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Loch Lomond Peated Single Grain

To those who have been reading my Scotch reviews, it’s no secret that Loch Lomond is currently my favorite Scotch distillery.

I just love how they’re not playing the game most other brands are playing. While most brands have started using more and more ex-wine casks for most of their releases, Loch Lomond stuck to using ex-bourbon casks… which are, to me, the best type of cask for a distillery’s DNA.

Loch Lomond is a distillery with various types of delicious distillates that has captured my heart and attention. I’ve also called them a Springbank of sorts, since they also make three different expressions of single malt. Inchmurrin (unpeated), Loch Lomond (medium peated) and Inchmoan (heavily peated).

Aside from the three single malts, they also have different stills… and not just pot stills. Even though they’re not as small as Springbank, this still makes me think they’re more interesting and unique than Springbank. Their straight neck stills are something I’ve expressed my admiration for before. But what’s also caught my attention is them using a coffey still to make peated 100% malted barley single grain whisky. Luckily their master blender Michael Henry is very open to sharing information. So, I sent him another batch of questions about Loch Lomond’s Peated Single Grain Whisky.

Malt: Hi Michael, thanks for agreeing to do another round of questions for Malt. It’s refreshing to see a column-distilled peated whisky. Can you share the genesis of this expression? Were you trying to convey a message when you decided to create this whisky?

Michael: Our philosophy at Loch Lomond about whisky flavour is very much to create as much flavour at the start of the whisky making process through how we distill. We use different peat levels in our malted barley, different yeasts, longer fermentation times, different shapes of pot stills and different ways of running our stills to introduce more complexity and depth with our new make spirit.

When it comes to peated whiskies, people tend to be familiar with the peat source and peating level (ppm phenol) as giving different flavours of peat in the final whisky, but are less familiar with the impact of distillation on the peat character.

With this release we really wanted to show how significant the style of distillation is defining the peat character of the whisky we taste. It is distilled from 50 ppm phenol malted barley, so a similar level of peat in the malted barley to Laphroaig and Lagavulin, yet has a very different peat character. It is all about how selective the style of distillation is in what specific phenols and the amounts of each type of phenol it allows to pass from the wash into the new make spirit.

Malt: Because this peated single grain is made from 100% malted barley and is just from one distillery, would this be counted as a single malt if the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) didn’t require single malt to be pot-distilled?

Michael: There are three specific requirements for single malt in the Scotch Whisky Regulations, 2009. They are: that it must be distilled from a mash of 100% malted barley, by batch distillation, and be distilled in a pot still.
Our peated single grain only meets one of these requirements, that it is a mash of 100% malted barley. It is continuously distilled rather than batch distilled and the still used is a column still rather than a pot still. If the requirements for batch distillation in a pot were removed and the only requirement was for the mash to be 100% malted barley, then this spirit would be classed as a single malt.

Malt: It’s my understanding that traditional column stills can do both batch and continuous distillation. Is the column still at the malt side of the distillery capable of doing batch distillation? If so, are there any plans to make a batch distilled peated single grain whisky? Maybe even using lower strength and lower plates for a heavier profile?

Michael: No, our column stills can only do continuous distillation. There are no plans to make a batch distilled peated single grain.

We have an in-line density meter on the spirit take off from our continuous column still in the malt distillery that allows us to change the strength at which we take spirit from the still. For normal production, both unpeated, medium, and heavy peated, we take spirit from the still at 85% strength. We do run the still at a lower strength of 80% to get a heavier style of unpeated single grain where we use wash fermented with Anchor yeast rather than M/MX. This combination of different yeast and lower spirit strength takes off gives a heavier spirit with a fuller body that has a similar alcohol content to our swan neck spirit.

We run this heavier style on unpeated malted barley and have used lower strengths when running our mashbill trials on unmalted barley, rye and oats, but we have no plans to use it for peated single grain at the moment.

Malt: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Loch Lomond distillery has two types of column stills. The ones used to make this peated single grain is the coffey still; what do you call the other one? How many of each are there?

Michael: We have one column still in the malt side of our distillery that is fed using wash from our lauter tun. The wash is the same wash, so the same malted barley and yeast strain as is used with our straight neck pot stills. We run on unpeated malt for nine months of the year and three months of the year on peated malt approximately depending on our requirements for peated spirit.

The column still in our malt side is different in that it is a bespoke design for Loch Lomond. It was designed by our Production Director at the time of installation in 2007, John Peterson. It is 100% copper construction and runs at a rate of 300 litres of spirit per hour. The spirit character can be controlled by changing the strength the spirit is taken from the still as there is a density meter in the spirit take off i.e. higher strength for a lighter spirit and lower strength for a heavier spirit. There is also fine adjustment of spirit character available by taking spirit from any combination of the top eight plates of the second column. We typically run the still taking spirit off at 85% strength but have done trials as low as 79% strength.

By using a richer flavour source of carbohydrate in malted barley, a specific yeast strain for flavour, as well as alcohol production, four day fermentation time, 100% copper still and spirit take off at 85%, it gives a new make spirit much more flavourful than standard blending grain.

We have two of the second type of column stills located in our grain distillery. They are stainless steel in construction with a section of sacrificial copper and are, fed with a wash made from 90% wheat/10% high enzyme malted barley. The spirit is taken from the still at 94% strength. The combination of wheat as a carbohydrate source, higher alcohol producing yeast strain, shorter fermentation time (48 hours) and higher strength take off means that these stills produce a much lighter spirit with the aim of using that spirit in blends. The larger set of columns run at 2000 litres per hour and the smaller set at 1000 litres per hour.

Malt: Running on three months a year for a peated malt applies to even the Loch Lomond and Inchmoan single malt mashes, or just the mash for the straight neck pot still?

