The Scottish island of Islay is well known for its “boutique” whisky distilleries, but most are owned by drinks-industry giantssuch as Diageo, LVMH and Remy Cointreau. But not so Kilchoman – the youngest and smallest of Islay’s 11 producers, and the only one in private hands.
I recently discovered Kilchoman in a somewhat circuitous way, having travelled to Islay to visit the descendants of the late Spencer Wilks who, with his brother Maurice, conceived the idea for the original Land Rover during the 1940s and developed the vehicle on the rough tracks and lanes around his Islay holiday home.
Back in 2005, Wilks’s grandson Anthony Wills set out to capitalise on the boom for small-production single malts by establishing Kilchoman, making it the first distillery built on Islay for 125 years. Little more than a decade on, it has a growing following both for its exclusivity (it produces only around 150,000 litres per year) and the fact that it is now the only true “farm” distillery operating on the island.
Using barley grown in nearby fields, Kilchoman creates its whiskies entirely in-house: from laying out the barley on its own malting floor, to distilling it in traditional copper stills and bottling the finished article. Typically of an Islay whisky, it is heavily infused with the scent and flavour of the peat smoke used in the drying process – not everyone likes this, but it is exactly what attracted me – and has the rich, golden hue of a whisky matured in bourbon and sherry barrels.
By dint of the distillery’s newness, there is no such thing as a truly “aged” Kilchoman. But it’s widely accepted that modern production methods go a long way in making a young whisky taste as good as an old one, and there seems little doubt that a few barrels are tucked away, left to grow old gracefully before one day being expensively released to collectors.
For the time being, between £48 and £67 will get you one of the three regular bottlings (100 per cent Islay, 50 per cent proof; Machir Bay, 46 per cent; Loch Gorm, 46 per cent). And, if you’re quick, you might just be able to secure one of only 50, 58.2 per cent limited-edition bottles produced to mark the end of a remarkable 67 years of Land Rover Defender production this December.
Failing that, the number one Land Rover limited-edition bottle will be auctioned at Bonhams in London on December 16, immediately after the hammer has come down on the sale of the two millionth Defender.
For more under-the-radar whisky finds, try the site specialising in Japanese bottlings, and the online auction site with monthly sales of rare and fine spirits