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The Story of Lochlea
Lochlea distillery was established by Neil McGeoch, owner of Lochlea Farm. Planning permission was acquired in 2014 and construction work began in 2015.
The distillery is located in Ayrshire, just south of Kilmarnock and stands surrounded on all sides by green fields, some of which are used to grow the barley that makes their single malt. The project was joined in 2015 by Malcolm Rennie, a veteran of the Scotch industry with more than 30 years experience working at distilleries like Kilchoman, Bruichladdich, Ardbeg and Annandale.
Rennie oversaw the start of production in 2018, helping to nail down the character of the new make spirit in a distillery designed with a particular style in mind. By growing the barley themselves, the owners retain complete control over the quality of their raw ingredients. The fermentation process is deliberately long, in order to encourage fruity esters in the wash. Distillation runs slowly, as well. This patient approach, coupled with a high spirit cut helps to create a light, fruity spirit.
You could be forgiven for having never heard of Lochlea. Its early years were spent under a blanket of radio silence. There was no press releases, no big noises made. The people involved simply got on with doing their jobs and concentrated on making their product the best it could be.
That lack of coverage changed in 2021 when news broke that the distillery was readying its first single malt, to be released later that year. Unfortunately, the release was delayed. I’m not totally sure what the reasons for that were though it’s possibly safe to assume pandemic, supply issues relating to Brexit, HGV driver shortages or some combination of all the above played a role.
To complicate matters further, Malcolm Rennie departed to join Ian Macleod and oversee the revival of Rosebank Distillery. Lochlea immediately went about finding his replacement before deciding upon John Campbell, the man associated by so many, with Laphroaig distillery in Islay. Encouraged by the pandemic, various lockdowns and the difficulty in seeing his family, Campbell decided that his future lay on the mainland and jumped at the chance to take on Lochlea.
With Campbell named Production Director, Lochlea announced the re-arranged launch of their First Release. An appropriate date was chosen in the form of Burns Night 2022. The 25th of January sees the world celebrate the life of Robert Burns – and all things Scottish – with recitals of poetry, song and a meal of haggis and whisky. Burns, often considered Scotland’s national poet, lived and worked at Lochlea Farm between 1777 and 1784.
The First Release features spirit matured in first-fill bourbon casks and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. The whisky is bottled at 46% without artificial colouring or chill filtration.
Smell: The nose is malty and nutty. Lots of cereal notes. Muesli. There’s a bit of cut grass too. Lots of fruit – apple, pear… Tinned fruit cocktail. Vanilla and new wood. Hobnob biscuits. Black pepper – a wee bit of youthful spirit heat that gently prickles the nostrils. A subtle raisin note in the background.
Taste: Apples and rich honey on the arrival with vanilla cream. Then some fiery pepper develops. There’s some of that fresh oak again before the malty backbone comes through. Some subtle dried fruits emerge before a dry, wood spice finish. Medium-bodied.
Thoughts: A fine debut from Lochlea. I like that they’ve allowed the spirit to show its character, young though it may be. When I read that a combination of first-fill bourbon and PX casks went into the making of the dram, I worried that it might be a little oak heavy but that certainly isn’t the case. The spirit takes centre stage with the bourbon smoothing off the ages and beefing things up a little. There’s been no mention of the split between bourbon and PX, though I’d imagine that a relatively small portion of sherry casks were used. The fortified wine’s influence can be detected but it’s kept in check. What you taste is the unique, albeit young character of Lochlea: the flavour of the spirit, distilled from the barley grown in the field beside the distillery. In that way, you’re experiencing a flavour that could only have come from this place. Sure, the whisky is still a touch on the immature side but it’s a pleasant sipping dram and it appears well placed to develop into something special in years to come.
Value for money: There was a few years when every new distillery seemed to price their inaugural release as if it was the most collectable, desirable item in the world. Thankfully, that trend seems to have stopped and I was delighted to see Lochlea pricing its malt at an affordable level. Good on them and long may it continue.
For more on Lochlea visit here