Situated on an industrial estate in Alexandria at the south end of the loch that gave its name to it when distilling commenced here in 1966, Loch Lomond Distillery was built as part of the US Barton Brands empire. By 1984 it had closed and after a brief period under the ownership of Inver House Distillers it was bought by one of Scotch whisky’s most reclusive entrepreneurs, Sandy Bulloch. Production was kick-started again in 1987 and from that point onwards the distillery gradually evolved into one of the most innovative whisky-making complexes in Scotland.
The reasons for this evolution can be traced to the work ethic that existed between Bulloch and his business partner, his sister, Irene. Together they made a formidable, self-reliant team who steadily, without fuss or self-promotion, built up the family’s businesses having started from a single grocery store in Glasgow before moving into wholesaling, blending, bottling and bonded warehousing near Mauchline, Ayshire. That independent streak meant they were content to grow their business without becoming members of any trade association or to frequent industry social gatherings. Ultimately, their activities in the retail trade brought them into conflict with the DCL in 1978. Johnnie Walker Red Label was withdrawn from the UK market after the DCL lost a case in the European Court that they brought against the Bullochs after the family had refused to stop their parallel importation of the brand from Europe for their retail operations. Being taken on by the likes of the DCL and not blinking took determination, but they had it in spades.
With a comprehensive range of spirits supplying the supermarkets in the UK, the company’s revenues increased and when the availability of grain fillings at the right price became problematic, it was decided to build a grain plant next to the malt distillery in 1993. From that point forward, the company was almost completely independent of any other fillings supplier in the industry and was free to develop accordingly. (Ironically, some reciprocity remains with Diageo who take fillings of malt and grain and in turn supply Mannochmore and Dailuaine malt for blending.)
The result has meant the creation of seven single malts including Inchmurrin, Craiglodge and Croftengea, the Loch Lomond blend, a ‘single’ blend (containing only malt and grain whisky from Loch Lomond), organic grain bottlings and a patent-still malt spirit which the SWA currently refuses to recognise as Scotch whisky (Rhosdhu). Apparently it’s all down to ‘traditional practices’ and the public’s perception of what they expect to get when they buy single malt Scotch – a perception that one could argue was only created on the back of William Grant’s pioneering marketing of Glenfiddich malt back in the 1960s and 70s. The Association does not regard this use of a distillation technique that was invented in 1826 as ‘traditional’. This is a moot point because when Alfred Barnard visited Yoker Distillery in 1886 he saw ‘one of Stein’s Patent Stills for the manufacture of malt whisky, the same as that described hereafter at Cameron Bridge Distillery.’ At Glenmavis he witnessed the patent still installed in 1855 producing 2,000 gallons of malt whisky every 24 hours. Nowadays Nikka produce their much-lauded Coffey Malt at the Miyagikyo Distillery in this manner in patent stills manufactured in Glasgow! It seems strange that the failed Lomond still (the last operational one is now producing Botanist gin at Bruichladdich Distillery), invented in the mid-1950s, was never challenged in this way, nor were the four Lomond-type stills in the Loch Lomond stillhouse, which they deem to be ‘pot stills’, pure and simple. If the historical records are correct, all Loch Lomond has done is to re-instate a traditional practice that has lain fallow for a while.
Which brings me, at last, to the whiskies Loch Lomond produces. More than 99 per cent of all the output at Loch Lomond goes to three-year-old blended whiskies: half to the making of High Commissioner and half as bulk exports to a growing worldwide market. They make no excuses for supplying the right product, at the right price to the right market. That is their DNA and it explains why they do what they do. It also explains what meets your eye when you enter the stillhouse.
A phalanx of massive stainless steel washbacks sit opposite the distilling deck which consists two traditional pot stills, four pot stills with rectifying heads and the space-age, two-column patent still, consisting of an analyser and a rectifier. Next door there is the grain distillery with another, larger two-column patent still. With this range of plant, distiller and chemist John Peterson can operate four pot-still malt whisky distillation regimes, one patent-still malt spirit regime and one grain distillation regime. The first five regimes draw on the same 9% ABV malted barley wash which is fermented for 70 hours for the pot stills and 90 hours for the patent still. The reason for this unusual length is to increase secondary microbiological fermentation which gives the light, fruity, estery spirit that the company requires for its blends.
The most traditional regime is used with the two pots stills whereby the wash is distilled to 25% ABV in the wash still and is then run from the spirit still at 66%. The three regimes used with the pots with rectifying heads mean that the wash is first distilled in a 25,000-litre capacity wash still to 25% ABV and then redistilled in a 16,000-litre spirit still to 90% ABV for Inchmurrin (and Inchmoan, its heavily peated equivalent) and allowed to run down to 80% ABV before the feints are redirected for redistillation. For Glen Douglas the cooling water in the rectifier column is switched off and the middle cut is taken from 80%down to 55%. For the 50ppm Croftengea and the 25ppm Craiglodge, some spirit is taken from the rectifier on the wash still at 72-60% ABV as the peat components are better recovered from this environment and then the spirit still cut is between 72-60% ABV. For these malts, two wash still runs are made for every spirit still run. The 300-litre per hour output of malt spirit from the patent still is drawn off at 85% ABV and the output of grain spirit next-door is the normal 94% ABV.
Other innovations involve the use of wine yeasts in the traditional malt spirit to facilitate a higher ester content and a 50/50 yeast mix of Kerry and Anchor (dry) yeast for Loch Lomond malt to make a more estery spirit.
