Whisky is booming and the coffers of distillery owners and retailers are brimming with revenues from this fruitful purple patch. The good times will have to end, but for now they no doubt expect to enjoy the trappings of all this madness, eh? I’m sure that sentiment is being echoed across the bank balances of many. The temptation is to start flooding the market with, well let’s be honest, utter drivel that is propelled and shrouded in marketing. Partially fuelled by critics, who don’t want to rock the apple cart by being truly transparent, candid and giving a score that means really means something – let’s not insert something here around the 100-point score.
The impulse to release anything is compelling. An eager market will seemingly snap up bottles labelled ‘limited’ and flood the secondary market. It’s therefore refreshing that we have producers who are actually taking this opportunity to reinvent themselves. Throwing off the shackles of a poor legacy of inept or misunderstood whiskies and adopting a metamorphosis.
The transformation of Loch Lomond distillery is such an example. Until recently, its legacy was more haphazard and unfulfilled – that’s putting it mildly. I had intended to write about how the current owners, Exponent, had turned around the distillery since 2014 with a more coherent and confident approach. Establishing the Loch Lomond brand and exploring new markets whether it’s abroad or reaching the shelves of my local Morrison’s supermarket – something I would never have anticipated prior to 2014. They’ve even gone so far as to move into the golfing sponsorship market thereby underlining their confidence. This realm is after all the home of Glenmorangie complete with day glo sweaters, crooked baseball hats and praise for all things seemingly benign.
Instead, news broke in June that the Loch Lomond distillery had been sold. We don’t have a separate news feed on MALT, as we believe in giving you viable content each day. From an editorial viewpoint, I’m sure we could bring you a candid view on the daily armada of press releases that are copied and pasted with little actual relevant commentary. It is a sure-fire way to boost website rankings and quickly ticks the box that you’ve published something today whilst throwing your arms up in delight. We prefer to do things our own way, however, let’s talk about that sale.
Picking up the Loch Lomond Group, which includes the High Commissioner blend and Mark’s favourite tipple in Glen’s vodka, are the Hong Kong investment firm, Hillhouse Capital Group. Also included is Glen Scotia distillery – itself enjoying a revival in recent times – and the remaining stocks of Littlemill, which we can expect to be abused more than before and excessively priced. The fee is thought to be around £400m and represents a good piece of business for the former owners (Exponent) who purchased the group in 2014 for £210m. Let’s consider that price for a moment. Remember how Brown-Forman acquired the BenRiach group in 2016 for £285m? This provided an immediate foothold within the industry with the BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries. This now looks like a good piece of business by the American giant with the entry fee to the Scotch whisky industry continuing to rise.
What next for Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia? Hopefully, an understanding and long term view is maintained. Momentum is an overlooked commodity in whisky. A distillery and those that work for it are very much a team. We’ve seen and enjoyed the good work from both distilleries in recent times – let’s hope that this continues.
One aspect that this recent sale and acquisition has underlined for me, is that, it is preferable to start-up your own distillery. It’ll take millions depending the scale, but as the market stands eager to embrace new brands and visions; one that is worth pursuing. Billy Walker and his team took another direction by purchasing Glenallachie and moulding it into their own vision. This new spirit and style of whisky will take several years to materialise. Sure, in the meantime you have the Chivas-Walker-style-hybrid come whatever it is. I’m more interested in what’s further down the line. For the big boys with a pocket full of cash then there are clearly still rich pickings to be had in Scotch as the monies continue to roll in.
All of this brings us to today’s whisky, which was kindly given to me by Norbert who you can find as the @barmanschoice with an array of bottles. I helped him out earlier this year with a Clynelish and will continue to do so. It’s good to assist those that truly appreciate whisky.
This single cask release was distilled during March 2006 and bottled in April 2017. Cask number 40 resulted in 282 bottles at strength of 53.1% and was selected by Master Blender Michael Henry. If you shop around you may stumble across a bottle and on that note it’s time for the business end of this review.
Loch Lomond 2006 – review
Colour: golden barley.
On the nose: barley sweets and gentle elegance. Cracked oats, caramel, Jacob’s crackers and honey. There’s vanilla wafer or a Bird’s custard? Salted peanuts, raw cake mixture, lemon oil, dandelions and syrup. Water calms proceedings down somewhat allowing more subtle aromas such as apple peel, icing sugar, sweet vanilla, balsa wood and grapefruit room to breath.
In the mouth: a buttery popcorn, vanilla, toasted almonds with a toffee crisp. A light honey, more lemon with exotic fruits with melon and Kiwi fruit. An oily dram that can take a fair degree of water. With this there’s wood bitterness, grapefruit and talcum powder.
Reflecting upon this whisky, I felt it represents a stepping stone into single casks, cask strength and Loch Lomond. It’s a solid enough expression and moment in time. In my opinion, it lacks real gusto and the ability to showcase what Loch Lomond is all about. Like so many whiskies today, it ticks several boxes and meets expectations without exceeding any.