Kilchoman & Bruichladdich, here we come!
Finally our plan came together and we visited a couple of very popular distilleries on the west of Islay. We got some sun too!
(missed Day 1 or the Prologue? Or go to Day 3 or Epilogue)
In the morning, breakfast at the Skerrols House didn’t disappoint: huge and delicious! We managed to find a taxi to go to the next pair of distilleries and an accommodation for the next day, so our plan finally came together and we didn’t have to take the ferry in the evening!
The taxi driver showed up a couple of minutes early, and at 10.15 we were already travelling westward towards Kilchoman. As we got closer we realised how remote the north-west of Islay is, far away from the other villages. Kilchoman visitor centre is quite large as well, with a dram bar, a cafe, and local crafts on sale. While checking-in, the receptionist chuckled when she realised that our tour had been paid “pre-Covid”…. the tour started in the tasting room, where Breagh, our guide, gave a brief introduction. We soon moved to one of the best parts of the distillery, the malting floor and the kiln.
We learned that Kilchoman produces about 20-30% of their malted barley, with local peat coming from Loch Gorm. Here Breagh gave us a taste of their last 100% Islay Barley 2021 release, the annual expression entirely produced with their own malted barley, and quite a delicious one (but unfortunately also sold out). We moved on to the rest of production. At some point of their young history (the distillery was open in 2005) they doubled their capacity, so the two pairs of stills sit in opposite sides of the building.
We then visited one of the dunnage warehouses, and admired the variety of casks, colour coded depending on whether the spirit inside is from their own malted barley or not. They are one of the few Islay distilleries maturing all their stock on site, understandably so given the available space around the distillery. The only discordant note of the tour was caused by some of the crowd, which were a bit annoying and disrespectful: we couldn’t believe that Breagh had to repeat more than once not to touch anything! She managed it incredibly professionally, politely but firmly…the tour guide job must be really hard, especially with a certain type of crowd. Back to the tasting room, we had four drams waiting for us: Machir Bay cask strength (bottled in 2015 to celebrate their tour to Europe), the recently released UK batch #3 (a vatting of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-Sauternes casks), a Madeira matured expression, and finally the distillery exclusive, this last one finished in Marsala casks.
While waiting for the taxi we had a very tasty soup, and of course a couple of drams from their Comraich range, which is only sold to partner bars (or Kilchoman “sanctuaries”).
The next stop was Bruichladdich, but before the distillery we first checked-in at the B&B, and happily realised it was a minute walking from the distillery gate. Before the tour, we got some food in the near (and only) shop. We didn’t have a reservation for the night, so some backup was definitely needed. Our guide for this tour was Leslie, and while at first she seemed knowledgeable but shy, she soon revealed herself as funny and entertaining. The tour started in the courtyard, to quickly move to the mill room. No malting floor here, but apparently it is in the plans (delayed by Covid). That would be very convenient because about 52% of their barley comes from the neighbouring farms, but it is then shipped to Inverness to be malted according to their own specifications. We were surprised by how the production is still very manual, somehow contrasting with their progressive mindset on some aspects, like sustainability and cutting-edge packaging.
After checking out the open mashtun and the wooden washbacks, it was the time for the still room, where we finally met the legendary Ugly Betty! This is the Lomond still used for their gin, the Botanist, and used to be at Inverleven, a short-lived distillery in the now demolished Dumbarton grain distillery complex. In contrast with almost all other distilleries, their wash and spirits stills are very dark and not shiny at all, giving almost a steam-punk vibe!
We moved to the main warehouse, which sits in front of a yellow submarine! This is a remotely operated vehicle owned by the navy. When a fisherman rescued it close to Islay, the Bruichladdich marketing team was quick in reacting and made a special release for that, which is now very sought after. In the warehouse, we spotted the set-up for warehouse tastings…We will definitely go back for that. Back to the shop, the tasting consisted in their three main single malts: the Bruichladdich (Classic Laddie), the heavily peated Port Charlotte (10y) and the Octomore 9.2. Except for the Octomore, we already knew the other two, so we decided to save them for later and try a few others: the two distillery-exclusive bottlings and the Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2011. They were all delicious, but because the half-litre bottles for the distillery exclusives were sold out, we took the Bere Barley with us. It’s the second time we try one of their whiskies made with this ancient barley strain, cultivated on Orkney, and to both of us it reminded the home-made bread baked into traditional wood-fired oven, like our respective grandmothers used to do.
Contrary to the day before, it wasn’t pishing down rain, so after the distillery we walked from Bruichladdich to Port Charlotte to get a pint and a gin tonic in one of the local bars. The walk was very nice and relaxed, even some sun came out! We tried our fortune in the only restaurant we spotted on the way, but it was booked until late…we were wise to get some food at the shop. After a light dinner, a quick wash of some clothes and a couple of leftover drams, we went to bed. Finally, we slept like rocks!
Kilchoman Limited Edition Tasting & Tour
Price: £35.00 pp (April 2022…same as March 2020!)
Tasting: 100% Islay 2021 Release (during the tour), Machir Bay CS* Europe Tour 2015 (58.9%), UK Small Batch (49.1%), Madeira Cask (full hogs maturation, 5y 3 months, 50%), Distillery Exclusive Marsala cask, all NC and NCF*…and a glencairn to take home
Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks
Value for money: Very good
Distillery Exclusive: single cask, 8y ex-bourbon, finished 7 months in Marsala cask (54.8%, £102)
Highlights: seeing the malting floor while sipping a dram
Bruichladdich Distillery Tour
Price: £10.00 pp + £1 service fee (April 2022)
Tasting: Classic Laddie (NAS, American oak, 50%), Port Charlotte 10y (1st and 2nd fill American oak, 2nf fill French wine casks, 50%), and Octomore 9.2 (5y, 4y in American oak and 1y in French oak, 58.2%), all NC, NCF*
Target: casual tourists, whisky novices and enthusiasts
Value for money: Great!
Distillery Exclusive: two fill-your own – Port Charlotte The Distillery Valinch (SYC: 03 2009, 61.7%, £95 half litre) and 59 Robert Mceahern (single cask, ex RVS, 11y, 60.8%, £75 half litre)
Highlights: the still room and the great guide
*NC: not artificially coloured, NCF: not chill-filtered, CS: cask strength