years each. Further still, one of those distilleries has just successfully come out from a total revival, and just happens to be based down the road that you want to set your business up on. That was the challenge faced by the team at Kilchoman back in the early 2000s. Despite all this, Kilchoman distilled its first whiskies in December 2005 and has since developed a core range of whiskies that developed their own loyalty and following, with the flagship release of which being the Machir Bay bottling. Since 2012, Machir Bay has been available as the forerunner of the distillery’s output and has slowly developed over the years since into a mainstay of Islay whiskies. The whisky is named after a beach nearby the distillery and is a combination of bourbon and sherry matured whiskies from the self-sufficient farm-based distillery (predominantly bourbon in nature) and bottled at the whisky-maker’s preferred 46% ABV. This particular bottling is from 2016 and tastes like…
Well, this is the Kilchoman that I’ve come to know. Despite, being in the comfort of my own home, this smell instantly transports me straight outside to a campfire on the Islay coast. It is a drying and slightly earthy smoke, with a vanilla sweetness beneath. There’s a good bit of malt and cereal in there if you leave it long enough too.
That earthy note is the first one to hit when the liquid enters your mouth, followed quickly by the boozy burn and fire. Once that subsides though and you get to the second and third sips, the vanilla-rich body becomes more and more present to counter the peat. It is a young but rich malt that carries these flavours.
Again it is the earthy peat smoke that dominates at first, but with a few more sips and a bit of time between each, then I really get used to the smoke and can instead appreciate the soft texture and bourbon influence on the young malt.
I’m not going to lie to you, when I first tasted Kilchoman Machir Bay back in 2014, I was not a fan. I was sat in a pub on Islay, and was enjoying all things peat-related, apart from this. It just seemed too brash and punchy. Cut forward a relatively short period of time (particularly in terms of whisky) and two years later, I pick up a bottle from a shop that clearly didn’t know what they were selling – or just couldn’t shift the units. Long story short, I gave it another go – and I couldn’t resist the bargain. I’m glad that I did. It is either the additional handful of years of maturation in the whisky, or in me, (or both) but this dram seems to get better. Sure it is a peated whisky, but it doesn’t invoke a wintry feeling at all. It feels light and fresh, and seems like a pure peat offering. The strong vanilla and malty flavours under that peat would make for a winning combo without the billow cloud of peat smoke, but for me, that just adds to it. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t drink this all night, BUT I could still have a few – and that is not usually said about peaty whiskies. If anything, this seems more like a summertime-friendly peated whisky, and certainly destined to sit in my hand, long into the late summer evening.