The Wills Family
Kilchoman is a family run business, established by Anthony and Kathy Wills in 2005, the husband and wife team persuaded their three sons; George, James and Peter, to join the business as it expanded. The Wills family remain the driving force behind Kilchoman with Anthony as Managing Director and Master Blender, Kathy head of the Visitor Centre and their three sons managing the distillery’s sales and marketing activities.
100% Islay Philosophy
Our 100% Islay philosophy stems from Anthony and Kathy’s desire to resurrect the grass roots tradition of farm distilling. From the very beginning, the 100% Islay range was our main reason for being. It represents the revival of single malt whisky being cultivated from barley to bottle in a single location. Ours is a distillery where the responsibility for quality and consistency is not outsourced but completed on-site with skill, care and attention to detail.
We farm approximately 2,000 acres surrounding the ruined Kilchoman Church. Our most fertile ground, 250 acres of fields surrounding the distillery, are used for growing our barely whilst the hill ground to the north is home to our flock of black face sheep. Westwards towards Machir Bay is an area of sandy pasture grazed by our herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. We are passionate about employing modern methods that encourage a wide range of biodiversity, from corncrakes and eagles to wild flowers and native woodland.
The parish of Kilchoman is home to some of Islay’s most fertile ground. It is here, in the fields surrounding the distillery, where we grow 200 tons of barley each year. Planting in Spring once Islay’s 50,000 geese have migrated, our farm team care for the barley over the summer months before harvesting in early September. Harvest time represents the start of the whisky-making process which sees our Kilchoman grown barley malted, distilled, matured and bottled here at the distillery, eventually becoming Islay’s only Single Farm Single Malt Scotch Whisky over 1130 days later.
Kilchoman is one of only 7 distilleries still practicing traditional floor malting in Scotland, a process which Scotland’s other 100+ distilleries have outsourced with the arrival of commercial distilling. The process involves soaking the barley in water before it is laid on a concrete floor and regularly turned by hand. This triggers the barley to germinate, allowing for the conversion of starch to fermentable sugars and alcohol. The labour intensive nature of floor malting is a significant factor in its demise, though it remains at the heart of our 100% Islay philosophy.
Cut from Islay’s many ocean-soaked peat bogs and used to smoke the germinating barley, the unique make-up of Islay peat adds layers of rich, maritime smoky character to the whisky. During the peating process the barley absorbs the distinct Islay peat character, adding layers of complexity to the whisky once distilled and matured. After peating and drying the malted barley is left to rest for a minimum of two weeks ahead of milling and mashing.
After peating the barley is rested before making its journey to the still house for the next stage. Our two custom built hand-operated 1.2 ton mash tuns are put to work on a daily basis to extract fermentable sugars from the crushed barley grains. This liquid, known as wort, is then drained off to form the basis of the Kilchoman spirit, leaving behind the spent grain known as draff which is fed to our herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle.
Once the sweet, malty and slightly smoky wort is drained from the mash tun, distiller’s yeast is added to trigger fermentation and the creation of alcohol. Our fermentation is never rushed, at nearly double the industry standard, our 90 hour fermentation allows for the development of complex esters and the build-up of lactic acid which produce creamy, buttery and particularly fruity notes. This long fermentation time is vital in creating Kilchoman’s unique balance of rich peat smoke and light fruity character.
Our stills, the smallest on Islay and some of the smallest in Scotland, create unmatched purity of spirit. Their distinct size and shape along with our spirit still reflux bulb create unparalleled levels of reflux and copper contact, allowing for the marriage of earthy, maritime peat smoke and the light, clean floral citrus which characterises Kilchoman single malt. As with all stages of production at Kilchoman, our stills are carefully controlled by hand, allowing us to adapt to the natural variations of each distillation run.
Our single malt is matured in a combination of cask types sourced from the finest producers around the world. Each barrel contributes a unique character and colour to balance with Kilchoman’s classic peat smoke and floral sweetness. Our two main cask types, bourbon barrels and sherry butts, are sourced directly from the world renowned Buffalo Trace distillery in USA and Bodega Miguel Martin in Spain. As well as bourbon and sherry casks we also fill a number of speciality casks including Sauternes, Red Wine, Rum, Port, Madeira and Cognac casks as well as various secretive experimental casks.
Our range of single malts are all bottled on site at the distillery, eventually completing journey from barley to bottle. We are very proud to have every stage of production at Kilchoman, from barley growing in the fields around the distillery to bottling on site. Kilchoman single malts are a distillation of people, passion and place.