If you take a look at the wine and beer worlds you’ll find that producers utilise a vast array of different yeast types – local availability, historical application and desire to produce a wide diversity of flavours all underpin markets that recognise the difference that yeast can make to their eventual products. But, zoom in on Scotland and you’ll find (increasingly) that the industry is firmly in the grip of utilising a single strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Neutral, high yield yeast strains have replaced the distillers and brewers yeasts that were once common 50 years ago. Efficiency is now king – increasing yield through reducing fermentation times. But, ask around about the influence of yeast on both flavour and texture and depending on where you are you’re likely to get a different answer.
It takes somewhere in the region of 30 billion yeast cells to create a single ounce of whisky. A distiller’s yeast strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae propagates mainly through asexual ‘budding’ where an offspring cell or ‘bleb’ is formed from the mother cell, which in turn splits its nucleus into the child cell forming an entirely new spore. This can happen with furious momentum – so much so that within a few days, a test tube full of yeast culture will prove enough to populate 100,000 gallons of wash with over 150 million cells per ml. Yeast is often about numbers – and these are often very big numbers.
Pulling up outside Loch Lomond’s front gate, you’d be easily forgiven for not recognising the hub of innovation and experimentation which is taking place deep within the heart of the built-up industrial looking site. Pretty it ain’t. But, visiting Loch Lomond last week offered me much more than just first-hand knowledge of the distillery’s unique still setup - which combines a selection of pot and column stills with two stills which in themselves manage to combine both pots and rectifying columns. There’s much more to Lomond than just equipment – there’s a constant curiosity which seems to manifest itself in a form of ‘what if we just tried X’…..
The Inchmurrin range is currently quite compact. It consists of just two age statements - 12 and 18 year old alongside an NAS in the form of Inchmurrin Madeira Wood Finish. The 12 year old is composed of three different cask types – ex-bourbon, refill and recharred and is bottled at 46% ABV.
The Loch Lomond 12 year old has been created using two distinctive types of stills that operate at the Alexandria-based distillery. The ‘standard’ pot stills are a common sight at most malt-based distilleries in Scotland. However the Lomond stills look rather like someone took a pot still and welded a column still to the top of it. Indeed, that’s not all that far from the truth.
Where there’s a will there’s a way. In a far cry away from what seemed like the total devastation of the whisky appreciation calendar but two months ago, it’s now entirely possibly to vTaste your way through the entire week. Initially a patter, now a deluge – enthusiasts find themselves spoilt for choice and brands are actively competing for a share of digital attentions. But, whilst brand ambassadors get used to only having to dress their top halves, it’s remiss to think that this flurry of virtual events and online camaraderie is a comprehensive solution to the variety of issues that the drinks industry is still facing – production, distribution and the bar trade in particular cannot be pivoted digitally in quite the same way.
The Inchmurrin range received a welcome rebranding in 2017. Rather strangely, the old branding (which featured screen printed scenes of a mountainous forest) decided to go down the route of becoming increasingly opaque with age. Thus, you could see what was inside your bottle of 12 year old Inchmurrin, but by the time you got to 21 year old, there was nothing to see at all – the glass was completely black and impervious. 2017 brought new style branding across the Loch Lomond range – these bottlings look much more like whisky now (straight-forward, modern and tradition), rather than vodka or over-priced water.
I often select whiskies to write about because they exhibit characteristics of a particular topic that I wish to explore – examples of aromas and flavours, particular production processes, industry trends or just new/upcoming releases that folks are eager to hear about. But, other times, probably like you, I just drink what I fancy – no pre-planning, no preconceptions, no agenda, Posting on The Dramble on a daily basis rather necessitates this subconscious diversity. I don’t enjoy, nor muse about whisky because it all tastes the same. When you’re tasting thousands of expressions each year, variety truly is the spice of life.
Loch Lomond’s three stills, three peating levels and three yeast types allow for an impressive thirteen different styles of new-make spirit to be created. Of the peated output, Inchmoan is probably the most recognisable currently – the distillery has released half a dozen bottlings over the last couple of years. But, if you look a little wider you’ll find there’s a much greater canvas of smoky Lomond to explore.
Ending our Watt Whisky coverage for 2022 with what is probably my favourite Lomond distillate – Croftengea. One wonders how long IBs will be using these alternative names for Lomond’s output – the distillery has stopped entirely and has moved over to entirely generic “fruity” / “smoky” adjectives – fine for the wider market, but whisky geeks will always want to geek. Let’s see – Lomond is one of the most diverse distilleries out there, so some differentiation is surely needed to ensure that the general character of IB bottlings remains possible to comprehend from the label alone.
Concluding our flyby of the Watt Whisky May 2022 releases is another youngster. This time a heavily peated Loch Lomond spirit (the distillery itself have stopped calling such things Inchfad). 300 bottles have been disgorged from an ex-bourbon hogshead and bottled at 58.2% ABV. Bottles are available via The Whisky Exchange for £59.95.
