Kilchoman is a unique family owned farm distillery on the famous whisky island of Islay. Why unique? Well, all parts of the whisky making process take place on one site. They grow their own barley, traditionally floor malting it before then producing new make spirit. Maturation and bottling also take place at the distillery. It is a young distillery in Scotch whisky terms. Kilchoman was one of the first to spearhead the current wave of new small artisan distilleries in Scotland when it opened in 2005.
Kilchoman produces a classic Islay style of peaty and smoky single malt whisky. The distillery is known for its sweet peaty and slightly ashy peppery quality, along with distinct green fruity notes. They produce new make of differing levels of peat from lightly peated to heavily peated. However, most Kilchoman releases sit in the mid-range in terms of peat level.
The production at Kilchoman has recently increased dramatically following a major expansion project. This was completed in 2019 and has seen capacity doubled to meet consumer demand. A second distillery was built next to the original one and is a replica of the first. Annual production capacity stepped up to 350,000 litres in 2020 as a result. Approximately 450,000 litres is projected for 2021.
Part of the expansion was to build a new malting floor and kiln. This allows production of their own malt using traditional methods. Kilchoman produce around 30% of all the malted barley that they need for production. This has an approximate phenol content of 20ppm (Phenol Parts per Million). Phenol is the compound that is released when peat burns. This gets locked into the barley and gives a whisky its smoky aroma and flavour.
The remainder of their malt is produced at Port Ellen Maltings on the island. This has a level of 50ppm. Sometimes their homegrown barley is distilled on its own and sometimes just that from Port Ellen is distilled. But sometimes the two types of malt are blended together before production. This creates a mid-range peat strength. The expanded production now includes two stainless steel mash tuns, 12 stainless steel fermentation washbacks with a 6,000 litre capacity each (fermentation is an average of 90 hours) and two pairs of copper pot stills.
Kilchoman began production in June 2005 and became the first new distillery on the famous Scotch whisky island of Islay for over 120 years. Bunnahabhain was the previous one back in 1881. Kilchoman was founded by Anthony Wills, who drew up plans for a distillery at Rockside Farm on the remote western coast of Islay in 2002. It remains under the Wills family ownership today. The name is taken from that of the local parish.
The first single malt whisky was released in Sept 2009 as a 3 year old expression. In 2011, the now-annual 100% Islay was released for the first time. This proved a pivotal single malt for both Islay and the distillery. All barley used is grown at Rockside Farm, then traditionally floor malted. milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, matured and bottled at Kilchoman.
In 2012, the first core expression appeared in the form of Machir Bay. This was named after a nearby beach and matured in ex-bourbon casks. The now-annual Loch Gorm release also appeared for the first time and was named after a freshwater lake close to the distillery. The first travel retail bottling of Coull Point was released in 2014. Machir Bay was then joined by Sanaig, matured in ex-sherry casks, in the core range in 2016. Multiple small batch or single cask whiskies have been bottled since for the annual Feis Ile festival, independent spirits retailers and for general release.