This all started at The London whisky Club’s Loch Lomond tasting, hosted by the fascinating and entertaining Ibon Mendiguren who threw out an open invitation to members to contact him and arrange a visit if they were ever up that way – giving him a month’s notice to arrange. Cheekily I immediately piped up and asked if I could come visit in a little under three weeks! Well, I’m glad I did as he asked for a few dates and then within a few days I had a response saying he could host me on the 16th April!
And so the day arrived and I made my way up to Alexandria before being serendipitously intercepted by Ibon on my way to the distillery. The actual distillery building is an old dye factory and that is the reason behind its relatively unique architecture.
Over a coffee we had a chat about the proposed structure of the day, taking in the cooperage, warehouses, grain and malt distillery, the laboratory and then ending with some sample tasting. Start at 11:00 and finish about 4.00 … I nearly fell off my chair! I’d expected to have an hour, two max, but in hindsight that would not have been enough to scratch the surface of this distillery.
The first stop was the on-site cooperage and a change to talk about the Loch Lomond’s approach to cask management. Here I was able to spend time with cooper Andy as he explained and demonstrated the process of cask management … even giving me a chance to try my hand with the barrels – not easy, but great to have the chance.
I also got to see the re-charring process with a couple of casks and then saw the mechanical process for removing and the final securing of the hoops around the casks. Andy makes all the coopering look so easy, but it takes years to learn this craft – four to be precise, and when you see how easy they all make it look you realise.
Finally we talked through the process for labelling the casks, giving details such as where the cask originated from, whether it has been re-charred, which cooper built it, previous fills, etc.
We then wandered next door to one of the warehouses. Loch Lomond utilises a whole variety of different warehousing for maturing their whisky, from traditional dunnage warehouses, through to modern palletisation systems. Most of the whisky is matured in American oak casks as this tends to suit the light, fragrant spirit, but you will find other cask types here.
After the warehouse we returned to the main offices where they had a lovely buffet lunch and chat; an opportunity to regroup and recharge before the distillery tour and tasting.
There is not much to see in relation to the grain distillation; the external continuous stills are cladded and the whole operation is control with a couple of computers. There were a couple of interesting things though; the sheer scale and size – standing opposite the grain still house near to the highest point is quite a vertigo-inducing experience. And also that the few operators in the control room are all trained engineers whose job it is to fix any and all problems occurring on-site is quite remarkable.
We then went to the malt side of the distillery and the best way I can describe this was like being with Willy Wonka in the whisky factory. We buzzed around the whole place, upstairs and around corners, literally taking in the whole process from the barley arriving to the final distillation process – it was amazing. Ibon as usual was full of interesting and informative information, be that about the cleaning up the barley prior to use, the formidable milling machine, mash tuns, wash backs or the array of different stills that are used in the distillation process.
One of my favourite bits of the tour was to be able to spend some time in the laboratory talking to the chemists about the whisky and their part in the process. It was interesting to hear about how the sampling is implemented across the whole process and I was then able to smell and taste five different samples of new make spirit from the different stills and different cuts.
This was very interesting and a fantastic opportunity to get to know and discuss the distinctly different aromas and flavours that can be produced and this was a great education prior to then tasting the specific malts. It was interesting to be able to detect the influences of the different spirits with the different bottlings.
So we returned to the main office complex for a selection of samples and, having tasted a few at The London Whisky Club tasting previously, Ibon wheeled out some of the big guns!
There was a fantastic array here, including an old Littlemill, which highlighted the variety and complexity of flavours that the distillery is able to produce from their plethora of different stills. There are limited stocks of Littlemill as the only surviving spirit after the distillery burnt down were those warehoused at Loch Lomond; so a rare treat.
I enjoyed myself and was so engrossed in the experience that most of the photographs were captured by Ibon (many thanks!) and I’ve had limited notes to work from. There was a whole heap of data and information that was interesting but which I have not managed to aggregate or articulate but for me that was just some of the joy of being immersed in the whole experience of the distillery; it was so much better that I could possibly convey.
This was initially light and grassy but became more orange citrus and marmalade with time. However, going back to it later, that grassy character had reasserted itself again with that lovely marmalade note in the background.
Littlemill 1992 – 26 Year Old
This was creamy and breath-taking. I cannot begin to describe the nose – it was … lovely. Long buttery toffee with slight citrus orange, this was exceptional. I was lost for words with this one and just forgot everything and enjoyed the amazing experience.