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Loch Lomond Distillery

Loch Lomond Distillery, or ‘Scotland in a teacup’, or maybe the sexier ‘Scottish Rebel, Ye Distillers By Name’.

If you are reading this blog, (and I myself because I write it), it is clear that we are all here because of our shared love for Single Malts, ahem, as well as any other whisk(e)y.  Granted some names loom large on the Single Malt stage, some are less common names but induce salivation in collectors nonetheless, and then there is Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond? If you’ve been following whisky a bit as I have, then chances are you will probably recognize the name as a) the great big lake ‘loch’ near the distillery, b) the single malt whisky no one has drunk and c) for their ‘Lomond’ stills. And that was about the limit of what I knew about Loch Lomond Distillery – the outlier in the Malt world.

And what an outlier it is! I decided to read up a bit on the distillery, prompted earlier by a friend’s question about Littlemill’s mutant stills (pot still bottom, rectifying column top). And what I discovered is illuminating in its strangeness.

Ok, no history lesson here, what we are really interested in are the stills and the whisky, just some facts which hint something about the minds that run Loch Lomond Distillery Company:

–          The distillery is private and family-owned by the Bullochs (since 1985, but the Bulloch’s history with whisky go back to 1842).

–          It is not and has never been a member of the Scotch Whisky Association, the sort-of regulator cum association of Scotch Whisky distillers.

–          This is a company that does not care for Single Malts, because face it, the Single Malt market is a tiny fraction of the worldwide blended whisky market. And Loch Lomond makes 2.5 million litres a year of malts and 10 million of grains for that purpose, mostly shipped off at the age of 3.

–          Loch Lomond goes a step further and produces gins and vodka etc as well.

So yes, you could say that in our minds, this is a maker of (a lot of)  el cheapo bottom shelf plonk, so why do we care?

Because it’s fascinating and we like being intrigued by whisky nerdism! So, what is Loch Lomond’s contribution to Single Malt whisky? If say every distillery somehow imploded in a single day in what must be an unmitigated disaster the world round, Loch Lomond might yet slake our wide-ranging thirst because they can mimic all styles of whisky if they wanted to, with 8 different malt whiskies. Jack of all trades? I say Master of Variety.

Loch Lomond Distillery can produce:

Its own Loch Lomond Single Malt, lightest available, other Malts are

Inchmurrin ‘aperitiff but medicinal’ (Thanks Royal Mile) – in production on and off for a couple of decades.

Glen Douglas

Old Rhosdhu – Also has been in production on and off for a couple of decades.

Craiglodge – Introduced 2005

Inchmoan – Introduced 2005

Croftengea – 40 ppm according to Maltmadness

Inchfad – Most heavily peated, introduced 2006

(Information on these malts are not readily available, being directed at blenders rather than the public consumer)

It also produces a Single Blend: a blend of malt and grain produced by the same distillery, only 2 others I’ve heard of – Lochside and Ben Nevis Single Blends, but these are all liquid history now. Might the new malt and grain plants do likewise in the future? Loch Lomond also makes other blended whiskies like High Commissioner and Scots Earl as well as sell on their whiskies for blending elsewhere.

How can Loch Lomond do all this? Loch Lomond has got 2 pot stills, 4 ‘Lomond’ stills and 1 Coffey still for grains and in 2008, a modified Coffey still for malt (the subject of an ongoing dispute with the SWA on production of malt whisky in continuous stills, rare today but not uncommon in the late 19th century – mid 20th century, and incidentally the way some Bourbons and Japanese whisky are also made today).

Pot stills and Coffey (continuous) stills we know about, but ‘Lomond’ stills – what’s in a name?

Interestingly, Loch Lomond’s ‘Lomond’ stills are not original Lomond stills, but are instead referred to by modern authors as ‘Lomond-type’ stills. The true Lomond still was invented in 1955 by Alistair Cunningham of Hiram Walker, and consisted of a squat pot still base with a columnar condenser containing three individually water cooled rectifying plates which could be turned horizontal to vertical to alter the reflux action in the neck. Flooding the plates with distillate would reduce the heavier elements present leading to a lighter spirit. Leaving the plates dry would reduce the reflux action, allowing a heavier spirit and turning the plates vertical would negate any filtering.

