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Kilkerran Single Malt: Sort Of New, But Very Old School


A baby distillery with a doggedly old school approach and flavour - meet Glengyle. 

Glengyle is located in Campbeltown, the once-powerful whisky producing region in the south west of Scotland which during the Victorian era housed up to 30 distilleries. Fast forward to the year 2000 and a range of factors meant there were just two remaining, Springbank and Glen Scotia. Determined to put their town - now home to just 5,000 people - back on the map as a whisky powerhouse, Springbank's owners Mitchell's bought the distillery, which had been closed since 1925.

After a lengthy - and costly - four-year refurb Glengyle distilled once again in 2004 after 70 years of silence.

And I guess if you were going to wait that long, there's no reason to rush once you got there.

Resisting the urge to pump out masses of young whisky and bring ongoing ranges to the market as soon as possible, Glengyle has been churning away very quietly. The distilling team there is the exact same as Springbank - they run across town for one month of the year to work at Glengyle - and their mentality is equally as stubborn.

Working towards a 12-year-old, which will be there standard expression moving forward, they have released a number of work-in-progress releases since 2009.

In the current whisky market where everyone else is shedding their age statements for younger alternatives, it's both admirable and remarkable that Glengyle have stuck to their guns.

Bottled under the name Kilkerran (which is the name of another long-lost Campbeltown distillery given that the term 'Glengyle Whisky' is still owned by the modern day equivalent of the company responsible for the distillery before it closed) these releases have not only proved fascinating insights into the development of a distillery, they're also absolutely outstanding whiskies. 

To paraphrase Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun, one of the whisky world's most respected noses, no-one is making spirit like Glengyle/Kilkerran at the moment.

Oily, thick, lightly peated, fruity, damp, often earthy, lingering and always complex it's amazing that these deliciously old school releases carry the name 'Work In Progress'. They're far more accomplished then that.

Even when WIP 1 was released in 2009 initial reactions included, "Dammit, this is superb!"

Since then each year another WIP release has appeared. 1 through 4 were vattings of bourbon and sherry casks, and then in 2013 WIP5 came in two versions - a bourbon cask matured and a sherry cask matured. 

WIP 6 and WIP 7 continued that split-cask trend into 2014/15. WIP 7's bourbon cask release was also offered at cask strength.

The releases are set apart by the colour of their labels - the original design forgot to leave space for a number. Starting at white for WIP1, you can tell when members of the team had childen thanks to the baby blue (WIP5) and baby pink (WIP6) editions.

The latest releases, which have whisky up to 11 years old (each release gets slightly older), recently landed in Australia in limited quantities. Being such big fans of these complex whiskies, we've also tracked down some of the archive releases - starting from WIP 1.

In August this year Glengyle will release the Kilkerran 12 year old, which is set to be a vatting of bourbon (70%) and sherry (30%). (We've tried an early sample of the blend and it's looking very good...) When that happens these Kilkerran releases, which were only bottled in small quantities, will likely be thrust into the limelight and become increasingly collectable.

Don't wait until then, though, and don't write these releases off as mere progress. Some distilleries would sell limbs to have the quality of these "progress" bottlings as their standard lines.

It's a very exciting time for the distillery, which has a theoretical capacity of 750,000 litres of pure alcohol per year but in 2015 only produced around 30,000 litres. As with all things the team at Springbank touch, this distillery is doing things the right way for the right reasons. Even if it takes time.


Top photo by Beth Cannan

Scott Fitzsimons