Drink Review: Kilchoman Machir Bay 2016

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The 2016 bottling is the fifth release of Kilchoman’s ongoing Machir Bay. It’s a vatting of whisky matured in first-fill bourbon casks for around six years, married and then finished in oloroso sherry butts before bottling.

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2016:

Colour: Straw

On the nose: Creamy vanilla, a big hit of dark honey, salty brown bread, smoked salmon in oil, a lick of citrus and some scone crumbs.

In the mouth: It’s a gentle dram. Bright vanilla, orange blossoms, wildflowers and orange peel. There’s a little brine and tar but not so much that it takes anything away from the otherwise light, delicate and floral dram.

Finish: A gentle finish that slowly dries out with time, turning lightly salty, spicy and musky with a little wisp of peat smoke near the back of the throat.

Comment: This is a soft, easy drinking, well balanced whisky. Everything about it is subtle, from the light smokiness to the zesty, citrus freshness.

This strikes me as something you could easily sip on a sunny deck while watching the ocean roll in and out. If a gentle, delicate whisky is what you’re after, this will more than do the trick.

Over the past few years, the only distillery to open in Scotland has been the Orkney-based Glenmorangie. Their canned two-year-old range, The Original, has been a huge financial success for them (it accounts for 45 percent of all Morrisons’ Scotch whisky sales) and a few other small distilleries are now scrambling to follow suit – including the tiny Kilchoman of Islay, who are consuming 100 tonnes of barley a week.

So how did this distillery come to be opened in 2005 by the Japanese Suntory company and Barry Crockett, who had just been Master Distiller at Bruichladdich? The answer, as is often the case in these kinds of stories, is that it’s a long story. It’s also one that shows, very clearly, how trends and changes in consumer tastes can dramatically affect the whisky world.

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2016 Review:

For the Machir Bay release this year, the distillery has chosen to do something a little odd. Having previously vatted their spirit and finished it in oloroso butt casks, they’ve gone and vatted a younger spirit, around 6 years old, and put it into oloroso butts for two years before releasing it as Machir Bay ‘2016’.

I’ve tried this whisky and I’ve tried the non-vatted Machir Bay 2016 (also known as Machir Bay 2016 Release 2), and I think I prefer the younger one. It’s a little sharper and brighter, and to me it doesn’t have as much depth and complexity. This is a light whisky, and you know what you’re getting with a younger spirit finished in sherry for two years – it’s not really that complicated. I’d suggest that this one is made for fans of the Machir Bay spirit who want something a little more pungently dark and smoky to wet their whistle with.

With the future of single malt whisky uncertain, and the distilleries slowly dying off as we speak, something like this is an interesting concept – vatting young spirit to gain bulk and depth of flavour, then marrying it and finishing it in a different cask to give it a strong smoky, maritime identity. It’s something that can ostensibly be produced on a large scale, and each bottling is unique enough to feel as if it is the product of a human hand, even if humans aren’t technically putting them together.

Written by Mark Adams

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