Whisky Review #107: Campbeltown Triple Threat Part 2 – Glengyle/Kilkerran

Glengyle is one of those distilleries which has been lurking in the periphery and their Kilkerran brand has been well-received on the basis of having released some stunning “Work In Progress” releases over the years.

The distillery itself has an interesting history and has both an origin story as well as a resurrection tale.

Glengyle distillery was founded in 1872 by William Mitchell (who was also affiliated with the Springbank distillery) and remained under the control of the Mitchell family until 1919, when it was purchased by West Highland Malt Distilleries Ltd.

While the early years were known for being rather prosperous due to Campbeltown’s position as the “whisky capital of the world” and having had no less than 34 operational distilleries at its peak, the 1920s brought with it an extended period of severe decline.

War, as well as the emergence of the railway network which connected the south of Scotland to the north meant that the Speyside region grew in stature, which had a detrimental effect on the Campbeltown distilleries.

The distilleries in Campbeltown were also producing vast amounts of whisky for blending purposes and this rush to provide blenders with bulk whisky led to many of them either over-extending themselves financially or producing mediocre spirit.

The 1920s therefore sounded the death knell for the vast majority of the distilleries in Campbeltown and no less than 32 of those 34 distilleries were closed, with the vast majority of them being consigned into the pages of history.

Glen Scotia and Springbank were the only distilleries to remain open, but Glengyle wasn’t as lucky and was closed in 1925 by its owners. The warehouses were then purchased in 1929 (without any stock) and then turned into a petrol station by the Craig brothers, which seemed to hammer another nail into the Glengyle coffin.

Another change of ownership occurred in 1941, when the Bloch brothers purchased the distillery, although no distillation occurred under their ownership. In 1957, Campbell Henderson applied for planning permission to rebuild the distillery with the intention of reopening it, but nothing came from it and the distillery remained in limbo.

With the loss of all but 2 distilleries, the SWA decided to strip Campbeltown of its position as a whisky producing region and this continued until the early 2000s, when Hedley Wright (the owner of Springbank who was also related to Glengyle’s founder, William Mitchell) purchased the old Glengyle distillery with a view to rebuilding it.

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Glengyle distillery

Over the next 4 years, Wright spent time, effort and money into reviving the distillery and in March 2004, the first spirit ran down the line at Glengyle distillery after 79 years of silence.

Interesting fact: The owners had initially wanted to name the whiskies after the distillery, but as the Glengyle name had been trademarked by Loch Lomond distillery and used as a brand for one of their products, this was not possible. The owners then decided to use the name Kilkerran instead.

The distillery then released it’s first whisky, a 3 Years Old expression, in 2007 and this was followed by a succession of annual releases which began in 2009 under the name Kilkerran and were termed as “Work In Progress” expressions which showcased both the quality and maturity of the whiskies matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

In total, there were 7 “Work In Progress” releases and the last edition was released in 2015 as a prelude to the first official 12 Years Old expression from the distillery. This duly followed in 2016 and was then followed by an 8 Years Old Cask Strength edition in late 2016/early 2017.

The whiskies have been met with general approval and fans of Springbank were quick to pick up on the similarities in terms of the distillery styles, which opened it up to greater scrutiny and demand.

In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a 4 tonne semi-lauter mash tun, 4 washbacks made of larch and with an average fermentation time of 96 hours as well as one pair of stills which were originally part of the Ben Wyvis distillery which once existed within the immense Invergordon grain distillery complex between 1965 and 1977.

This week’s review focuses on a trio of expressions which have been released under the Kilkerran brand and they are as follows:

  • Kilkerran “Work In Progress” 7 Bourbon
  • Kilkerran 12 Years Old
  • Kilkerran 8 Years Old Cask Strength

The Kilkerran 12 Years Old was crafted from a mix of ex-bourbon (70%) and ex-sherry (30%) casks which were laid down all the way back in 2004 and is now a part of the core range, whereas the 8 Years Old Cask Strength has been crafted entirely from ex-bourbon casks and is a limited release.

