Loch Lomond, a part of Scotland with an air of magic and mystery, has a long history of whisky-making. Once flanked by nine distilleries, the namesake site is the only one left on the loch, and has traditionally operated with closed doors.
But earlier this year, those doors were flung open to the on-trade when a group of big hitters from all over Scotland were given a tour which provided rare insight into production at Loch Lomond – and a few hints about where Scotch whisky as a category is headed.
‘I always felt like the distillery was a bit of an enigma. Everyone knew there were things going on here that were unusual,’ says Tristan Stephenson, director of Fluid Movement.
Along with Stuart McCluskey of Edinburgh-based Bon Vivant, El Cartel and Devil’s Advocate; Kieran Collins of Glasgow’s G1 group; Mike Aikman, owner of Edinburgh’s Bramble bar and founder of Lucky Liquors; and Ali Shaw, Arbikie Vodka ambassador and trainee distiller, he’s one of the chosen few to whom the distillery extended an invitation.
‘The time’s right to start to engage with the on-trade to showcase what we are about as we grow distribution in the UK,’ says Scott Dickson, marketing manager at the distillery.
He says the launch of new expression Inchmoan 12 yo in 2017, as well as a 50-year-old single malt (‘the pinnacle of the year’) alongside global expansion offered the perfect opportunity to present Loch Lomond’s innovative distillation methods, blending process and in-house cooperage to the group.
The distillery, whose original site dates back to 1814, has had a tumultuous past, falling silent twice between then and now; its most recent revival was in 1987. Since then, however, it’s been full steam ahead: Loch Lomond gained grain capabilities in 1993 and received two new malt stills in 1999 – it claims to be the only site in Scotland with three sets of stills.
As a result, the site is ‘self-sufficient’, producing single-malt and single-grain liquids, which in turn feed its blended whisky operation.
‘It’s difficult not to be astonished by the range of distillation equipment before you start bringing yeast into it as well, and the maturation process that’s going on and the care and attention that goes into that,’ says Stephenson. ‘It’s in danger of being overwhelming, but nonetheless it’s ridiculously exciting.’
Dickson says the distillery’s straddling of different styles is helping it to reach new markets around the world.
‘Scotch Whisky continues to grow across the globe and with Loch Lomond having blended scotch, single grain and single malt we have seen success in each category across a range of markets,’ he says, adding that in countries such as South Africa where there is an awareness of single-grain whisky, those liquids have been most successful.
But it’s the blends from Loch Lomond that have the biggest standout USP. ‘They only use spirit from the Loch Lomond distillery and do well as they have that additional crafted element. Craft is important and with our unique stills and on-site cooperage we believe we are in a strong position to benefit from this trend,’ Dickson says. And, he believes blends are having something of a moment.
‘The blended category will continue to develop in many markets as it’s the entry point for many to the quality, provenance and craft of scotch whisky,’ he goes on. ‘Whisky cocktails have been a great way to introduce certain whiskies to the on-trade.
‘The choice of character and flavour to the trade is huge and there is a great opportunity to bring more consumers into the whisky fold.
‘NAS expressions too will continue to grow, however we are fortunate in being able to offer a good range of aged products across our three single malt brands, and this a huge plus for us as we launch in markets where our brands may be less well known and age is a helpful guide for the consumer.’
Guests on the tour tried out a range of the distillery’s 12-year-old whiskies: Loch Lomond Whisky, Inchmurrin and Inchmoan.
‘The Inchmurrin stood out for me, but I actually really enjoyed all the 12-year-olds,’ says McCluskey. ‘There is a characteristic I think; that fruit quality really rings true in all of the expressions but in different ways.’
‘It’s absolutely fascinating,’ concludes Aiken. ‘The effort that goes on here; the difference in production methods with the various different things they’re doing is quite unique within Scotland. Which is saying something.’