Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Spearhead Single Grain is a new whisky brand produced at Loch Lomond Distillery in Scotland. The whisky claims to fuse “new age thinking with the DNA of a historic distillery”. Still, marketing waffle aside (how “historic” is a distillery built in the 1960s?), the brand makes for an interesting new addition to the single grain category.
Loch Lomond is unusual in that it has the ability to produce several different styles of Scotch whisky within the same building. The still house is equipped with Pot Stills, Lomond Stills and Column Stills. The Lomond Stills can also be adjusted to alter the flavour profile of the output. This array of different designs makes Loch Lomond one of the most flexible distilleries in Scotland, if not the world.
Loch Lomond has made a few attempts to bottle its single grain whisky in the past, with varying degrees of success. What makes their spirit particularly interesting, however, is the use of malted barley. Other grain whiskies are created using wheat and other cereals, with a small amount of malted barley to help kick-start the process but Loch Lomond’s grain is made from 100% malt. In terms of ingredients, therefore, the spirit is identical to a single malt but the Scotch Whisky Regulations state single malt must be made in a Pot Still and Column Still whisky has to be labelled as grain.
In addition, Spearhead stands out from the crowd through its use of infrared toasted casks. The Loch Lomond team worked with a cooperage in Kentucky to select custom toast levels that encourage the creation of flavours harder to achieve with traditionally toasted barrels.
Infrared toasting uses a specially designed apparatus that uses infrared wavelengths to create new and unique flavour profiles. Shorter wavelengths penetrate the surface of the wood and give a deeper toast, whereas longer wavelengths reflect more and only toast the outer layers. The theory goes, that controlling the wavelengths will give a far more consistent toast than traditional fire-toasting. Spearhead Single Grain is partially finished in these Infrared toasted barrels.
Spearhead Single Grain Scotch Whisky
Spearhead is bottled at 43% and retails for £30.
*Full disclosure: this Drinks By The Dram sample was included in an advent calendar that was sent to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the inherent quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Toffee. Vanilla. Straw. Muesli. Caramel sweets – Werther’s Originals. Honey & Lemon throat lozenges. Biscuit. Mashed banana on well-done toast. A wee touch of citrus with some oaky spice. Richer in wood notes that I’m used to finding in a grain.
Taste: Big arrival. Noticeable weight to the spirit – unusual for a grain – an effect of the malted barley? Oaky – virgin oak notes. Tannins. Spices – cinnamon, ginger, pepper, clove. Croissants. Caramel. Biscuit. Citrus. A wee burst of flour as you move towards the finish.
Thoughts: The nose has a little more complexity than the palate which is perhaps a wee bit one-dimensional thanks to the influence of some very active oak. That said, it isn’t an unpleasant whisky. It’s just dominated by the flavour of the casks. On the plus side, that makes what is presumably a young grain whisky bold enough to stand up to use in a cocktail – something the brand promotes on the official website.
The cynic in me feels like this has come together as a desperate attempt to utilise the distillery’s ability to churn out spirit on its Column Stills. A thinly veiled marketing concept that uses terms like “rule-breaker”, “new-age thinking” and “innovative” to shift excess stocks of grain spirit that failed to capture the drinker’s imagination in the past but that’s maybe doing the quality of the final product a disservice because it’s a decent enough wee dram. It won’t blow the mind of experienced connoisseurs but it isn’t trying to. It’s putting forward a new product that’s both bold, in terms of flavour and branding, and accessible and if nothing else, it adds diversity to a very sparse single grain category.
Price: £30. An interesting oddity that’s priced sensibly enough to entice curious whisky drinkers to give it a go. Whether or not any go back for a second bottle, however, remains to be seen.
For more on Spearhead Single Grain visit https://www.spearheadwhisky.com/