These true Lomond stills were eventually installed in Walker’s Glenburgie, Miltonduff, Scapa and Interleven distilleries. Whisky made from the original Lomond still at Interleven was simply called ‘Lomond’, Glenburgie’s version was called Glencraig, Miltonduff’s was called Mosstowie. Scapa’s was only used as a wash still to alter the existing distillate and not completely change it. In the end this proved an evolutionary dead end for this species of still, and Glenburgie’s and Miltonduff’s Lomond stills were converted back into swan necked pot stills, while Interleven’s first-of-its-kind Lomond still eventually went to Bruichladdich and now makes the Botantist gin. Scapa still uses a modified Lomond as a wash still today.

The old Glenburgie Lomond still, 1958:

GB  Lomond Spirit & Wash Stills 1958

 

The Scapa modified Lomond wash still:

Scapa Lomond

The Lomond still from Interleven, now known as Ugly Betty and distilling gin in Bruichladdich:

Bruich Ugly Betty

 

 

Effect on the distillate? Whiskymag and other sources claims it produces an oilier heavier spirit, though a contrarian view is taken by a Maltmaniacs E-pistle: here.

Littlemill’s stills had a different history though similar by design to Lomond stills. They were aluminium clad and also had a rectifying column sitting atop a pot still base, but were attributable to its owner in the 1930s, Duncan Thomas. Littlemill was sold to Loch Lomond Distillery Company in 1994, and that about closes the chapter for poor Littlemill.

As for Loch Lomond, its history before 1965 is murky, other than it was relocated to its present premises with Duncan Thomas, owner of Littlemill, as a part owner along with the Barton Distillery Company. This might go some way in explaining the origin of the ‘Lomond’-style stills, and suggests a kinship between their stills. These stills shared some common features: the rectifying top had perforated plates in the style of a Coffey still, and the spirit could be adjusted in terms of strengths and lightness, up to 85% abv, higher than the 70% for pot stills. Needless to say the variety afforded by these stills makes Loch Lomond what it is today.

Loch Lomond’s Lomond-style stills:

ll-lomond-still 1

 

LochLomond-2

 

(If anyone knows where to locate a picture of the Littlemill still, this will be one happy blogger.)

 

Another innovation: The 2008 modified Coffey still intended for malt also had a special feature – distillate could be drawn off at different strengths from the different plates, by nature more controllable and consistent that the Lomond style stills.

With such infinite variety, Loch Lomond is a veritable blender’s paradise, it is such a pity that the Single Malt that comes out of it hasn’t quite found an appreciative audience (for good reason). I am reminded of an excellent Littlemill bottled by the Auld Alliance Singapore, the subject of a tasting session last Saturday, that was light but well composed with marzipan, apple and pear shavings, zesty and lightly spiced. A run of high quality bottlings could do much to rectify Loch Lomond’s Single Malt reputation, and give us a glimpse into the peculiar world of not-quite-Lomond ‘Lomond’ stills.

(Major source for this write up ‘Whiskypedia: A Compendium of Scottish Whisky – Charles MacLean’. Seriously this guy is good.)

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3 comments on “Loch Lomond Distillery

  1. Pingback: Craiglodge, Distillery Select, Single Cask Bottling, 1998 / 2007 | whiskyrific

  2. Pingback: Littlemill 22 yo1990 / 2013, Whiskybase special bottling | whiskyrific

  3. Pingback: Inchmurrin That Boutique-y Whisky Company Batch 1 vs Inchmurrin 31 yo 1966/1997 Scotch Malt Whisky Society 112.1 | whiskyrific

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This entry was posted on February 17, 2014 by in Littlemill, Loch Lomond and tagged , , , , , , , .
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