If you’re approaching the business end of a dull and temperate January, as I am, I’d wager you’ve given a couple of topics a lot more thought than usual.
Firstly, the meaning of life. Specifically: how empty and devoid of meaning life seems sans booze. The recurring realisation of absence that leaves one feeling slightly apathetic and morose. Like living with the residual scarring of lost love or a mild bereavement; life goes on, but it’s fundamentally changed. Something important is missing.
Of course, there are other things to do – other ways of spending free time – but they feel somewhat hollow and watered-down. Like low-rent versions of otherwise highly pleasurable activities – eating food, going for a walk, etc. – that have lost their lustre.
No? Maybe it’s just me. An unshakable January cold may have contributed to this feeling of malaise.
Secondly, I’d imagine you’ve given a lot of thought to your first drink back off the wagon. The cast, the setting, the mood, the tipple.
I’ve thought about it a lot. Looking wistfully into restaurants and pub windows as I passed them by, all month long I’ve been considering the who, what, where, when, why how of my glorious and triumphant return to booze.
A pint of beer in an old boozer with an open fire. A glass of red wine with a steak in a low-lit restaurant. A gin martini in a hotel American bar. All contenders, but in the end, there was only one winner: a whisky at home alone on a Tuesday evening.
Sadly, not Tuesday the 31st of January – the traditional end date of dry January. Due to unforeseen circumstances (not wanting to do it anymore) I had to pull out of the competition early on Tuesday the 24th, a decision that also had the fortuitous knock-on benefit of untying my hands for Burns Night celebrations the following day.
But, having decided that abstinence was overrated, there was another more important decision still to make. Which whisky would get the honour of breaking fast? I felt it had to be something season-specific, something related to the mood and mindset of January – a month that’s characterised by effort, consideration, and experimentation.
Fortunately, I had just the thing; a bottle of Loch Lomond Distillery Edition One had arrived a few days prior to my decision to call time on temperance. Never before had I seen more evidence of effort, consideration and experimentation written – quite literally – all over a bottle of whisky.
Loch Lomond – still crazy after all these years
It’s fair to say that the Loch Lomond distillery is a bit bonkers. Boasting more stills than a travel photography exhibition, it’s a multi-faceted, multi-whisky-producing machine.
For this Distillers Edition, they used straight neck stills (one of two pairs, accompanying swan necks, continuous and Coffey varieties) and collected the alcohol at “low strength,” which doesn’t sound that positive, so I’m working on the basis that it must be really good. I did actually try to find out what this means and why it’s desirable, but I went down an unproductive rabbit hole. Let’s just say it’s about desired character and flavour and move on.
The Yeastie Boys
If you thought the still selection and collection strength were the only experimental elements of this whisky, you’d be wrong. Instead of using traditional distillers yeast during the fermentation process, this batch was made with Chardonnay wine yeast.
Distillers yeast, for those who are a little hazy, is a single-cell organism that’s an absolute oxygen monster. It can’t get enough of the stuff, multiplying in its presence and eating it all up. Once there’s no oxygen left to consume it converts fermentable sugars into alcohol, like a benevolent gremlin.
Chardonnay wine yeast works on much the same principle but, as Michael Henry from Loch Lomond points out, “it’s used to growing on the nutrients from grapes which are different to the nutrients from malted barley – it isn’t able to utilise all the sugars from the malted barley so gives a lower amount of alcohol.” Which again doesn’t sound too positive. So why use it? Simple, “for the trade-off for flavour over yield.”
And that really gets to the heart of the matter. This is a whisky that’s been difficult to make. A labour of love. High effort for low yield. They could have settled for something less experimental, less considered. But they persevered without compromise. Which, bar the settling and compromising, is exactly how I’ve approached January.
All of this, in theory at least, makes it the perfect choice for the first drink of 2023. I just hope that I haven’t set myself up for disappointment – I’ve had enough of that this year already.
Loch Lomond Distillery Edition One 9 Years Old – Review
57.1% ABV. I bought the bottle direct from the brand site for £65.
Colour: Green tea.
On the nose: Wonderfully Sugary-sweet. Like walking down the Woolworths Pic’n’Mix aisle in 1995 and sticking your face in the foam bananas and pear drops tubs. I genuinely don’t know if I was more excited then than I am now. Overripe pineapple and pancakes – covered in vanilla custard – poke through after a few minutes, accompanied by a hint of nail varnish remover… which, for some reason, also adds to the overall sense of nostalgia.
In the mouth: Surprisingly thick and chewy. Maybe it’s the light colour, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so full-throated. It really clings to the side of the mouth with little to no burn. The pineapple is present, but the vanilla custard is more prominent now, laying over stewed apples. There’s an incredibly pleasing mouth-drying aspect to the finish – which is long and luxurious – that demands quenching with more of the same. Less a vicious cycle, more of a virtuous one.
I’m both pleased and relieved. This is a great whisky, fitting for any occasion, and certainly didn’t disappoint as the first drink of 2023. The craft, consideration and attention to detail really do shine through. A triumph for the spirit of January and The Yeastie Boys of Loch Lomond.
(extra mark for the experimental approach and total transparency on offer)