Distillery tours Island of Islay Kilchoman Distillery News Scotland

Scotland’s tour in 5 distilleries: Kilchoman, the beaches and Portnahaven

Kilchoman tour and visit to iconic distillery sites

Third appointment with this short tour of Scotland (the previous ones can be found here and here) and second day on Islay, with a tour to Kilchoman booked late in the morning, which allows time to get a little lost around the distillery to visit places whose names are very familiar to whisky drinkers.
It’s hard to describe the feeling it gives to cross road signs with names that are associated with bottles, as if the places have taken inspiration from the drams we love.
And to find yourself walking on the sands of Machir Bay is really exciting, with a view that at times makes you think of being on tropical beaches, although a benevolent sun doesn’t reach the same temperatures.
It’s just a shame not to have the eponymous bottle with me…

On the way to Kilchoman you pass by the barley fields that would later become (also) 100% Islay, complete with yield forecast:

Finally at the distillery, where we are welcomed by Kristeen, our guide for the Limited Edition Tasting and Tour, which as you might guess from the name, includes a visit to the distillery with a final tasting of some limited editions of Kilchoman.

The recently renovated visitors’ centre is cosy and well stocked, with bottles as well as all kinds of gadgets: sofas and bars invite you to stop and taste.

A brief introduction on the history of the distillery, Anthony Wills’ ambitious project and how it was considered almost crazy to open a distillery on Islay after more than a century since the last one (Bunnahabhain).
The link with the land, the desire to create a whisky that expressed itself through its workmanship and not through the years declared on the label, a deliberately reduced production from locally grown barley: all distinctive traits of a distillery that in many respects was pioneering but that never adhered to the laws of an aggressive marketing as others do.

A visit to the malting floor, with a tasting of the third edition of 100% Islay (2013, entirely in bourbon, which I will sooner or later talk about on these pages), and here too the barley is rigorously turned by hand, in keeping with the artisanal spirit of the distillery. Perhaps also thanks to the airiness of the room and the birds happily feasting on the sprouting barley, there is a relaxed and joyful atmosphere that I will later find all over the distillery.

Obviously the barley is the one produced in their fields, placed about five metres above the kiln for about fifteen hours to reach a peat level of around 20ppm, unlike the one procured already malted from outside, formerly by Port Ellen and now by a mainland malting plant on the precise instructions of the Wills family, which runs at 50ppm.

A visit to the new stillhouse, inaugurated in 2020, with a mash tun, six washbacks and two stills, exact copies of the original ones, relatively small in size: we are given the chance to taste the wash, the fermented liquid that will then go into the stills, a sort of beer with a colour that is not particularly inviting, and the taste cannot be said to be overwhelming either.

We move to the new warehouse where the casks rest, carefully chosen by Wills in his constant search for new recipes for his distillate, expressed in the limited editions that are in fact a laboratory whose most successful experiments manage to see the light of day. The limit is only that imposed by the strict regulations of the Scotch Whisky Association, with which in fact there has been some friction in the past.
Of course, it lacks the charm of the old dunnages with their walls soaked in moisture and history, but seeing so many casks lined up is always exciting.

Finally, the tasting of four special editions, including the one created for this year’s Fèis Ìle that I wrote about a short while ago, all while admiring the grounds that surround this truly unique farm distillery where passion and connection to the land ooze from every single stone.
There are other plans for expansion, which as in 2020 will not necessarily lead to a proportional increase in production, but will allow Wills and his collaborators to experiment more freely between barley and casks, always respecting the craft and island spirit of the distillery.

Once the tour is over, the exploration of places related to the different editions of Kilchoman continues.
Saligo Bay…

…and Sanaigmore.
The black rocks outcropping from the sand, the deep blue water inviting you to dive in despite the chill of the ocean advises otherwise: it is true, the weather has been very lenient, but they are still spectacular sights.

After saying goodbye to a phone box lost in the middle of nowhere and a few locals, a must stop in the area is a place that you reach after a long drive down an interminable road, where you can eat some extraordinary oysters.

We end the day by heading south to Portnahaven, a delightful bay where, if lucky, seals can be spotted at sunset.
Unfortunately no marine mammals, but the sight is still worth the trip, a fitting end to another magnificent day.

Many thanks to Antea for all the help she gave me in organising this visit.

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