Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Och Islay!

One of the traditions I indulge in when I head out west to visit my family is to stop at the Kensington Wine Market and pick up a few bottles of scotch. It’s the best place I’ve found to buy whisky in Calgary, and maybe one of the best in Canada. Certainly, the selection, prices, and the knowledge of the staff are all far better than anything in our pitiful state-run liquor stores here in Quebec. 

This Christmas, I picked up a bottle of one of my favourite whiskies, Springbank, and I “sprang” for the 18-year-old version. So far I must admit being mildly disappointed. I’ve had quite a few expressions of Springbank over the years, and I’ve enjoyed them all, but with this one, I had hoped for something approaching the memorable half bottle of the 21 year old I brought back from Scotland in 1999. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely. But it’s not as intense as I had hoped. 

On the other hand, the other bottle I bought is nothing if not intense. The nice thing about the KWM is that if you state your intention to buy something, they are usually quite willing to give you samples of whatever happens to be open in the back. This year, the guy working the scotch section (who looked to be about 17 years old but whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for scotch was breathtaking) had me taste a scotch blind that knocked my socks off. It was peaty in a way I had never tasted before—almost cigarette smoke-like, but not unpleasantly so. It had a very unusual and intriguing mix of peat and sherry flavours and aromas. My curiosity was instantly piqued. When he told me what it was, I was pleasantly surprised. When he told me the age, I was floored. 

Are you waiting with bated breath? (OK, I guess not, since there's a picture of it right there.)

It was from Kilchoman, the youngest distillery on Islay, and first new one in 124 years. When my wife and I were on Islay in 1999, I remember the locals talking about the plans for this new "farm distillery" out on the west coast of Islay. I think we even went out to see the site, near Machir Bay. It’s only been up and running for about five years, but they have already distinguished themselves by growing some of their own barley and by being one of the few distilleries in Scotland to do their own traditional floor malting. 

And my god, you can sure taste it in the whisky. This particular expression was a single cask, cask-strength, unchillfiltered bottling that was exclusive to the KWM. The kicker? It was all of four years old. I was blown away by the maturity of this whisky after so short a time, and by the complexity it had picked up from the sherry cask. In another five or six years, once some of the first production hits 10 years old, this is going to be astonishing whisky. 

I, for one, can’t wait. I haven’t been this excited about a whisky in a long time.

1 comment:

jstoub said...

Great post and thanks for the recommendation. Did you see the Globe piece in honor of Robbie Burns: