Well, well, well. A Kilchoman general release of their famously peaty spirit aged entirely in ex-sauternes casks. For those who may have missed it, they actually released a club version of this back in the winter of 2015. So while the marketting spiel is calling this one the first sauternes cask matured Kilchoman, it’s not quite. But it is the first to be available to the general public. Although really anyone can join the Kilchoman club.
So why is this is so exciting? And why did 6,000 bottles fly off the shelves before I could blink? Well it’s probably the first (or at least one of the first) heavily peated whisky to be fully matured in ex-sauternes casks. Plus it’s a special release of Kilchoman which always move fast. Remember the Kilchoman Port and Madeira expressions? Probably not because they also sold out in a flash.
So what is Sauternes? Well it’s a french sweet wine produced in a subregion of Bordeaux. It’s got quite an interesting production. When the season is right, a fungus (Botrytis cinerea) which they call noble rot will grow on white grapes causing the grapes to dessicate and become more concentrated. The tremendous sweetness of the wine is due to the higher concentration of sugar in these grapes. Because the fungus must grow naturally and is climate dependent, Sauternes wine production is quite limited. Thus limited wine production also means limited casks which is one reason you don’t see more ex-sauternes cask aged whiskies.
I was excited to get my hands on this to compare to the club release. I wasn’t able to get any during the initial online sale but thanks to Barry at the Whiskyphiles we finally got to try this spirit. I was a big fan of the club release so I had big expectations for this guy. Did it impress? Read on..
Age: 5 years
Cask: Fully matured in ex-sauternes casks
Price: £75 but it sold out almost instantly
Smoke and burned rice like the crispy rice on the bottom of a Korean stone bowl. Pickled yellow daikon. Cigarettes. The smell of a red ale and freshly made wooden chest. A bit of wood sap. Hint of pickled mackerel and dried berries. Cranberries. Also a cool whip cream scent off the top.
Thick waves of ash from a wood fire. Tingling bitterness like drinking a highly carbonated lager. Dried rose petals and rose water. Cranberry juice. Pink eraser rubber bitterness with that funky sweetness. Tar and cola. Ripe red fruits and berries compote. Bubble gum.
Light bubbly tangy sweetness like a prosecco. Ash from an ash tray. Rubbery bitterness like licking a pink eraser.
At first this is quite an oppressive dram. It just hits you with this wall of ash and it’s hard to get past it. But as time wears on it begins to grow on you and you start noticing the fruitiness. But there’s always that odd bitterness lingering in the background or waiting toward the end. There’s just a lot of strange flavours mixed together in this one and it takes getting used to. I think it may be more an acquired taste like how anchovies are not to everyone’s liking. I drank this beside the Kilchoman 4th Club release Sauternes cask matured which was a bit younger and bottled at cask strength. They both had a similar sweetness but I like the club release more. It seems to have this vibrancy to it that just pierces your palate. This general release Sauternes, however, seems to have more mixed feelings. It’s not sure if it should go this way or that. That being said, it’s still a lot of fun to drink, although I am not sure I would make it a regular dram. Definitely prefer the club release but mostly because the rubbery bitterness on the general release just rubs me the wrong way.
Side by side picture of the general release and club release Kilchoman Sauternes. The official image made the general release look really light in comparison to the club release but actually they have about the same hue.