Kilkerran 8 Year Cask Strength (2021) review

Few distilleries have a more devoted following than Springbank, Kilkerran’s sister distillery. Fans will tell you that there is no other scotch that has a flavor profile quite like the “Springbank funk”. It’s that marriage of malt (a portion of which is peated), distillation, maturation and maritime air. To me, that funk has a slight gasoline note. I know that sounds gross, but then so are many other notes in scotch tasting. Whatever that funk is to each individual, it helps stir a devotion that few distilleries can rival.

With Springbank in such high demand these days, it’s hard for this small distillery to supply enough to make everyone happy. If you can find them, the 10 and 15 year expressions, in Alberta at least, are actually quite reasonable in terms of price. Beyond these age statements, prices quickly become very unreasonable. $500 for the 21 year old and $1000 for the 25 year old, no matter what the fanboys/girls say, is simply out of whack compared to the competition. That’s my opinion, but I’m sure I am not alone. The one thing I do commend Springbank for, as well as reputable retailers, is that their unicorn-like 12 year cask strength bottlings are a real bargain at about $130 CAD (in Alberta). That’s despite their low availability.

When we’re talking about value malts in Campbelltown, Glen Scotia and Springbank’s sister distillery, Kilkerran, also fits the bill. Kilkerran’s 12 year is pretty reasonable and is widely available. Their non-age stated “Peat in Progress” releases are an insane bargain. Let’s hope that this trend continues in Campbelltown.

In 2019, Kilkerran released what many argued was the best whisky of the year. The 8 year cask strength was matured in re-charred ex-Oloroso sherry casks and became an instant unicorn. It had all of the characteristics of a massive sherry bomb and could be found for as low as $100 CAD, if you were quick enough. This years release offers a similar value, if you could grab one.

The word on the street is that this 2021 edition of the Kilkerran 8 year does not measure up to the 2019 release, but for those of you who don’t know what that tasted like, what does it matter? The 2021 release, like the 2019, is matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, only this time they are not re-charred. It’s bottled straight from the cask at 56.9% abv. Joining me for today’s review is Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) from Park Whiskey Society.

Sean Kincaid’s review

Two years ago, Kilkerran shocked the world with what was then a lot of people’s favourite whisky of that year. An 8 year old heavy sherried, peated malt. This year they released another 8 year old and word spread quickly about it. Funny though that nobody who was talking about it could tell me how it tasted…cause no one opened it. Well, I stumbled across a store that still had it on the shelf a few days after it’s release so I said why not. Man am I glad I did.

Nose: This is a wallop up side the head. Reminds me of smoked pork ribs I did with a coffee grind/brown sugar rub. There’s earthiness like moist loamy potting soil or raked leaves in a cool autumn misty morning. Sweet smouldering tobacco leaves but also a bit of the lovely countryside village peat smell that escapes every chimney. This is complex and layered and young yet mature. This is wonderful.

Palate: On the sip, This is dank, deep Oloroso and paired with the Kilkerran spirit comes out swinging with notes of creosote, diesel, marine soot, and deep dark fruits. Like figs drenched in oily tobacco left out on the rocks beside the ocean on a summers day. A slightly sweeter berry…like blackberry or those Swedish berry candies. This is beautiful. This is dank. This is abrasive. This is my jam. I love those vegetal, dunnage notes with a fruity nutty nasty Oloroso.

With water added…

Both on the nose and palate the peatiness softens and the sherry comes to the fore. The nose gets more on the nutty side of Oloroso sherry notes mixed with some savoury almost roasted nut mix. On the palate, the nutty sherry shows too, but there is a bit more fruit showing and a slight hint of the S word. Yes a touch of sulphur but this is so inviting and not off putting in any way.

This instantly became a contender for whisky of the year for me and it still resides near the top even months later. Damn that’s good!!!!

Paul Bovis’ review

Nose: Before my bottle was drained past the shoulder, it had a very strong burnt match, sulphurous smell, but that has faded into the background now. That funky gasoline note is definitely there for me. It’s like being on the car deck of a ferry. There’s a bit a dirt note, like turning over your garden with a spade. Lingering in the background are some BBQ smoke aromas and grilled meat slathered with a sweet sauce. I’m expecting more of the the cask influence on the palate, but for now I get cooked down dark stone fruits, lots of clove, ginger and a touch of nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit of dark chocolate as well.

Palate: OK. Now we’re in sherry bomb territory. The entry is super oily and sweet. Liquid sultana raisins, a little bit of orange peel, rich honey. The transition into the development is nice and smooth. No falling off a cliff into waves of heat here. At the beginning of the development, those Springbank funk notes start to rear their head heads a little. A little bit of dirt. A little bit of ferry car deck again. I don’t lick the car decks of ferries, although if I did, it would explain a lot. Towards the back end of the development, it’s all booze soaked Christmas pudding to me. It’s just been steamed, soaked in brandy and then set alight. All the requisite baking spices, raisins, candied fruit, the lot.

Finish: It took a while, but I’m finally getting some European oak. It brings a bit of a spice and dryness to the finish. There’s a bit of bitter dark chocolate in there too. Mostly though, it’s that Christmas pudding, the outside slightly caramelized from being set on fire that takes ages to fully fade away.

With water added…

As expected, I’m getting a little more oak on the nose now. It’s more sherry bomb than Springbank although that gasoline smell does linger. Much more clove is present. The nutmeg and ginger have faded significantly. The entry remains unchanged, but the development is a little spicier and has quite a bit more oak. The Christmas pudding has faded away significantly, with only portions of it remaining such as sultanas and baking spices. The flavours aren’t as dark this time round. There’s a lot more dark chocolate bitterness as well, but it’s not overwhelming. The finish follows from the end of the development. It’s a little more bitter and a little less sweet.

Conclusion

Being a fan of Christmas cake and pudding, I rather prefer this without water. If you crave that classic sherry bomb feeling, adding a few drops of water should set you right. Either way, this is phenomenal stuff. Although I do love my sherry bombs, there is something to be said about a whisky in that genre that doesn’t bop you over the bed with a polo mallet with all that heat and spice.

This is a whisky whose flavour defies its age. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they were vatting this one. I might have witnessed some casks greater than 8 years being poured into the tub. Either way, this is an amazing whisky and a definite contender for my top 5 for this year.

Instagram: Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid) and Paul Bovis (@paul.bovis)