Until the Hunter Laing development on Islay is fully up and running, the team at Kilchoman are still the new kids on the block in the island’s whisky production game, and they have been producing some fantastic whiskies to stand out amongst the melee of peaty players coming from the much-loved isle`. The Sanaig release is no exception to that principle. Whereas Kilchoman’s signature/flagship release Machir Bay is primarily matured in bourbon casks, the Sanaig expression has been housed in a mixture of bourbon and oloroso casks with an emphasis on that sherry influence. As with many of Kilchoman’s expressions, the dram is named after a landmark or place on Islay, with Sanaig being the name of an inlet to the north of the distillery near Sanaigmore. Sitting within their core range of releases, the Sanaig expression is bottled at 46% ABV and costs a little bit more than its bourbon-based brother.
Well, that distinctive smoke is there, but it is nowhere near as full-on as other Kilchoman releases. More a case of being next to the peat fire, rather than having your head right over it. It’s got quite a drying smell to it, if that makes any sense? It also has a good blend of sweet smells to it – think strawberries and raspberry jam. A little briny finish to it too. A lot going on.
There’s an immediate burst of red fruits. That strawberry sweetness from the nose now comes to the fore with raspberries and cranberries. The peat smoke now plays second fiddle, and the sweetness reminds me of a melted marshmallow – presumably heated over a peat fire?!
Islay! You can’t escape where this whisky comes from. That sweet-meets-peat treat continues and leaves a fruity, maple-cured bacon type of finish. Bloody lovely.
This is one sweet and delicious whisky. I’d ordinarily associate peaty whiskies with the winter months, but this whisky takes some of those colder themes (the peat fire and sherry combo) and adds a series of summer fruits, and creates something that could easily sit in all seasons. The fresh red fruits make this a distinctive and really enjoyable Islay whisky, and could even be a gateway for the peatophobes into the wonderful world of the island’s peaty players. That’s not to say that this doesn’t have a far amount of smoke to it, but its just not the forerunner in the flavour race. From a whisky geek perspective, this also offers a good insight into the impact of oloroso sherry cask influence when comparing it to their Machir Bay whisky (which I’ve been a fan of for some time). Whereas Machir Bay has a bourbon-heavy maturation with some sherry influence, this whisky flips the scales, and is a primarily sherry-led maturation, therefore bringing the more rounded and fruitier influences. Presumably the bourbon influence here in the Sanaig is bringing more of a sugary sweetness to the sherry’s darker fruit profile, hence the final summery red fruits flavours, without it being a sickly sweet sugary mess. Maybe when I’ve polished off my Machir Bay bottle, I would look to get this one in instead…
Sample Disclosure: Sample received via Drinks By The Dram as part of the #WhiskyAdvent Tweet Tasting, organised by Steve Rush of @TheWhiskyWire and @TweetTasting