L

Loch Lomond 2010 10 Year Old Single Cask #349

I am finalising this article on a hot Saturday afternoon in Scotland. It’s 9 PM and 24 degrees centigrade. It’s expected to stay warm all night, and if it stays above 20 degrees centigrade, it will be classified as a “tropical night” by the met office. Whilst this is not uncommon around the world, it’s particularly unusual in Scotland. To quench my thirst, I reach for a large glass of water.

Uisge Beatha. If you hear it said in a sufficiently authentic Scottish accent the link to the anglicised whisky is clear, it predominates on the first syllable. Uisge Betha is the Gaelic translation of Aqua Vitae. Not just a YouTube channel about whisky, but also the common name for term for distilled spirits around Europe for centuries.

Water is at the heart of whisky making, one of only three permitted ingredients along with barley and yeast. Influenced by time, a wisp of smoke and “the finest oak casks!” Water is one of the most taken-for-granted natural forces in Scotland. We have more words for rain across our various dialects than the indigenous Eskimo-Aleut languages supposedly have for snow. Water powers our homes; over millenia, in it’s frozen and liquid forms, has carved out the biscuit tin landscapes that draw so many to Scotland. The glens that hid Rob Roy McGregor and William Wallace formed from ice, and the gorges of Corrieshalloch and Killiecrankie cut deep into the bedrock by the power of water.

Visitors to Scotland are still faced with a classic selection of postcards that reflect the dreich Scottish weather. Horizontal rain is a particular feature. In recent years, however, visitors to Scotland (on the whole) have experienced much more settled weather. In the summer of 2018 it became possible to plan a barbecue or garden party not just 12 hours ahead, but weeks in advance, given the stability of the high pressures that sat across the country. Scotland still receives the majority of rain that falls in the UK, but the overall levels and timing of rain is changing. It is putting pressure on agriculture, fisheries, and the distilling industry.

This month, concern was raised by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) about the water levels in Loch Ness and the impact on flow in the River Ness. Whilst most of the 788 feet of depth remains full, this was quite a shock given the body of water holds more volume than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. This comes just a few days after a water scarcity report was published by SEPA which demonstrated not a single area of Scotland was in “normal” conditions. It’s scarcely rained since the report.

Before we begin to worry about our precious Uisge Beatha, these water shortages have the potential to impact on critical infrastructure such as renewable hydro-electric power schemes. Access to water by business is strictly licensed by SEPA and if water levels reduce then access will have to be rationed by national need, which may see distilleries sidelined.

All of this comes at a time when distilleries are running at their highest capacities in perhaps 70 years. Due to expansion many distilleries are at their highest capacity ever, placing additional pressure on water sources. Distilleries often have two water sources: a local stream or river, and a private artisanal well. Many use the fresh water from the well for production water and the stream, once a source of power, for cooling purposes. This can leave these distilleries at risk from local shortage in the stream and more systematic issues around the well.

Many distilleries still have a single source of water. Whilst water scarcity issues have hit individual distilleries throughout the history of distilling in Scotland, climate change is having a broader impact year on year. In 2023, Old Pultney in Wick, at the far North of Scotland, reported an extended eight-week shutdown this summer directly related to protecting it’s water source Loch Hampriggs. This mirrors a seven week shutdown in 2021 at the Wick distillery. At the other end of the country, at the relatively new Borders Distillery in Hawick, water constraints are a key production bottleneck with issues identified first during an extended dry spell in 2022. At the time of writing, the River Spey at Aberlour has dropped into the Low category with days more sunshine predicted.

Among the distilleries most as risk of water shortages is The Glenlivet, which in summer 2018 experienced such a ground water shortage that levels did not replenish until the spring. The distillery has subsequently worked with Aberdeen University to install small dams along the local streams in an attempt to slow the flow of runoff and allow for greater groundwater replenishment from any given rainstorm. This may be seriously tested this summer.

Water issues are not anything new; in 1921 Mortlach Distillery was embroiled in a row related to water scarcity in Dufftown that saw the council install water meters to better monitor usage. There have been periods of significant drought; following the second World War, in particular, the areas of Speyside we oft reported with water shortages as hillside dams ran dry on warm summers, often blamed on the felling of lumber during both wars. Miltonduff was on half-mash as far back as 1937 due to water constraints. When a significant drought hit Speyside in 1938, almost all distilleries in the area closed.

The north end of Islay is susceptible to the drying out of higher peat lands which saw half the island distilleries including Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, and Kilchoman shut down in 2018. However dry periods are also recorded as far back as 1959, where reservoirs were completely dry. Fortunately, the southern end of Islay is more resilient due to the higher topography. The increase in recent distillery developments is no doubt going to put pressure on water supplies. Historical water shortages have also been experienced in Ireland, with Bushmills having to send water diviners into the hills in 1946 to look for new sources.

