Water of Life - Port Askaig and Kilchoman
Oh Islay, glorious Islay!
Every time when one thinks that the main distilleries of the island have been covered and the prime expressions have been sample, something comes your way that makes you reassess the state of play in the best way possible.
Case in point: Port Askaig – an elusive “distillery” on the eastern part of Islay. Why the inverted commas? Well, because technically it is not so much a distillery in the traditional sense in the, but it stands for an independent range of whiskies, which is where things get intriguing as the exact sources are not necessarily detailed, yet the fact that the drop is from the island makes it very relevant to my interests.
The straw-coloured Port Askaig Cask Strength is a formidable exercise par excellence in oily smokiness kissed by citrussy nuances. It took me a split second to become infatuated with this expression, i.e. when the zesty, saline, wood fire infused aromas started tickling my nostrils.
Once it hit my palate, there was radio silence for a while as I kept swirling it and found it hard to let this big bodied one go down. There’s char, there’s smoky meats, there’s a bit of spice, just the right amount of smoked fish all laid out on a bed of peat and once the ashy peat takes over, things are being taken to another level by yet another layer of Islay goodness.
One cannot help but have the guessing game going strong in the back of one’s head – what exact distillery might it be from? Ardbeg, Caol Ila (which seems to be the closest distillery to the little town of Port Askaig) and Lagavulin all come to mind in equal measures.
One delightful mysterious dram that made me wonder why whatever distillery it is sourced from did not release it themselves. Either way, I am glad it found its way to me.
Kilchoman is another independent distillery that we have not covered yet, and somehow had not been on my radar and eclipsed by the other more prominent distilleries. Criminal mistake. How could I?
Having now been exposed to two expression, I can wholeheartedly attest that their on-site aged single malts play in a class of their own in a myriad of ways, let alone the fact that they source their own peat which they use further in their own malting house before they channel their alchemy in small stills that allow for a maximum of alcohol / copper contact, resulting in a light footed spirit.
Exhibit A: Kilchoman Sanaig has just won Gold at the 2018 Whisky World Cup with Best Peated Whisky of the competition. The fact that it has matured in both Oloroso sherry and twenty percent ex-bourbon casks should give a hint at this not merely being an interesting peaty Islay whisky but a fruity one.
What hits the nose are floral and fruity notes that are subtly pervaded by smoke, cinnamon and peat. Needless to say that I was infatuated immediately, and a session of aromatherapy ensued.
The creaminess that materializes on the palate is dominated by the sherry fruitiness of the casks, nice accents of iodine, saline and peaty notes.
A great whisky is nothing without a finish and the moderately long dark fruity well-balanced while still veiled in smoke.
Exhibit B: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2019
Again, aged in Oloroso sherry casks, this expression is dominated by a delightful dark chocolate and fruity nose, revolving around the centre of smouldering peaty smoke.
Giving the dram a bit of air exposure, saline nuances materialize on the palate that create an interesting melange with citrussy fruit flavour and the dark chocolate the nose promised, which is finds its peak via the elongated spicy finish.
I cannot wait to delve deeper into Kilchoman’s portfolio...