The wood policy is, thankfully, less complicated than the distillation regimes. The malt spirit is matured for the legal minimum of three years in first-fill ex-bourbon and then used for two fillings of grain spirit for three years each. After that the casks are de-charred and re-charred, filled with malt spirit and the cycle is started again. Not likely to reap long-term rewards, one might think, but one of Loch Lomond’s bulk blends exported to France tops the sales charts there and blue-label Loch Lomond malt outsells Laphroaig in Germany by four to one. It seems that despite the SWA’s disapproval, Loch Lomond has got its sums just about right.
All the new-make spirit displays the light, fruity and estery Loch Lomond Distillery character. The new-make malt spirit from the patent still is made using wine yeast which reveals itself on the nose with intense winey notes. Examples of aged malt and grain from numbered casks are available from the distillery website.
Inchmurrin12 Years Old 40%Nose:
Sweet and light. Palate:
Slightly oily and nutty.Finish:
Light and clean.
Loch LomondGreen Label, no age 46%Nose:
Prickly and feinty with tar-rope notes. Palate:
Medium-bodied, sweet and fruity.Finish:
Long with a pepper-peat kick.
Loch LomondBlue Label, no age 40%Nose:
Mellow, hint of peat and brandy butter.Palate:
Sweet, light-bodied with a hint of Xmas pudding.Finish:
Quick but mellow.
Loch LomondSingle Blend, no age 40%Nose:
Light, clean, mellow.Palate:
Light-bodied, fruity, hint of butter.Finish:
Hint of peat, clean.
Distillery select bottlings
CroftengeaNo age 46% Nose:
Heavy, smokey, peaty. Palate:
Medium-bodied peat and smoke with some estery fruit.Finish:
Long, lingering, oily peat smoke.
Inchfad (Loch Lomond)Distilled 2001 45%Nose:
Firm and malty.Palate:
Full-bodied, malty, sweet fruit with vanilla overtones.Finish:
Malty vanilla with lingering fruit.
Inchmoan (peated Inchmurrin)4 Years Old 45%Nose:
Light and peaty.Palate:
Clean, solid malt with intense peat.Finish:
Light yet peaty.
Craiglodge (medium-peated Croftengea)4 Years Old 45%Nose:
Estery with a peaty overlay.Palate:
Well-balanced mixture of peat, fruit and malt.Finish:
Malty notes with lingering balanced peat.
Glen Douglas (Inchmurrin)5 Years Old 45%Nose:
Slightly feinty with apricot notes.Palate:
Medium-bodied, winey and fruity.Finish:
Complex yet delicate.
Loch Lomond grain5 Years Old 45%Nose:
Soft, clean and fresh.Palate:
Light, sweet, buttery with vanilla tones.Finish:
Refreshing, zesty, clean.
Not currently available
Rhosdhu(new-make, patent-still malt spirit)Nose:
Intense estery, winey. Peardrops, melon and grapefruit.Palate:
Sweet, fruity, smooth mouth-coating.Finish:
Lingering and sweet.
Rhosdhu3 Years Old 40%Nose:
Sweet vanilla and butter with a hint of cocoa and peardrops.Palate:
Mouth-coating, medium-bodied, fruity and intense.Finish:
Lingering, sweet vanilla. Moreish.
Loch Lomond trivia
Loch Lomond Scotch will feature in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
in October 2011 when Hergé’s boy hero Tintin returns to the big screen. It was Captain Haddock’s favourite tipple!
Loch Lomond Est. 1996Area:
Highlands (Southern)Production capacity:
Malt: 3 to 4,000,000 litres a year
Grain: 14 to 16,000,000 litres a yearWater source:
Borehole aquifer (treated) and mains water.
Mashing and fermentationMalt:
Stainless steel Lauter mashtun, 10 tonnes of grist per mash producing 45,000 litres of wort. Ten stainless steel washbacks of 25,000 litres and eight of 50,000 litres capacity. Two fermentation regimes of 70 and 90 hours producing 9% ABV wash. Grain:
Continuous mashbill of five to six tonnes wheat and 0.5 tonnes malted barley per hour. Twelve stainless steel washbacks of 100,000 litres and eight of 200,000 litres capacity. Sixty-hour fermentation producing 10% ABV wash.
Two traditional pot stills (Loch Lomond and Inchfad malts), four ‘Lomond-type’ pot stills (two wash stills and two spirit stills) with rectifying columns and dephlegmator heads (Inchmurrin, Inchmoan, Glen Douglas, Croftengea and Craiglodge). All wash stills 25,000 litres charge, all spirit stills 16,000 litres charge. One continuous patent still of two columns with 24/40 seive plates, 3,500 litres wash input per hour producing 300 litres per hour 85%ABV output (Rhosdhu). Grain:
Two continuous patent stills with 30/40 seive plates each, 20,000 and 10,000 litres wash input per hour producing 2,000 and 1,000 litres per hour 94-94.5% ABV output respectively.Maturation:
All ex-bourbon casks. 50,000,000 litres maturing in mostly palletised warehouses with some racked.
More than 99 per cent sold at three years old for bulk export and to make High Commissioner.
Loch Lomond Distillery Co LtdAddress:
Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire G83 0TLTel:
01389 752781Website: www.lochlomonddistillery.comTours:
No visitors. Trade and press by special arrangement only.