Plans for Kilchoman originally started in 2002 at Rockside Farm, it took several years for these to come to fruition. Anthony Wills had the vision to bring a new distillery to the island, having moved there in 2000 after meeting and marrying a local lass some years before.
For now, Kilchoman can claim to be Islay’s newest distillery having been established in 2005 to much fanfare and widespread support. Looking back, it seems bizarre that we had to wait so long for a new distillery on this legendary Scottish isle with Bunnahabhain being the most recent addition in 1883. This is all about to change as Kilchoman approaches its second decade in existence with 2 new distilleries under construction, namely Gartbreck and Ardnahoe.
Kilchoman is situated on the Northwest side of Islay, it’s a remote and rugged area even by the island’s standards. Originally conceived as a traditional farm distillery, the reputation and ambition of Kilchoman has grown in unison with the worldwide upsurge in whisky and its peated variants from Islay. It’s still a working farm with the cows enjoying the waste produce from distilling and as you navigate the single track roads towards its location, there is a timeless quality as you begin to appreciate the early days of its more famous neighbours who over a hundred years ago started on a similar farm scale.
Plans for Kilchoman originally started in 2002 at Rockside Farm, it took several years for these to come to fruition. Anthony Wills had the vision to bring a new distillery to the island, having moved there in 2000 after meeting and marrying a local lass some years before. Already versed in the spirits business thanks to his role as a wine and spirit merchant, he took over the derelict farm buildings and set about bringing his dream to life with the help of investors.
Today the annual capacity at the distillery is just 200,000 litres which is miniscule compared to distilleries such as Ardbeg (1.3 million) and Bruichladdich (1.5 million) or the giant of the island such as Caol Ila that produces 6.5 million if required. Some of the casks from the initial period were offered for private sale and the remainder has been kept for the single malt market. This comes from the two small stills at the distillery that have tall thin necks to encourage a high degree of reflux and therefore an elegant light spirit. Kilcohman is very much a hands on family endeavour with members being involved in all aspects of the distillery, whether its promotional voyages abroad or even the visitor centre.
Few distilleries nowadays possess their own floor maltings and Kilchoman has always had this facility to call upon, which was expanded during 2016 and accounts for approximately 30% of its needs. Being a rural location, it is able to utilise crops from the surrounding farm land and then has the equipment onsite to do its own malting, with the remainder coming from the Port Ellen malting facility. The ability to malt itself is highly unusual but ensures they have control over all aspects from the field to the bottle. Yes, the bottling is also performed on site and Kilchoman again is one of the few distilleries to do this with others springing to mind being the nearby Bruichladdich and the illustrious Springbank. Everything on site is done by hand and the distillery offered a popular 5 day working experience course for those wishing to learn more about the art of distilling.
The distillery predominately favours ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace distillery, but have released bottlings from other cask types including sherry butts and ex-wine offerings. These are laid down on site for maturation in a traditional dunnage warehouse. The distillery shuns modern methods or racking or palletising casks to save room favoured by other producers and this is part of its attraction to many whisky enthusiasts. Kilchoman continues to improve with age but its youthful whiskies are showing great promise and pedigree thanks to these traditional methods and overall approach.
Kilchoman has proven popular with collectors and enthusiasts with a series of single cask bottlings for specific events and shop exclusives since being able to release whisky. The annual Feis Ile releases in recent years have been excellent and with each passing year the whisky continues to improve. Generally, you can expect to see the 100% Islay bottlings that comprise of malt only from the island itself. Then there are the annual themed releases such as Machir Bay and Sanaig, with a travel retail exclusive in the form of Coull Point, as the complete range continues to grow and develop. And while the whiskies may seem youthful on paper and a little more expensive, when you factor in the traditional hands on approach its more than justified.