Loch Lomond Distillery may not be the most beautiful of distilleries, but it certainly is one of the most intriguing ones in Scotland. Not only do they have their own cooperage on-site, but they are also producing a number of whiskies using several types of stills. There is a lot going on at Loch Lomond, and I must admit, the distillery really took me by surprise.
Based in Alexandria, very close to the stunning Loch Lomond, yet not close enough to enjoy the views, Loch Lomond Distillery is actually a Highland distillery as Loch Lomond crosses the Highland Boundary Fault, which is considered the boundary between the lowlands and the Highlands.
The first Loch Lomond Distillery site dates back to 1814, but unfortunately there aren’t many records, and the closing date is unknown. The current site was founded in 1965 by Littlemill Distilling Company Ltd. Like many distilleries throughout their journey, Loch Lomond fell silent in 1984 but resumed production a few years later in 1987.
Littlemill was the first and oldest licensed whisky distillery in Scotland (1772), but the lowland distillery closed in 1994 and the remaining site was destroyed by fire in 2004. Parts of the ruins can still be seen not far from Loch Lomond Distillery.
Today, Loch Lomond Group, the owner of Loch Lomond Distillery and Campbeltown-based Glen Scotia, is bringing out the remaining bottles of Littlemill whisky. Michael Henry, the Master Blender, has a tough job in blending together the final casks while safeguarding the Littlemill heritage and creating whiskies that are in line with the silent distillery’s style.
Stills at Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond started their production using straight neck pot stills. Instead of a swan neck, this still has a straight neck with fixed rectifying plates. This type of still was developed by Duncan Thomas at Littlemill Distillery in the 1950s. This type of still is only ever been used by Littlemill and Loch Lomond Distillery. The still is often confused with Lomond still, which was invented in 1955 by chemical engineer Alistair Cunningham to make it easier to create several styles of spirit in one distillery.
In Lomond still, the plates (two or three) can be controlled, rotated and moved to different positions to mimic a longer or shorter swan neck, when in the straight neck pot still the plates (17) are fixed. The latter is also taller and narrow.
At Loch Lomond their straight neck pot stills can produce spirit up to 90% ABV where a swan-neck still delivers at around 70% ABV. The range of alcohol strengths help in capturing different flavours throughout the distillation.
Today, Loch Lomond has three pairs of straight neck pot stills, two traditional swan-neck stills, one continuous ‘malt’ still and two pairs of continuous grain stills. Their current annual capacity is five million litres for malt and 20 million litres for grain. Some have compared Loch Lomond’s methods to a Japanese style of distillation as they are bending the limits of the so-called traditional Scottish approach. For example, they produce whisky from 100% malted barley using the continuous still (also known as the Coffey still), and because of the SWA regulations, it has to be called grain whisky.
Loch Lomond has its own on-site cooperage where they repair, build and char their casks of all sizes. There are only four distilleries in Scotland that have their own cooperage. The Loch Lomond cooperage has been in operation since 1994.
This is such a skillful job it actually takes a person four years to shadow a senior cooper before they are allowed to work on their own and fully take on the title of cooper. I had a chance to meet up with Loch Lomond senior cooper Andy Moore, who showed me the step-by-step process of re-charring, which you can see in some of the images below. A lot of the work is still done by hand, but some steps get assistance from rather elaborate machinery.
‘We’re proud to maintain ancient traditions and skills, but we’re not averse to new ideas… if they help us make great whisky.’
At the distillery, they repair around 20,000 barrels a year and around the same number need re-charring to revive the character of the wood before refilling can take place.
Loch Lomond Whisky
Single Grain Whisky
As I mentioned previously, the distillery produces single grain whisky, which is made using a continuous still, but the grain used is actually 100% malted barley, making them the only distillery in Scotland to do so. It is not called a single malt because the Scotch Whisky Association have regulated whisky production in Scotland to only allow single malt to be made using a pot still.
