Guest post: Battling Feis Ile love-sickness with Kilchoman

Once more, Tom van Engelen shares his take on things going on in his world of whisky. This time he covers, to the surprise of approximately no one, Feis Ile that’s not happening.

Of course, a not so surprising subject does not a boring article make!

The year 2020 will go down in history as the annum in which we cancelled everything. What the Champions League is to football lovers all over the world, the Islay Festival of Malt and Music known as Feis Ile is to whisky enthusiasts. Either of these things being cancelled was unimaginable, but it happened in 2020.

As whisky goes, I had some discussions with friends about the idea of festival bottlings for a festival that is not happening. Me, for instance, I have all 11 standard Caol Ila Feis Ile bottlings that ever came out. As I don’t see a 2020 edition becoming reality, my collection will have a sad gap all of a sudden. First world problems, I know.

Only a handful of distilleries did put out “Feis Ile 2020” bottlings. I guess they had it bottled a while before the cancellation of the festival became reality, or maybe they intentionally wanted to offer something to compensate for the loss. In any case, there was a Kilchoman Feis Ile 2020 announced and that’s in my glass right now. I blinked so I missed the bottle for sale, but managed to secure a sample. Let’s see if I have something to cry about.

First, let me warm up with the Kilchoman Inaugural Release

Image from Whiskybase

Kilchoman 3 years old, Inaugural Release 2009, 46%
I have just a few centilitres left in my reference drawer. Released in 2009 at only 3 years of age, it was a bourbon matured whisky with a finish of a few months in Oloroso sherry casks.

Putting your nose in the glass makes you travel to a pebbled beach, sanded by wind after a long day in the sun. The peat in this youngster is remarkable subdued, probably by the sweet layer of sherry.

The attack on the tongue is with 46% abv still quite hefty. Swallowing results in a compact, peated finish with lingering warmth.

After more than 10 years I still wonder if that sherry finish suggested by consultant Dr. James Swan was wise. Today my verdict is: yes! I stand with my score that I put in on Whiskybase:


MaltFascination: Apparently I reviewed it twice, with similar results, albeit somewhat less positive rates. (here and here)

Kilchoman 12 Years Old, Feis Ile 2020, 54,2%

Image from Whiskybase

What triggered my interest in this expression is the fact that it is a rather mature Kilchoman at 12 years of age. Besides that, the label states this was solely matured in ex-bourbon barrels. So, it should be a rather pure expression, which is how I like Kilchoman best.

It needs some time to open up. I was about to put it away for a few moments when the movement of the glass caused some barn smells. Dry hay, mud on the ground, freshly cut grass. A slight fruitiness. Oh dear, a lot on offer, if you are willing to be patient. Adding a little water makes it easier to get past the alcohol, but no new impressions.

The seemingly pleasant ABV does still seem to block the subtleties of this dram. That’s a shame. Mostly very hot and spicy on the tongue and a vanilla sweetness that keeps the peat in balance. With water a lot more fruity flavors. Then the chocolate and coffee flavors come to the surface. Excellent, but not much surprise beyond that.

Impressive, a very pure and straightforward farmy goodbye. You really taste the malt, which gives an indication about how active the wood was (not too dominating). This part of the tasting benefits most of adding some water. It makes it a delicious peaty beast to go a few rounds with on the mat.


A very decent dram from a interesting batch of just 2630 bottles. I can’t deny being a little disappointed. It seems to promise a lot at pouring it in the glass and the age raised my expectations.

Turns out that Kilchoman reaches high quality standards at quite a young age. Extra years in the cask does not seem to offer a lot more on balance or complexity. Compared to a Lagavulin 12 or a Bowmore at that age, Kilchoman does not deliver the same fireworks. But, truth be told, it does invoke a farm feeling, and this is what Kilchoman is marketed as. With that in mind, this Kilchoman is a very honest and authentic dram.

About Tom van Engelen

I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whisky magazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.


About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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