So, let’s jump right into the reviews!

kilkerran-wip-7-bourbon
Kilkerran “Work In Progress” 7 Bourbon

Kilkerran “Work In Progress” 7 Bourbon (54.1% abv)

Colour: Bright gold

Nose: Initial entry presents some earthy hints coupled with pine sap, limestone, creosote and fresh limes. Sea salt adds to the mix and the nose has a punchy side to it which is complemented by clean, coastal peat and some green ferns. Barley sugar emerges later on to complement the citrus hints and there is a distant whiff of cigar smoke. (22/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents the citrus hints coupled with malty and sweet bourbon notes as well as some honey and vanilla. Black pepper and wood spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg emerge and become more pronounced over time along with some of the coastal peat and sea salt.

The sweetness increases with the spice and there’s a pronounced barley sugar note towards the end. (22/25)

Finish: Long on the finish, with the sweetness of the barley sugar and honeyed bourbon hints providing a nice counterpoint to the wood spices and clean coastal peat. (21/25)

Balance: A rather well-balanced and complex dram which exhibits a robust side due to the cask strength abv, but not to the detriment of its various facets. Great potential indeed! (22/25)

Rating: 87/100

kilkerran-12-year-old-whisky
Kilkerran 12 Years Old

Kilkerran 12 Years Old (46% abv)

Colour: Bright gold

Nose: Initial entry presents hints of sea salt, pine sap, white pepper, limestone and a tiny hint of citrus which is reminiscent of lime (there seems to be a theme here). With time, green ferns, barley sugar, cinnamon and white grapes emerge along with a more pronounced lime note, cigar smoke and gentle peat. (21/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents more of a fruity note, with hints of white grapes, limes, white wine, cinnamon and white pepper emerging early on. With time, oak, barley sugar and some gentle peat emerge on the palate alongside hints of sea salt and green ferns. (22/25)

Finish: Medium on the finish, with the lingering fruity sweetness intermingling nicely with the oak and vestigial cinnamon hints. (20/25)

Balance: A relatively well-balanced and enjoyable dram which showcases the coming of age of the Kilkerran/Glengyle spirit. (22/25)

Rating: 85/100

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Kilkerran 8 Years Old Cask Strength

Kilkerran 8 Years Old Cask Strength (56.2% abv)

Colour: White wine

Nose: Initial entry presents some of the typical pine sap, lime and sea salt hints that one would associate with a Kilkerran followed by a pronounced hit of wood spices (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular), oak and limestone. Tarry ropes and creosote also emerge with time and are complemented by hints of bourbon, iodine and coastal peat. (21/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents some of the bourbon hints from the nose alongside some honey, barley sugar, white pepper, green chili and sea salt. Spicy, yet complex, with the wood spices from the nose intermingling well with hints of lime, coastal peat and white wine. (21/25)

Finish: Medium on the finish, with the wood spices and oak lingering to the end. (18/25)

Balance: A fairly well-balanced expression which provides a more robust and youthful look at the distillery style. Feels a bit raw in some sense and the complexity isn’t as apparent as the other two expressions, but it is still rather enjoyable. (19/25)

Rating: 79/100

All in all, these expressions were rather nice and while I enjoyed all of them to varying degrees, the Work In Progress 7 Bourbon expression just about edges the 12 Years Old expression in terms of being the best of the lot.

The 12 Years Old expression is a solid release and it will be one that is sure to garner many fans around the world as time passes by.

As for the 8 Years Old expression, it was an interesting look at the distillery’s capabilities, but it feels somewhat raw in some aspects and that counted against it in this case. An older expression would definitely provide a better representation and only time will tell just how things develop.

All of these expressions can be found on the various online portals and at retail stores, although the WIP7 expression will be a fair bit more difficult to find due to its limited nature and popularity. That being said, if you do see it, please do get it.

Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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