Islay Distilleries #3 of 8: Kilchoman – The Newcomer

by Oliver Klimek on May 17, 2010

The installment of Kilchoman in 2005 was highly acclaimed for two reasons. Firstly because it was the first new distillery to be built on Islay for 124 years. And then the concept of a small farmhouse distillery that does everything on the premises right on from growing their barely really makes Kilchoman something unique among all Scotish distilleries.

Bruichladdich staff were kind enough to give me a lift to nearby Kilchoman after my visit to them. The distillery is located at the Rhinns of Islay a few miles off the coast on the site of Rockside Farm. Some of the distillery buildings were converted from old farm buildings, and a spacious visitors centre was opened which is also housing a cafe. When you approach the distillery the sight of cows, horses and tractors proves that the image of a farmhouse distillery is no fiction.

And Kilchoman truly is a magnet for visitors. The only distillery I saw a comparable crowd was Ardbeg. But it’s not really a surprise that whisky lovers coming to Islay are eager to find out how things are going at the new distillery.

Although I had fixed an appointment by email, somehow the information got lost at the distillery office. But distillery manager John MacLellan who had just recently come to Kilchoman from Bunnahabhain was kind enough to show me around the distillery anyway, together with a couple from Holland who seemed to have an appointment as well.

At Kilchoman, everything is smaller than at the other distilleries that have basically the same equipment all over. And it is their policy to keep it small in order to be able to continue to have everything on the site.

The malting floor looks a bit prosaic when empty, as it is basically just an ordinary room. But it does not need to look fancy to do its job anyway. Currently, Kilchoman is malting 30% of their barley on site, the rest is bought from Port Ellen Maltings. The malt is peated at a medium level of approx. 25 ppm phenols which puts it alongside of Bowmore on the Islay peat scale.

Most distilleries with own malting floors mix their own malted barley together with barley purchased from external maltings. Tthe unique thing about Kilchoman is that they will bottle the whiskies from these two types of malts as different expressions. So people will have the chance to sample a true farmhouse single malt whisky.

The distillery decided to go with stainless steel not only for the mash tun but also for the washbacks, mainly because of the very limited available space as the walls of the mashtuns are not as thick as with wooden ones. Every 6000 litre mash is distilled in two charges on a single day, so the stills are filled twice daily.

At the filling store, some sherry butts had just been filled. This is evidence that Kilchoman plans to extend the range of their bottlings in the future and will not stick to the standard bourbon barrels with or without finish. But the mode of transition from the early 3yo releases to the full-fledged range of expressions of a distillery up and running is not yet determined. So it has not yet been dicided if the 3yo will remain until they reach the standard age of ten years or if the bottling age will be raised step by step.

The warehouse on site is already too small to accomodate the production. As long as the planned new warehouse is not yet built, some barrels are stored elsewhere – I’ve seen a few over at Bruichladdich.

As I stated in my tasting notes for the 2009 Autumn Release, the current 3 yo Kilchoman shows a lot of promise. Currently it is still quite immature for my personal taste, but I have no doubt that the final standard expression – most probably a 10 yo – will not have to fear the comparison with the tradtional Islay malts.


Kilchoman Distillery and Rockside Farm



A true farmhouose distillery

The malting floor


The mash tun

A look inside the mash tun


The small stainless steel washbacks


A rare sight - an open spirit safe


A look into the warehouse

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