Loch Lomond distillery is the whisky equivalent of Charlie’s Chocolate factory. It has a complex range of stills which produces a baffling array of whiskies that read like Charlie’s product catalogue.
The distillery located in Alexandria at the Southern tip of Loch Lomond. I must admit that I have been baffled by the naming of some products in the past, not knowing if some are peated or unpeated. I also had the misconception that cheaply priced ‘undisclosed highland’ scotch was usually mass-produced Loch Lomond spirit.
I am quite wrong about Loch Lomond, and have fallen into the trap of taking overheard whisky mutterings as fact over the years. A chance encounter with Gary Mills, Loch Lomond Group Brand Ambassador, at the Kendal Whisky Festival changed my view. This started with the excellent Loch Lomond 12 Year Old, which I scored an unexpected 7/10. Gary showed me a superb infographic of the various stills and the general contents of each product; I’ve tracked this down and reproduced it below as it is a most excellent resource for those venturing into the Loch Lomond portfolio:
As you can see above, there are traditional copper pot stills with swan necks which are standard for most single malt Scotch production, and should be familiar to readers. There are also copper pot stills with straight necked rectification columns. These differ from the original Lomond still designed for Inverleven distillery (located at Dumbarton near Loch Lomond) by Alistair Cunningham in 1955. The geographical proximity and similarity in name has created quite a bit of confusion; many Scotch reference sites still confuse the types of still at the Loch Lomond Distillery.
The original design of Lomond Stills has a short wide straight neck to allow addition of three perforated copper plates which can be individually cooled to increase rectification due to increased copper contact and the cooling of the vapour. The Inverleven Lomond Still ended up at Bruichladdich (it is affectionately known as “Ugly Betty) and is used to make the Botanist Gin. The Lomond stills are no longer in use in the production of single malt in Scotland, however Inchdairnie Distillery has one which it uses for experimental whisky batches.
Loch Lomond’s current straight neck stills are much taller than the original Lomond Still design. The neck is about 4m tall; the wash still has only one perforated plate, whereas the spirit still has 17 plates. These stills are used to create the “high strength” version noted in the diagram above, giving 70% to 80% ABV spirit. The “low strength” run takes spirit from 55% to 90% ABV, a wide cut. In total, this gives eight different spirit types (just for single malt) that the team work with when creating products.
Coffey stills, which are continuous column stills (copper coloured above), were installed in 2007. In 2009, SWA rules changed to exclude this type of production method for single malt; all spirit from Coffey stills must now be called single grain. Loch Lomond runs this still on the same malted barley wash that the single malt uses; as a result, it provides a surprisingly robust “grain” whisky compared to the other distilleries who produce whisky from other grains. Loch Lomond also have the continuous still (silver above), which produces a traditional grain whisky with a mixture of grains, used for blending.
This range of spirit types gives Master Blender Michael Henry a significant number of options when building the various products. Not satisfied with the variety of stills, Henry also experiments with all aspects of production, from yeast to levels of peat. Some of these experimental casks end up on the indie market, which may contribute to some of the wider confusion about the core product lines. For example: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society have released unpeated Croftengea (usually heavily peated) and lightly peated Inchmurrin (also usually unpeated) single casks. For more about Michael Henry and the whisky he produces at Loch Lomond, I encourage you to head over to Aqvavitae’s V-pub episode with Michael Henry from 2020.
If you are not completely bamboozled following the breakdown of the spirit stills lets, try and now breakdown the product list a little further. The main strand of product from the distillery are:
Loch Lomond: lightly peated, this the main style of the distillery varies between each expression (the NAS, the 12 year old, The Open limited editions, and the higher age statements, 20, 25, 26, 30 etc.)
Inchmurrin: this is purely from the straight neck stills and is an unpeated or more lightly peated style. (Not related to the whisky but interesting all the same: Inchmurrin is the largest freshwater island in the UK and was once a private deer park for the Duke of Montrose).
Inchmoan: this is the heavily peated version of the spirit. Inchmoan’s toponym means “peat island,” which is quite fitting.
There are also two historical expressions still available on the independent market, which are Croftengea and Inchfad (The Long Island). Both are heavily peated varieties. All of the expressions are usually matured in bourbon barrels to highlight the character of the spirit, with finishes and various wine casks used as an exception. The overall approach to selecting islands to define the various flavour profiles of Loch Lomond is logical to anyone who has taken to the water on the Loch or is familiar with the area; there are 23 islands within the loch, so plenty of options for future expressions.
Inchconnachan Island has not yet been selected for a Loch Lomond malt, but it did make the news recently. The island’s unusual population of feral wallabies are due to be exterminated by BBC radio presenter Kirsty Young and her millionaire husband, who wish to build themselves a modest island hideaway there.
The island is known to locals as Wallaby Island, but the toponym actually means Colquoun’s island, after the family who had owned it for generations. It was Lady Arran of Colquhoun who released the wallabies in the 1940s. The highland boundary fault is an important historical division for Scotch whisky; the line of the fault, which divides the Highlands from the Lowlands, runs in a south-westerly direction through the islands of Inchcailloch, Torrinch, Creinch, Inchmurrin.
Previous Malt coverage includes Dora’s review of an indie 12 year old. Other reviews have been more mixed, but interestingly the Inchmoan variant appears to perform consistently well. As mentioned above, it is no doubt the level of experimentation and volume of casks on the independent market that causes the variations. Loch Lomond have strategically moved to lay down more stock for the future and, as such, indie casks will begin to decrease somewhat.
Today I have an Inchmoan which was released in 2018. If it was to be bottled today it would be labelled “Loch Lomond – Inchmoan,” a subtle change of emphasis to help the purchasing public understand the distillery’s varied output. This is their peated expression distilled in 1992. This particular Inchmoan was exclusively distilled in the straight neck pot stills and collected at high strength, so using just one of the eight spirit types available to make up any given malt whisky. The straight stills help to emphasise the fruity character of the malt.
Loch Lomond Inchmoan 1992 – Review
Refill bourbon barrel. 25 years old (1992-2018). 48.6% ABV. Reduced from around £240 to £149 this year at the point of purchase.
On the nose: Vanilla, smoky and slightly vegetal peat, dry, dusty chalky, spent shotgun cartridges, a honey sweetness, dry ash, fruitiness comes through with ripe wite fruits, frangipane gives a slight nuttiness. The fruits almost ripen in the glass, becoming almost overripe with time, and an earthy dunnage note develops.
In the mouth: Ripe orchard fruits, lychee, white peach, passion fruit, Fruit Salad sweets, slightly effervescent, more lychee, the peat is much more subtle than the nose bringing a sooty richness and some gentle spice, there are slight vegetal notes, lots of earthy dunnage and some sour rancio notes adding depth. Some bitter tannins and more tropical fruit on the finish.
A fantastic example of a great cask and peat waning with age, bringing rich tropical fruits supported by a richness from the peat. The kind of dram you grieve the passing of the bottle.
1880 map from Wikimedia Commons.
Loch Lomond still house photo courtesy of Scotchwhisky.com
Inchmurrin map courtesy of Loch Lomond Trossachs.