On 14 February 2017, the renowned Scotch whisky expert Dr James Swan passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in Edinburgh at the age of 75. Jim Swan was a scientist and consultant who applied his unrivalled knowledge of whisky to the planning and commissioning of numerous new distilleries in Scotland and around the world. In his function as “Whisky Consultant”, he had an immense influence on the planning and construction of the Kilchoman distillery. For example, he designed the shape and size of the stills, set the parameters of the fermentation and distilling regime, all with the aim of achieving a relatively light-bodied, fruity and fast-maturing whisky, as specified by Anthony Wills. In addition, he was Anthony Wills’ most important advisor on all matters relating to the operation of the distillery, including the cask programme, and through his extensive contacts in the whisky industry managed to get the renowned Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky to accept Kilchoman as a buyer for its casks. Anthony Wills repeatedly referred to James Swan as his most important mentor. So it is not surprising that James Swan’s signature adorned the labels of many early Kilchoman bottlings.
March 28: Kilchoman announces that the entire bottling of Cask No. 142/2006 has been stolen and asks anyone offered a bottle of this bottling for sale to contact the distillery immediately. This is the bottling of a Private Cask by Stuart Wilson, distilled on 12 July 2006 and bottled on 24 July 2016 with an alcohol content of 52.1%. The entire edition of 257 bottles was sent to its owner in the Birmingham area in the summer of 2016, but due to a wrong address the delivery was lost. After the police completed their investigation and only 3 bottles reappeared, the distillery decided to go public. Anthony Wills wrote: “We went public once it became clear the bottles weren’t going to be recovered. Ten-year-old private single cask bottlings of Kilchoman are retailing for up to £150 including VAT, giving the haul a potential value of over £38,000.”
April 3: “Loch Gorm 2017” released. The 6th edition of the series, reserved exclusively for whiskies matured in Oloroso sherry casks, was created from sherry butts, filled in 2009. The whisky is thus over 7 years old and is the oldest in the series to date.
May 1: Kilchoman releases the “100% Islay 7th Edition”. This year’s bottling of the series was distilled in 2010 and aged for over 7 years in first and refill ex-bourbon casks, making it the longest matured edition of the “100% Islay” releases. Production Manager Robin Bignal writes about it: “The development of the 100% Islay casks from the Inaugural release up to this, the oldest 100% Islay release, has been intriguing to see. As the bourbon barrel maturation influences the spirit over time it has taken on a real depth of character and complexity to add to the light citrus fruit and peat smoke of the Kilchoman spirit.”
June 1: at the Kilchoman Open Day at Fèis Ìle 2017, Kilchoman fans will once again be treated to a host of interesting programme items: special tours, tastings and masterclasses alongside delicious food and drink. The Fèis Ìle Release 2017 is a vatting of two 100% Islay casks specially selected by Anthony Wills: a Bourbon Barrel filled in July 2008 and an Oloroso Sherry Butt filled in October 2009. The 877 bottles for £90.00 sold out on Open Day, of course.
September 4: The “Vintage 2009” is released. The 4th edition of the biennial series sets a new age record again, it is the first 8-year globally available release of a Kilchoman whisky. Besides fresh- and refill bourbon barrels from 2009, 3 Oloroso sherry butts from 2008 were also given to the vatting “to add additional layers of rich cooked fruits to balance with the lighter citrus and vanilla of the bourbon barrels” as the announcement says. Not only does this take the name of the release ad absurdum, the addition of sherry barrels to a previously pure bourbon barrel release caused some frowning among fans of the series. Anthony Wills wrote about this release: “The evolution of Kilchoman single malt is well represented through our Vintage range. Now at eight years of maturation, the balance and depth of character coming through on both the nose and the palate is incredible. The oloroso sherry influence in the 2009 Vintage compared to the previous releases has given this whisky a different dimension with layered fruit and added sweet notes.”
4 to 15 September:USA West Coast Tour: The big marketing tour of 2017 takes George and Peter Wills up the US West Coast. Starting in Southern California on September 4th they travelled over 1,500 miles in the Kilchoman Landrover from Los Angeles northwards to Seattle. On there way they hosted Kilchoman tastings in 15 different locations. The tour was again accompanied by an exclusive Machir Bay bottling at cask strength in an edition of 840 bottles.
September 25: the barley harvest, which had already started on 17 September with a new combine harvester but had to be interrupted after 2 days due to bad weather, can finally be finished. 204 tons were harvested, i.e. a yield of 1.9 t /acre.
October 8: “Red Wine Cask Release”. Following the Port, Madeira and Sauternes wine releases of recent years, Kilchoman is now continuing the series with a Red Wine Cask edition. Distilled in 2012, the spirit was stored for 5 years in red wine casks from the Portuguese Douro Valley. 20 casks were filled for this release, the yield was almost 7000 bottles with 50% abv.
November 8: Kilchoman announced, that the 6th Edition Club Release will be available exclusively to Club Members from noon (GMT) on Wednesday the 6th of December. The 2017 club release is a cask strength (57.4%) vatting of five ten-year-old bourbon barrels, all distilled 01/11/2007, bottled 20/11/2017. The casks were individually selected by Kilchoman Founder Anthony Wills and represent his idea of the perfect Kilchoman 10-year-old. “For me personally, Kilchoman is best when matured in fresh bourbon barrels, the lighter influence of the American oak makes for a more harmonious marriage between cask and spirit. This allows for Kilchoman’s natural floral citrus character to develop and integrate with that of the bourbon oak flavours. These casks are like our crown jewels, we have few casks over ten years old so need to be very selective with when they are bottled. These being fresh barrels, are at their peak now, the balance is fantastic and they are some of the very best Kilchoman casks I’ve tasted.” The release of just 1241 bottles was exclusively available to Kilchoman Club members – limited to one bottle per person – via the Kilchoman website, priced at £99.00 per bottle.