Loch Lomond produces two types of single grain whisky, peated and non-peated. It is the only distillery in the world to make peated single grain whisky. These are both bottled at a delicious 46% ABV. The peat is mellow, because the still style creates a pleasant, sweet smokiness, and the use of both first and refill bourbon casks adds soft creamy sweetness. Both come at very reasonable price points, £28–30.
Learn more about single grain whisky from my previous article – Single Grain Scotch Whisky Explained.
Single Malt Whisky
You can find several single malt whiskies from Loch Lomond, which can get a bit confusing.
Loch Lomond single malts are made using two different styles of stills: the straight necked pot stills mentioned above and the traditional swan-neck pot stills. Obviously, these will both contribute to different flavours and levels of depth. Also, traditionally the necks of malt stills are open, but at Loch Lomond they have special distillation trays in the necks to allow greater contact with the cooling alcohol vapours. By using two types of stills, different cut points and peated and unpeated barley, the distillery is able to create nine different single malt styles.
The distillery has three core 12-year-old single malt releases:
Perfectly Balanced, 46% ABV – This represents the distillery’s signature style with notes of orchard fruits, sweet vanilla and mild wood smoke. Made using both straight- and swan-neck stills and matured in three types of American oak casks – Bourbon, refill and re-charred.
Inchmurrin, 46% ABV – This one is a fruit bomb with peach, apricot and sweet orange. The distillation was made using only the straight neck pot stills. The American oak casks will bring creamy toffee notes and a peppery finish.
Inchmoan, 46% ABV – The smoky, peaty expression. Distilled using both still styles and aged in three styles of American oak. You can still get the apples and pears, but this one is spicier and has flavours of smoked bacon and roasted coffee beans. Even though this is heavily peated at 50ppm , it is perfectly balanced and not overpowering. A great sip.
All three are great value-for-money drams, with prices around £45. They are all different in their own right but united through the soft texture and fruity notes.
I also sampled their 14- and 18-year-old. The 14 is labelled as Spiced Apple & Soft Smoke and bottled at 46% ABV. Distilled using only the straight-neck stills and aged in three types of American oak like the 12-year-old, before being finished in French Limousin oak casks. The finish definitely adds depth to this delicious dram.
Loch Lomond 18-year-old (46% ABV) is an excellent whisky. It has nice oaky, woody notes mixed in with some fruity gooseberry and toffee apples. The peat is well balanced and brings out notes of dried tea and tobacco leaves. The most elegant release of the lot.
There are several other releases from ‘The Original’ to 21- and 30-year-olds to single casks, not to forget all the special bottlings for The Open. Basically, there’s a lot to discover from this distillery.
I had the pleasure of trying several releases on-site and I can truly recommend giving the Loch Lomond whiskies a try. The smokiness in some releases is gentler and milder than you would expect. A lot of it is due to the distillation methods. The grain whiskies are very easy sipping, although they may not have as much depth as the single malts, but I would still recommend trying the peated one especially.
Loch Lomond haven’t won all these awards for nothing; the whiskies are very good yet still somehow underrated. From their line-up you can find many great-value bottlings. They also release the occasional single cask bottles, which are worth keeping an eye out for.
The only thing that I found a bit disappointing was the added caramel colouring used in some of the core releases making all these whiskies the same colour. I understand some markets require the added colour to increase sales, but I like to see the original hues of the whisky, the impact the cask has had on the colour.
Unfortunately, the distillery is not open for visitors as the layout is not quite tour friendly, but there are some plans for a visitor centre in the future with some access to see the stills and parts of the production. If you are into all the technical stuff of whisky making, you absolutely should dive deeper into the nitty-gritty of Loch Lomond.
Have you tried any releases from the distillery? What did you think of it?
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Loch Lomond Group, but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Some of the links used are affiliate links. If you buy through the links, I may receive a commission for the sale. This has no effect on the price for you.