It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman time! So we’re taking a look at the history of one of the newer distilleries on the island but one that has had a huge impact on Scotch whisky in its short life. 

Somehow we’ve got to Day 7 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021. To be honest, we’re flagging a bit but never fear, when there’s a dram of Kilchoman on the horizon our spirits lift and we’re ready to put out some more high quality content.

Today, we’re delving into the story of Islay’s newest distillery that has actually released some whisky, looking at how Kilchoman has gone from new kid on the block to justified and ancient (that’s enough ‘80s musical references), and seeing what the team has planned for Fèis Ìles this year. Don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify or watch the above clip of Anthony Wills talking to MoM.

What’s going on today:

Unlike some distilleries (naming no names) which are playing their cards close to their chests when it comes to Feis action, the team at Kilchoman has published a full list of all the online malty goodness going on. They’re dubbing it 360° Fèis Ìle – full details can be found on website or go to: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube for more information. Sadly tasting packs and the Fèis Ìle 2021 distillery bottling are all sold out but you can tune in. And there’s still plenty of Kilchoman goodness on the Master of Malt website.

Here’s a little taster of what to expect;

12 noon – Kilchoman ‘DNA’ Live Tasting 

A tasting of some of the core range including Machir Bay, Loch Gorm and Sanaig all at cask strength. Plus a preview of the 11th Edition of the 100% Islay release which is “distilled from our 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 barley harvests” and “matured for a minimum of nine years in 26 bourbon barrels and seven Oloroso sherry butts.” 

1pm – On the Farm 

The general manager at Kilchoman, Islay Heads (yes that really is his name), talks through how different barley varieties and fields affect the flavour of the whisky. Followed by a live Q&A.

2pm – Malting and Peating 

Fancy learning about how a traditional floor malting works? Of course you do, well maltman Derek Scott is on hand to show you how it’s done, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions too.

The Nightcap

The new shiny Kilchoman stills

3pm –  In the Stillhouse 

Now we move on to the next stage of the process as production manager, Robin Bignal, will give you a behind the scenes tour of the stillhouse from milling and mashing to fermentation and distillation.  And yes, you can ask questions. 

4pm – Maturing in the Warehouse 

This sounds fun, Anthony Wills talks all things cask maturation and delves into the dark corners of the warehouse. What might he find? Whisky probably. 

5pm – Vatting and Bottling 

And for the final part of the 360 degree tour, bottling hall manager Michal Besser takes you on a tour of perhaps the least glamorous, but extremely vital, part of the whole process. If you have a question about chill filtering, now is the time to ask. 

But that’s not all. There are still two more tastings to get through. Phew!

6pm – ‘Through the Ages’ Live Tasting 

Tune in for a tasting of our before following the journey of maturation with samples of 2006, 2011 and 2016 casks.

7.15pm – ‘Experimental Casks’ Live Tasting 

This sounds like enormous fun. A tasting of some unusual casks that whisky has been entirely aged in. No finishing here. Featuring Cognac, Calvados, Port and STR (shaved, toasted and charred) casks. If only those pesky tasting sets weren’t sold out. 

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Founder Anthony Wills at the opening of the new stillhouse and visitor centre

Kilchoman’s history

Kilchoman is such a fixture on Islay’s whisky scene that it’s easy to forget how unusual it was when it first opened in 2005. Back then, it was the island’s first new distillery for 120 years. Since then it’s been joined by Ardnahoe and there’s a tenth on the way courtesy of Speciality Drinks. 

From the beginning, Kilchoman’s owners, the Wills family, wanted to do things a bit differently using barley grown on the island and malted in their own floor maltings. And it worked, the first releases had whisky lovers in raptures over Kilchoman’s elegant, light-peated style. 

Indeed, the whisky proved so popular that the distillery began plans for expansion in 2018. It involved building an entirely new still house with identical equipment to the current one, doubling capacity to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol annually. This opened in 2020 along with a new visitor centre. We were meant to visit but the Islay weather had other ideas. Then Covid struck and as such we haven’t seen the expanded distillery in all its glory. Something we hope to remedy as soon as possible.