Loch Lomond is a distillery with a history dating back to 1814, when they were sited at the north end of Loch Lomond near Tarbet. Although the closing date of the Distillery at this site remains unclear, it is known that the current Loch Lomond Distillery was founded in 1964 by the former owners of the Littlemill Distillery, in Bowling, a few miles up the road towards Glasgow.
I was lucky enough to visit the distillery in 2018 with some of the Blind Tasting Team, an opportunity most will never have as the distillery’s not open to the public.
The line up
True to his word, Ibon brought some very special cask samples with him, ½ a litre of each – the legal maximum size of a cask sample. This was the first time any of these liquids have ever been sampled outside of the distillery, with this in mind all photographs have to exclude the labels.
Three of the four samples were new make spirit, not something you get to try often – unless you visit a distillery and even then, you’d probably only nose it as the new make spirit is straight off the still and has a very punchy ABV. The first new make sample we tried with Ibon was 82.6% – absolute rocket fuel! ?
The idea behind having the new make samples, was to allow us to experience first-hand how Loch Lomond’s unique distillation processes enable them to produce a variety new make spirits and that whilst the casks play a part in the final flavour – the clever folk at Loch Lomond have found many ways to produce flavoursome and dynamic new make spirit.
For each of the first 3 new make samples there was an accompanying whisky, the newmakes older sister (aged for between 8 – 10 years). Each of the accompanying whisky samples were presented as a work in progress as they’re not fully matured, but they all clearly reflected the character and profile of the unaged new make we had sampled before it.
Charlie and the Whisky Factory
I found it very impressive how each of the new make spirits we tried were unique and had clearly defined characteristics and a distinctive taste profile – this carried right through to the whisky sample but it was apparent how much of the flavour was down to the distillation. I suppose it’s to be expected from such a unique distillery – They’re 1 of 2 distilleries that distil grain and malt under the same roof, have an onsite cooperage customising barrels to meet their unique needs and are producers of the only continuous malt from Scotland, it’s no wonder Ibon called them “Charlie and the whisky factory”.
Ibon was proud to tell us how precise both the fermentation and distillation is at Loch Lomond. They have incredibly long fermentation times, the minimum being 96 hours! The reason behind this being that; under the right conditions there is a second fermentation. This second fermentation doesn’t produce more alcohol, but cleans up the mix and eliminates any impurities or leftover bacteria from the yeast and helps to create the wonderfully flavoured new make.
The cask samples
New Make 1
At a whooping 82.6% ABV, this new make was produced using the continuous Coffey Still and is legally classed as single grain (despite being made entirely of barley) due to the stringent Scotch Whisky Association rules around continuous distillation. The Coffey still allows for a large amount of precision when extracting the alcohols and is heavily computerised giving finer control over the spirit produced.
The aromas on this were lovely, heavily alcohol influenced as you would expect at that ABV, but there was apples and a zestyness that carried through to the palate – with the right amount of water it was very nice.
Whisky Sample 1
New make 1 put into an ex-bourbon barrel (likely a Heaven Hill, Makers Mark or Jim Beam) which has been refurbished and had its capacity increased from 40 to 54 gallons at the onsite cooperage, top filled and then laid down for 10 years. The wood has had a small influence on the colour of the dram and a made subtle changes to the flavour. Impressively, the whisky was still at 58.3% ABV even after 10 years of sitting in the cask.
New Make 2
New make 2 was up there again at and ABV of 63.5%, distilled in the more traditional swan neck still. Made from 100% malted barley this will pass the stringent rules and go on to be branded a single malt scotch. The yeast used for the wash is a conventional anchor yeast that produces a consistent wash. There was an obvious contrast between this new make sample and the first – the nose and feel of the spirit is much breadier and bigger.
The swan neck stills capture all of the vapours and without the precision and selection available in the Coffey still, it’s this that gives this new make such a different taste and profile.
Whisky Sample 2
The second whisky we tried comprised of new make 2, filled into a refill bourbon barrel and sat down to rest for 8 years. After sitting in a cask for 8 years the ABV is still a very respectable 56.1%. It’s clear that the wood has only had a small influence on the spirit, a little bit of colour and an ounce of the toasted wood creeping in, it really is impressive how much flavour and definition comes from the distillate – they don’t mess about these boys!
New Make 3
Our third and final new make spirit was distilled in a straight neck pot still, this has a long neck that contains 17 perforated plates. The plates play an important role by increasing the copper contact which chemically changes the whisky, removing the volatile sulphur compounds. For this wash, a lighter, fruitier and organic Kerry yeast has been used – it’s all these subtle changes that make such a big difference to the character of the spirit.
The straight neck still can be fitted with a water cooling jacket to cool the vapours and change the point at which they fall/re-rise – this was in use whilst making this spirit. This sample came off the still at 63.5%.
Whisky Sample 3
There’s no prizes for guessing what whisky sample three was… new make 3 that had been laid to rest for 8 years. The whisky carried itself well at 57.3% and was fruity with a slightly spicy finish, Ibon called it a young Inchmurrin. Loch Lomond Inchmurrin is typically made up of 12-16 year old casks of similar spirit. This one was my favourite so far and felt most like a finished whisky.
Whisky Sample 4
Whisky sample 4 was something particularly special and unique and familiar to me as I have had the Loch Lomond Cask 5834 – a Chardonnay yeast single cask.
It was made from unpeated barley, using the straight neck still, but this time without a cooling jacket. The warmer neck brings the spirit off at around 65% ABV, before being matured for 9 years in a refill american oak hogshead.
The Chardonnay yeast used for the wash is much harder to work with and less commonly used in whisky making. Loch Lomond use it to create the grainy, grassy character of which is unique to their wine yeast drams. This stunning whisky sample was bottled at 59.1% ABV.
There’s never a dull moment with Ibon, as if the truly unique cask samples weren’t enough – He also brought along a 19 year old Loch Lomond Royal Portrush as a bonus dram, special and limited in its own right with only 3000 bottles produced.
The Royal Portrush was a mixture of medium bodied, light bodied and unpeated spirit all combined in equal parts, before being finished in a red wine cask. Bottled at 50.3% ABV, natural colour, non chill filtered American oak and finished in a wine cask – it has all the fruit all the oak and a little charring with a bit of different wine character.
A big thank you
Distillers and whisky makers have such a strong sense of pride, so you can understand how they wouldn’t typically want work in progress to be shown off, thus we were truly privileged to be able to try these samples. I knew as soon as it was announced that Ibon was returning, it wouldn’t disappoint; but trying new make spirit that hadn’t seen wood and work in progress whiskies was not what I had expected.
Thank you to Michael Henry the master blender for Loch Lomond for allowing these samples to be released into the wild, to Ibon for travelling all the way down and sharing these with us, to John for playing stand in co-host and to Victor as always for organising these brilliant tastings.
Try Loch Lomond
If you haven’t tried any of the Loch Lomond whiskies, I strongly recommend you get your hands on some – especially the single cask drams: