Loch Lomond Peated Single Grain

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The Column Still

This Loch Lomond bottling was distilled in a column still, which differs from the traditional pot stills usually associated with Scotch whisky. A breakthrough in continuous distillation had been pursued since the early 18th century but rather than being the invention of one man, the most successful designs were the product of a number of scientists and engineers, each building on the work of their predecessors.

In Scotch whisky we tend to focus on two men in particular. The first was Robert Stein who patented a continuous still in 1828. His design saw fermented beer, or wash, passed through a series of interconnected pots. It was the first continuous still design to be commercially employed throughout Scotland, featuring at Cameron Bridge, Yoker and Glenochil distilleries, among others. Stein’s design was flawed, however, and required that production be halted frequently, to allow for cleaning.

In 1830, Irishman Aeneas Coffey patented his own two-column design. The Coffey still would go on to become the industry standard, used to produce grain whisky on a massive scale and triggering the boom in blended Scotch as a result. The still works by feeding wash in at the top and creating steam at the bottom. As the steam rises up the column, it passes through the descending wash, causing the alcohol to evaporate and travel upwards as a vapour. That vapour can then be condensed back into a liquid of upwards of 90% alcohol by volume.

Loch Lomond Distillery

Though an earlier distillery carried the same name, Loch Lomond as we know it today was established in the 1960s, as the Scotch industry was beginning to recover from the tumultuous early years of the 20th century. The distillery was originally fitted with Lomond stills that look and function a little bit like a combination of both pot and column stills. Through expansion it was later fitted with a set of traditional pot stills and later still, with two sets of column stills.

This unusual combination makes Loch Lomond one of the most flexible distilleries in all of Scotland, capable of producing an array of different spirits. The pot and Lomond stills are used to produce single malt while one set of column stills is used to make grain whisky for blended Scotch. The second set of column stills produces a rather unique whisky. Despite being made from 100% malted barley, Scotch whisky regulations state that it can’t be called a single malt because it wasn’t produced in pot stills.

Loch Lomond have been bottling this 100% malted barley single grain whisky for a number of years now but recently they’ve made things a little bit more interesting by releasing a version made using peated malted barley. When I stumbled across a bottle at my local Morrisons supermarket, I couldn’t resist taking it home.

The Whisky

Smell: The nose is quite raw to begin with. More like a new make than a mature whisky. Beyond that spirity feel there’s lots of grain cereals and black pepper with gentle peat smoke. There’s also a little bit of honey, some soft vanilla and lemon scented air freshener.

Taste: You can feel a little touch of spirit heat on the lips but the arrival on the palate is more rounded than the nose would lead you to believe. The whisky is also fuller than I expected. More robust. There’s peat and liquorice with some peppery spice. Then some blackcurrant and a little bit of citrus. Just before the smoky finish there’s some creamy malt and vanilla.

Thoughts: Were it not for the colour, I would have been convinced I was nosing new make at first and I fear that introduction may put some people off. I think taste will always be the most important aspect of a dram though and this one does OK, where that’s concerned. It’s not the most complex but it’s got a nice texture and some good depth to the peat influence. There’s some spirit heat on the palate as well but it’s not unpleasant. I also have to bear in mind that the bottle only cost me £27.

That said, it feels a bit like a missed opportunity to me. There’s no age statement but it feels very young. Perhaps with a bit more age or with a higher proportion of first fill casks, it might shed a little more of that immaturity and evolve into a more complete whisky. As it stands, it’s an interesting curiosity that would make for a fun talking point in a tasting line-up but falls short of being a winning whisky in its own right.

Loch Lomond strikes me as an evolving brand. There seems to have been a big push into new markets with their sponsorship of The Open and there’s been some changes in their ambassador team. I’ve also started to notice some low strength, NAS bottlings appearing in supermarkets. If that finds the brand some new fans then fair enough but it seems a bit of a step backward for a range that once came bottled at 46% as standard.

Then you have this rather bizarre peated Coffey Still version. They’ve retained the high strength which is commendable but I have to wonder if such an unusual dram can really find an audience on the shelves at Morrisons? How many of the people shopping there even know what a Coffey Still is? It feels like this should have been a release for specialist retailers where a more educated customer would have understood its uniqueness. But then, would they also have a better understanding of its flaws?

At the end of the day, it’s an interesting concept but feels like a few creases need to ironed out. A bit older, a bit more mature and Loch Lomond could really be onto something here.

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