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On the bonnie, bonnie banks
Loch Lomond is a distillery unlike any other. The original distillery to carry the name was established in 1814 near Tarbet. Its exact location, however, is sadly lost to the mists of time. The current distillery in Alexandria dates from 1964, though production didn’t commence until 1966. The distillery was in production until 1984 when a downturn in the industry led to its closure.
Production resumed under new ownership in 1987 and in 1993 the site was expanded to include a grain distillery. Then, in 2014, the business was acquired by a group of private investors operating under the name of Loch Lomond Group. The single malt brand has been completely revamped, with new contemporary packaging. The same has happened at the sister distillery, Glen Scotia.
I was fortunate enough to be shown around the distillery by brand ambassador Ibon Mendigueren. It was not a day I will forget in a hurry. I’ve visited a few distilleries in my time. After a while, the experience can become a bit predictable but this was a completely unique setup. Lomond is one of the few distilleries that has a fully functioning Cooperage on site and it was a joy to see how quickly and skillfully these men can strip a cask to the bare bones and rebuild it.
The real character of Loch Lomond is in the stillhouse, where an array of different pot stills is to be found. Besides a pair of traditional stills, there are six Lomond stills based. Their base, the pot, is very much like a traditional still but they have tall cylindrical columns as a neck. Inside the column is a set of rectifying plates that can be independently cooled, controlling reflux and allowing the distiller to produce varying alcoholic strengths and flavour profiles. There are also a set of continuous column stills for the production of grain whisky and a further continuous still which is used to produce a single grain made with 100% malted barley. Under this one roof is the capacity to create an unbelievable 11 new make spirits.
Not content with experimentation in the stillhouse, the distillers at Loch Lomond have also been toying with different yeast strains in the creation of their wash. This I found fascinating as it is commonplace these days for distillers to favour the same strain of high-yield distillers yeast. So, when it came to light that a distillery exclusive bottling had been made with the use of Chardonnay yeast I just had to buy a bottle to take home…
Smell: Lots of Fruit… Pineapple, Lemon, Orange… Malt, Vanilla Fudge, Marzipan… Light aromatic Spice.
Taste: Silky Caramel and Orange, Pineapple, Lemon & Lime, Vanilla, Spicy Oak, Almond.
Thoughts: A 9-year-old, cask strength, single malt that’s limited to a couple of hundred bottles will always be appealing to me. It isn’t cheap, coming in around £70 a bottle, but it is intriguing and rather delicious.
Whisky has only three ingredients. Four if you count oak. The likes of Bruichladdich have been following a programme of terroir exploration, establishing what effect different barley strains have on the character of their whisky. The impact water has on the flavour is generally accepted as negligible and much has been said over the years of the dramatic effect casks can have on the spirit. Of 4 ingredients, that leaves only yeast as something of an unsung hero. While a number of voices have made an argument for yeast experimentation over the last couple of years, it is still common practice to stick with the same, high-yield, highly efficient distillers yeast from one location to the next.
Then there’s Loch Lomond. Without making a big deal about it, they’ve been quietly getting on with things, fermenting their wash with chardonnay wine yeast. And this isn’t some new experiment, they must have been doing it a decade ago for this malt to have reached the age it is now. Of course, experimentation is all well and good but there needs to be a finished product at the end of it. Fortunately, Loch Lomond has achieved that with this Inchmurrin. Sensibly the whisky has been aged in what I presume are refill casks. There would be no point in creating an intriguing new make only to bury its character in oak. It’s spirit-led in the best possible way though. It’s layered with lots of complex fruity notes. Really, really interesting whisky. The potential in Loch Lomond distillery really is astonishing.