A distillate that doesn’t get as much attention as it probably should do. Perhaps in time. Nevertheless, Whisky Sponge Edition 53 hails from Loch Lomond and has been matured in a single refill hogshead for 28 years before being bottled at a cask strength of 50.7%.
Grain whiskies often seem to divide enthusiasts. Whether it be their reputation as blend-filler, or the simple fact that grain distillers are about as picturesque as petrochemical plants, I know very few folks who don’t have a pre-formed view on grain – be that informed or otherwise. I’ve always been relatively agnostic myself – I’ve tasted some tremendous examples (usually very well-aged), but I’ve also experienced casks which to my mind had no right being bottled as a single cask or even a vetting. That said, in many ways, the same could be said of single cask malts – you win some you lose some. But, I’ve noticed over the past two years that bottlers have started to try to pitch grain expressions as an increasingly ‘special’ product – often without the quality of liquid to back up the marketing.
Over to Loch Lomond distillery for this 10 year old Inchmurrin that has spent its entire 10 years maturing in a 2nd fill ex-madeira hogshead. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
More from Loch Lomond this month, this time in the form of Inchmoan. This example has been matured in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon hogshead for 10 years. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Loch Lomond produces a variety of styles of whisky, this one is an Inchmurrin. Its been matured for 10 years in a 2nd fill ex-madeira hogshead. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
There’s been a few SMWS bottlings of this particularly Lomond spirit style recently – and most of them have been memorably solid. This example has spent 11 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
An 11 year old Inchmurrin drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon hogshead.
The Society continues its recent run of Inchmoan’s with an intriguing green label bottling that’s been drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Lightly Peated profile.
Inchmurrin that’s spent 12 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon hogshead before being re-racked into 1st fill Vosges oak. Vosges comes from the forest of the same name located West of Alcace. Tight-grained and popular with French wine-makers since the early 1980’s. View on SMWS
This Loch Lomond Inchmurrin has been matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon hogshead for 15 years. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Phasers on full for this 15 year old Inchmurrin that’s been slumbering in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon hogshead since September 2003.
Loch Lomond’s heavily peated ‘Croftengea’ is more often utilised as a blending component than it is a single malt. I can find only 48 single malt examples of it on WhiskyBase and the Society have bottled 21 of these. Not seen on the Society’s outturn list for quite some years, this example also been subjected to a slightly unusual maturation, having spent four years in an ex-bourbon barrel before being transferred for some 11 years into a 2nd fill sherry cask – tired ex-bourbon? a leaky original cask? or just an inspired re-rack? Light Peated profile.
A new SMWS bottling, this Inchmoan from Loch Lomond spent 15 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and then was finished for an additional year in a 1st fill Sauternes cask. It’s almost red in hue. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Back into action with an Inchmurrin produced on the unusually configured (rectifying heads) pots stills located at Loch Lomond distillery. This bottling has spent 19 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
A middle-aged offering from Loch Lomond’s Inchmoan spirit style. This one was laid down in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel in July 2000 before being bottled at a still decent 56.3% ABV some 20 years later.
Unpredictability should be an assurance of any Advent calendar. Ever since I was a child my family have merrily rolled out the annual daily door opening ritual (though back in the 70s treats tended towards biblical scenes or festive cartoons for 24 days in a row). And beyond an Advent calendar being a daily indulgence – and boy does it feel like 2020 is a year when this is needed – I’ve always felt that the surprise of what’s behind the window is fundamental part of the long-term allure of calendars. Day 10 of the 2020 Boutique-y Whisky Advent calendar seems to have delivered a mystery to some - with a number announcing that they’ve yet to sample Lomond’s heavily peated, Inchfad style of spirit – and indeed, a few noting that they’ve never even heard of it. Excellent. Going in blind is the best.
Occasionally peated whisky gives me heartburn. And that’s super annoying as I adore peated whisky. Complaints about heartburn, or acid reflux (which is closely related) do tend to increase as we grow older – presumably as over time our bodies become more composed of booze than of actual flesh and we’re simply more ‘flammable’ as humans. But joking aside, having experienced this maddening sensation over a number of years, a while ago I decided to look into it further.
I’ve spent the last few days musing on (but mainly lamenting) the whisky industries current pricing trends – today, seeing as it’s the end of the week we’ll shift the focus to something more positive. Independent bottlers provide enthusiasts with not just a wider selection of whiskies to choose from, but also a slightly different brand proposition – largely free from the constraints and limitations that the distilleries themselves are bound by. The growth of the industry has led to an explosion of new bottlers – just a few weeks back I was staggered by how many new IBs were in attendance at the London Whisky Show. But, many of these new bottlers and several of the longer established ones have been steadily increasing their prices. And then there’s Whiskybroker.
Our final stop on our tour of TWE single casks takes us to Loch Lomond for their heavily peated ‘Croftengea’ distillate. This one was matured for 15 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being bottled earlier this year at 52.6% ABV. It’ll set you back £74.95 from The Whisky Exchange.