Fèis Ìle 2021 – Kilchoman, Experimental Casks

Fèis Ìle 2021 – Kilchoman, Experimental Casks, Virtual Tasting

To round off the Fèis Ìle 2021 Kilchoman Day activities the team hosted their final tasting – experimental casks. Already big fans of some of their recent single casks releases – including the Mezcal finish – we had been patiently waiting all day for this. We were particularly interested in the STR and Cognac samples, so couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Fèis Ìle 2021 – The Islay Festival, Kilchoman Day

On top of the virtual tastings, Kilchoman posted a number of 360 videos in their distillery. Covering everything from malting & peating, on to maturation, all the way through to bottling – it’s really interesting content, which we would highly recommend you check out. They also released a specific Fèis Ìle bottling – we will post a full review soon, so keep an eye on the blog!

Virtual Tasting Experimental Casks

The final tasting of the day was hosted by Kilchoman Founder Anthony Willis and his son George Willis. It goes without saying at this point, that the chemistry between the hosts was fantastic, creating a wonderfully inviting environment.

Anthony is a big believer that casks play a main role in the end product of the whisky that you will enjoy in your glass, and has always been open to a certain level of experimentation. The Kilchoman spirit character (floral, fruity, and lightly smokey) lends itself nicely to maturing in a variety of casks including madeira, port, rum, and red-wine.

This particular tasting is not about demonstrating a finish product, but instead bringing the participants along the distillery journey. It’s interesting to note that with these experimental casks there are less defined timelines for the spirit to ‘come of age’ and therefore more frequent tasting is required (joyful!). All the spirits in this tasting were made with the commercial Port Ellen new-make, which we had previously tasted the Through the Ages session.

Calvados Cask 356/2018 – 62.1%

First things first, Calvados is apple cider that has been distilled into brandy. It is a newer cask type from the relaxation of the SWA rules in 2018. Kilchoman source their calvados casks from the Drouin family in Normandy, France. A small family producer who share a number of values with the Kilchoman distillery. This is a full maturation, however, they have also done a number of finishes which they say really lift the bourbon characteristics.

Nose: FRESH green apple character, smells like what I think the colour green smells like, has an element of scrumpy cider acidity to the nose
Palate: definitely some Kilchoman peaty smoke coming through, like apples over a bonfire, quite acidic
Finish: light and relatively short, fresh, dry finish

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Despite the high ABV there isn’t a huge alcohol burn. There are hints of the calvados flavours coming through, the team expect it will need another three to four years to fully develop. Feels like the start of something very exciting. It strikes us a damp, spring time whisky – watching blossom grow on trees during lambing season.

Cognac Cask 737/2016 – 58.4%

Kilchoman have a strong relationship with Maison Ferrand and occasionally cask swap – these cognac casks are typically barriques which are 250 litres in size. This particular sample is a five year old spirit, that the team expect to need another year or so to fully develop.

Nose: briney, quite a savoury nose, some clear floral elements, zesty citrus notes, orchard fruits at the back of the nose, some burnt sugar notes
Palate: lovely and sweet, honey, toffee, like brandy snap biscuits, dark-chocolate covered cherries – sweet cherry, bitter chocolate –
Finish: slight prickle, a bit of dryness – the brown sugar sweetness does develop nicely as the spirit settles in the mouth

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This is a really interesting whisky – it has a sweetness that you would more naturally associate with a sherry maturation, but with the lightness and freshness of a bourbon maturation. Much like the first sample, this again feels like a drink for a lazy spring or summer afternoon outside in brisk sunshine.

STR Cask 207/2018 – 61.5%

This particular STR (shave-toasted-recharred) is an ex-Portuguese red wine cask at a medium char. They expect to leave it for another couple of years. With STR casks varying the charring levels provides different character – the team have a variety of chars sitting in the warehouse testing what the difference will be.

Nose: tonnes of stewed fruits, cherry blossom, some great floral notes, smoke is more pronounced, candied fruits, sweet marmalade, summer berries
Palate: DIVINE. strawberry and blackcurrant jam, soft-smoke like burnt sugar in a candyfloss machine, cooking apples, peaches
Finish: edge of tobacco smoke on the finish, sweet creaminess develops in the mouth, like summer pavlova

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Colour on this dram exceptional given the young age it’s a beautiful deep amber. A truly stunning dram, and one we would happily drink at this point. Something to definitely to keep an eye on for the future release. As we wrote this we spotted an STR finish single cask release in the Kilchoman online shop that very quickly found it’s way into our shopping basket!

Port Cask 480/2014 – 57.3%

Over the years Kilchoman has had a number of different port cask releases. This particular sample is a seven year old full maturation fresh-fill ruby port, although they have both fresh and re-fill casks in the warehouses. The team expect it to need another 12 months or so.

Nose: winey, fruity, rich, deep fruits with smoke on the ends, like sweet candied smoke
Palate: smooth and sweet, no doubt that this is a port sweetness – dark sugar, hints of blackcurrants, raspberries
Finish: waxy feel on the tongue, lines the mouth and stays there

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We’re big fans of port cask whiskies so it’s no surprise that we enjoyed this dram too. Sitting on our shelf is a bottle of the Kilchoman 2021 ruby port finish single cask release – this is the final push for us to open and enjoy it!

This was a fantastic tasting – but honestly we expect nothing less from Kilchoman at this point. It was great to see these spirits go through their journey and we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for these, as well as other more experimental finishes over the next couple of years.

Do you have a favourite experimental cask type? Let us know in the comments below.

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