The farm is a vital part of life at Kilchoman and we have 2,322 acres of farmland, of which only 160 acres are suitable for growing barley.
The fields are ploughed and planted in mid-April once the geese have left the island. We exclusively grow Concerto barley due to its high yielding properties and it also has the ability to stand up to the wet and windy Islay conditions. Once the barley has reached maturity over the summer months we then harvest in September. We hope to harvest between 150 - 200 tons of barley.
The financial risks for groing our own barley are considerable as all the costs are paid at the time of planting and we totally rely on the weather for the crop. Why do we bother? Just taste a dram of our 100% Islay - makes all the worry and risk worthwhile!
We are one of only a handful of distilleries to carry out its own floor maltings. Everything at Kilchoman is very hands-on and the malting is no different, here we carry out a traditional approach with the tools of choice being large wooden shovels and a couple of wheelbarrows.
2 tonnes of barley is spread over the malt floor by the team, this then sprouts roots and begins to germinate over a period of 5-6 days. This is closely monitored and regularly raked and turned to ensure an even germination across the whole floor.
The traditional floor maltings is extremely labour intensive with a lot of time and energy spent on this part of the process. Shovelling and raking 2 tonnes of barley for 5 days a week isn't for everyone!
The kiln is where the classic Islay smokey character is brought into the spirit. Islay peat, which is cut from a nerby peat bog, is lit in the bottom of our kiln. This produces an intense smoke like no other which is drawn up through the malted barley. The barley absorbes this intense peat smoke over the 10 hours we have the fire lit. This produces a phenol level of around 20ppm.
We only use Islay peat dug locally to the distillery. Islay peat is famous for its unique makeup, affording our spirit complex briny maritime flavours and earthy sweetness entirely different from the more ashy mainland peat.
Once the barley has been infused with peat flavours from the fire we then dry it down to under 5% moisture to be stored. The malted barley is then ready and waiting to be converted into our unique spirit!
One mash at Kilchoman produces 6000 litres of worts which is held in one of our six washbacks. We then add yeast to each washback which reacts with the sugars to begin fermentation and produce alcohol.
Each distillery varies the amount of time they spend fermenting and an average around scotland is 55 hours. We take this to an extreme and have an average fermentation time of 100 hours. As the yeast reacts with the sugars it dies between 50-60 hours but this is not the end of the changes in the washbacks, as time goes on lactic acid and esters form which produce creamy, buttery and particularly fruity odors and flavours. This long fermentation time is vital in creating the complex and flavourful spirit that is unique to Kilchoman.
After 100 hours of fermentation in the washbacks we are typically left between 7-8%abv
The stills were designed and built specifically to produce our style of spirit and are among the smallest in Scotland. We have one set of stills, one wash still and one spirit still. Being small with a tall thin neck and reflux bulb, the spirit still is designed to create a very clean alcohol as well as encourage high reflux to produce a light spirit. The light, clean spirit created here combined with the complex and fruity flavours produced in the washbacks make Kilchoman's spirit stand out.
The wash still is charged with 3000 litres of wash which produces 1000 litres of low wines at 20%abv
The spirit still is charged with 1600 litres and produces 300 litres of spirit at 69%abv
The spirit safe collects the spirit once it runs off the spirit still and we take a high cut after only 5 minutes of foreshots from 75%abv down to 65.5%abv - an average of around 69%abv.
Nine mashes are carried out each week where we add hot water to the 1.2 tonnes of grist to convert the starch into sugars. We add three waters at 64, 80 and 90 degrees to the mash tun to extract as many sugars as possible for fermentation. Each water is then drained through the bottom of the mash tun and is a liquid known as worts, leaving behind the spent grain known as draff.
Being a farm distillery, we wouldn't want to waste any of this highly nutritious draff that is left behind in the mash tun so we feed this to the cattle at Kilchoman.
When Kilchoman was built in 2005 there was one second hand piece of equipment in the still house and this was the mill, which is still going strong today. The mill crushes the dried malt into grist which has three parts - husk, grist and flour. This allows us to access the fermentable sugars during the mashing process. We mill 1.2 tonnes of malted barley for each mash.
The burn where our water is sourced from is Allt Gleann Osamail and runs from the hill behind the distillery down towards Machir Bay.
Allt Gleann Osamail is fed by several smaller burns – these are Allt Chatriana, Allt Glean na h-Uamha, Allt an leacaidh and Alt Ban. The highest of these smaller burns Allt Chatriaina starts at about 150m above sea level on Cnoc na h-Uamha. This water flows through layers of peat as it makes its way down the hill which provides us with a very pure colour and flavour.
Everyone from all around the world is welcome to come a visit the distillery!
Come and browse around the shop and sample some of our latest releases, have a bite to eat or a drink in the cafe, or take a tour around Islay's farm distillery and see what makes Kilchoman so special.
We are open 7 days a week in the summer and more information on tours and opening times can be found on the 'tours and events' section of the website.
The farm has a few hundred cows and sometimes they need some feeding up. We don't like to waste anything at the distillery and the draff from the mash tun is taken across the yard and the cows enjoy a highly nutritious meal from the byproduct of making whisky.
As you can see, they look like they enjoy it!
The heart of the cut from the spirit still is collected in our spirit receiver and is reduced to 63.5%abv before it is filled into cask. We predominantly fill into first fill bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky in USA which has married exceptionally well with our spirit. The other main cask type we mature in are first fill oloroso sherry casks from Miguel Martin, Huelva in Spain. There are also a number of port, sauternes, madeira and other cask types which we have filled in small quantities.
All of our casks are fully matured on Islay and lay to rest in our dunnage warehouse. This is the traditional method and in our view the ultimate way to mature single malt whisky to gain outstanding results. The low roof and earthen floor provides an ideal climate for maturation with consistent temperatures throughout and added moisture in the air. This is hard to find in the more modern racking or palletised methods.