Michael: The same lauter tun feeding all our stills, so the straight neck stills, swan neck stills, and continuous still tend to run on the same malt. We can do smaller runs of different mashbills for trials, but for normal production all stills on the malt side are on the same malted barley.

Malt: What’s the average age of the Peated Single Grain?

Michael: It is four years old matured in a combination of first fill bourbon barrels and refill bourbon barrels.

Malt: You mentioned that the fermentation time for the grain distillery mashes are two days long. What’s the fermentation time for the mash of the peated single grain and straight neck pot still?

Michael: On the malt side, we use a four day fermentation time for all stills on normal production. This allows the distilling yeast two to three days to produce all the alcohol and flavour compounds it can, then gives one to two days for a bacterial fermentation to produce additional flavours, mainly esters.

Malt: Just being curious, as I barely get any chatter about Loch Lomond in my part of the world: are you aware of the feedback of the peated single grain so far? If yes, do you plan on listening to those feedbacks or will you keep it as it is?

Michael: Most of the feedback I am aware of is very positive in terms of the flavour of the peated single grain itself and the value it offers in terms of pricing in the UK. Based on this we do not have any plans to change the expression.

Malt: Which markets is it currently available in? Would you know which markets it will be available in next?

Michael: With the number of expressions we have across the markets, I’m not able to follow the breakdown worldwide. We are in over 100 markets and for each market the distributor will take what they think suits that market. I know Loch Lomond Peated Single Grain is in the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and China. There will be other markets but I’m not sure what they will be, Japan and parts of Canada may have it.

This concludes the interview. Thank you again, Michael Henry, for being generous with your time. On to the review!

Loch Lomond Peated Single Grain – Review

46% ABV. Non chill-filtered. £31.50 from The Whisky Exchange. €30.19 from Master of Malt.

Color: Hay.

On the nose: I get semi-medium and medium lasting aromas of peat, smoke, an assortment of berries, oranges, apples, pears, and ashes. Behind these are lighter and shorter lasting aromas of shaved nuts, vanilla, and cantaloupe.

In the mouth: Not as peaty, smokey and ashy as on the nose. Upfront I taste medium notes of apples, shaved nuts, an assortment of berries, honeydew melon, and pears. With it are the light tastes of peat, smoke and ash. Behind these are lighter tastes of vanilla, caramelized orange peel and lime.

Conclusions:

A very well-made whisky. I think this expression is a testament as to how Loch Lomond wants to create flavor as soon as they start the process of making whisky. Just compare their four day fermentation time and using different yeasts to the fermentation times of the readily available single malts. I’m also pretty sure that the different grain whisky used in blends have much shorter fermentation times. The difference is evident.

Despite just being four years old, the quality of this column-distillate is way better than the mass market 10 to 12 year olds, peated or not. While the flavors aren’t a lot due to the column distillation and the young age, the flavors are very coherent, and I don’t get any of the usual ethanol heat from the mass-produced brands. I’m fairly sure that the “SiNgLe M@Lt is tHe BeSt” crowd will start thinking twice about their beliefs after trying this whisky (provided they aren’t too stubborn). I look forward to trying older – and other possible – versions of this in the coming years.

Score: 6/10

CategoriesGrain
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Welsh Toro says:

    We agree on a great deal John, but this ain’t one of those times. I got a bottle of this because it’s cheap and was recommended. I don’t think it’s much better than a cheap blend and the peat is pretty lightweight and that’s a problem as it can’t disguise the very obvious youth. Young peated whisky can work but you need a truck load of peat. Cheers. WT

    1. John says:

      Hi WT, it’s good to be in disagreement with people you mostly agree with sometimes. I think we mostly differ in expectations. Because this is column-distilled, I was already expecting this to not be heavy with peat or in other flavors. Personally, I don’t like a truck load of peat. Mainly because I think it can be used similarly to 1st-fill ex-sherry casks in that it almost completely masks the distillery DNA. These days, I buy bottles to taste the whisky and not just peat or sherry.

      1. Welsh Toro says:

        We agree about the sherry for sure. Personally, I like a peat monster and good distillate can stand up to it. What I don’t want to taste is youthful feinty notes in whisky and peat can cover that up. I’m certainly open to trying blends and grains and I think the Loch Lomond is a good idea but I think, in its current iteration, it doesn’t quite come off. I have a very respected whisky nerd friend that disagrees. We’re all different.

        By the way, I don’t know if you’ve tried any of the Black Bottle Alchemy range but they are knocking out some outstanding value blends under £30 a bottle which are 46.3% abv, natural colour and not chill-filtered. My good friend Roy (Aquavitae) made this point when describing the excellent value Thompson Bros blend; These are whiskies we can enjoy the way whisky is meant to be enjoyed. We can open them and consume them without any of the emotional and intellectual baggage that accompanies more expensive bottles. I completely agree with that sentiment. There’s no doubt that we are going to have to adapt our palates in the face of skyrocketing older age statement prices.

        PS, Try to get a bottle of Gargano’s Papalin Hati 4 year if you haven’t already done so. I liked it so much I picked up a second. It’s a blend of 32 barrels from 5 Haitian distilleries. It’s fascinating what vatting these rums for four years has achieved. Clarin and barrel age. I think any serious rum nerd will find it interesting and enjoyable in equal parts.

        1. John says:

          Hi WT, yes. We are all different and have our own preferences. Even a good whisky can’t be liked by everyone.

          I haven’t had Black Bottle yet. I’ll try it if I see one at a bar when I start traveling later this year. The Thompson blends are something that’s on my bucket list! Hopeful to try them soon.

          Yes! Papalin Haiti is great! I usually dont like aged Clairin but this one is a good mix.

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