Of course, environmental stewardship has moved on significantly. The Scotch Whisky Association has committed to create a Water Stewardship Standard, however the progress of this is unclear. In parallel to the commitment to have a standard is a specific target of 12.5 – 25 litres of fresh water per litre of alcohol produced. This commitment is due to be in place by 2025. SWA states:

“This is a range, rather than a percentage target as we are being pragmatic. We know that our members face a number of unique challenges at particular sites. Distilleries with multiple processes including maltings may use more water than their peers. Whereas recently-opened distilleries may have water efficiency built into their design.

Our range gives our members achievable targets to aim for, and we will help them continue to move towards the lower limit. The range also means our members can highlight achievements at sites, enabling them to share best practices and examples on how to save water.

We will review the upper and lower limits of the range, making sure that we all endeavour to continuously improve our water efficiency.”

In relation to the plan to create a water stewardship standard SWA have the following statement:

Source: SWA.

From my perspective this work needs to be progressed rapidly, having a plan to have a plan does not have the same impact as actually implementing a plan. Often in trying to come up with a plan that suits all distilleries and member companies they miss the opportunity to set good standards for the majority of distilleries.

At the beginning of June, a water scarcity alert was issued for the Loch Lomond area, with SEPA raising the possibility of water restrictions this summer. All abstractors of water have been asked to look at how they can cut back water usage. That includes one of Scotland’s large distilleries and one of my favorites. Loch Lomond, a release of which I will review below. I reached out to Loch Lomond for some comment on the water situation, but nothing was forthcoming.

I found this particularly bland statement on the Loch Lomond Group website:

ENVIRONMENTAL

Our management of environmental issues is important to us and our stakeholders and a key determinant of the long term success of Loch Lomond Group. We always take into account the environmental impact of what we do, with a particular focus on areas of greatest potential impact at our production facilities and offices and also within our supply chain.

Throughout our operations, we will consider the environmental implications of every major business decision that we make.

Scotch Whisky is a natural product which has been elaborated for centuries in harmony with the environment. We are proud of that heritage, but also conscious that spirit and other potentially hazardous items are stored at our sites and this could create a risk of environmental damage.

We operate extensive and stringent Health & Safety policies and procedures and work closely with appropriate regulatory bodies such as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

We are committed to further reducing the environmental impact of our operations through the efficient use of resources, the reduction of waste and carbon emissions, transport planning and the careful handling of hazardous substances.

We encourage our employees and business partners to conduct activities in an environmentally responsible manner, by:

(a) Supporting local environmental sustainability initiatives, such as energy saving, green travel or waste reduction programmes;

(b) Challenging unsustainable activities, such as wasteful use of water and other natural resources, lack of effective recycling and failure to consider environmental impacts in business decisions; and

(c) Being vigilant with respect to reporting any environmental risks, hazards, or situations which do not look or feel right – including any potential regulatory breaches.

Alongside our promotion of positive relationships with all key regulatory bodies, we also ensure that we maintain and perform to appropriate standards. These include ISO 9001, Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) registration and other appropriate Controlled Activity regulations and licences.”

Fittingly, then, today’s review will be a Loch Lomond whisky. This release was fermented for 96 hours using wine yeast to deliver a high ester spirit, and was distilled on the tall straight-neck single pot still which delivers an extra fruity spirit. (For more details on this try the Whisky Exchange Blog.

Loch Lomond 2010 10 Year Old Single Cask #349 – Review

January 2010 to September 2020. First fill bourbon barrel. 57.7% ABV. Around £75.

Colour: Pale yellow.

On the nose: Lemon sherbet, pineapple popping candy, oil-seed rape pollen, ripe pear, mango, vanilla syrup, apple blossom, an a little fresh cream.

In the mouth: A huge fruit bomb of juicy apple, lemon zest, limoncello, tangfastics, pineapple chunks, tart gooseberry, some dry oak and dusty vanilla, a little aniseed, dried ginger, a hint of cognac, and more juicy fruit.

Conclusions:

There is a certain irony that this punchy single cask benefits from liberal water to get the most out of it. however, it is an incredible juicy fruit bomb and is a testament to Master Blender Michael Henry’s experimental approach. Every mouthful is an exciting prospect and it comes in at a price which encouraged liberal pouring. As per the scoring bands, I am mourning this bottle. Fantastic, no matter how many litres of water were used to create it.

Score: 9/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

  1. Steve says:

    Very interesting article.
    Note it is Michael Henry not Hendry. Autocorrect maybe as it’s just tried the same trick with me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *