Few distilleries have been at it for as long as Loch Lomond. The Scottish whisky-maker has been producing scotch for 250 years, longer than the United States has been a country. And yet, during that entire time, it’s been nearly impossible to get their whisky here. Until now. This past fall, Loch Lomond, which is considered the oldest distillery in Scotland, introduced a broad portfolio to the U.S. For whisky lovers, a wide release like this is a big deal, because you get to see the versatility of a great distillery. Sure, Loch Lomond predominantly produces scotch, but there’s so much variety and room for experimentation within that broad category of whisky that often, no two expressions from the same distillery play out the same way.
That’s definitely the case with the portfolio that Loch Lomond has given the U.S., with bottles that range from a $29 single grain scotch (something most distilleries would only use for blending) to a $3,000 bottle that has the last drops of whisky produced in Scotland’s oldest distillery. That facility, Loch Lomond’s Littlemill Distillery, burned down in 2004. They’re only releasing 250 bottles of the super rare Littlemill 25 Year Old Single Malt, so we couldn’t get our hands on that particular hooch. Given the price tag, I hope it’s good. But we did get the chance to try five different expressions from Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia, a distillery in Campbleton that’s owned by the Loch Lomond Group. Overall, we loved what we found. So here we go: tasting five scotches from the oldest distillery in Scotland.
So, what the hell is a single grain scotch? It’s similar to a single malt—this one’s made with made with 100% malted barley—but it’s distilled in a coffey still (column still) instead of a copper pot still. Loch Lomond is claiming that this is the first single grain from Scotland. Teeling, over in Ireland, also makes a single grain and Johnny Walker uses single grains in some of their blends.
Loch Lomond’s Single Grain pours ridiculously light, almost to the point of being transparent. It looks like the color of a corn-adjunct lager. The nose is subtle, but the sip is more complex than I expect. There’s butterscotch on the front end of the sip, then a little bit of char and smoke. But there’s nothing too peaty here—none of the heavy smoke scotch is known for. Like its color, the body is very light, slippery even. It’s easy to drink neat, without much burn at all. Drop some ice in it and the peat comes out to play a little, while the butterscotch takes a back seat. It’s 93 proof, and aged in American oak, but there’s no age statement on the bottle. For a “cheap” bottle of scotch ($29), it plays well above its pay grade.
This is a blended scotch, mixing malt and grain whiskies that are then aged in re-charred American oak. It’s a little darker in color than the Single Grain, with a more traditional profile when you think of a scotch: there’s nothing particularly sweet (no butterscotch), and lots of smoke from the peated malt and a dry finish. Actually, “dry” is an understatement. This scotch sucks the moisture from your mouth. It’s got some tannic character from the wood, which keeps things interesting, but I don’t like this one neat as much as the Single Grain. Ice helps a little; You do pick up some malty characteristics after adding ice, but also more pepper, lots of char, and it’s still very, very dry. Moving on…
Glen Scotia is a separate distillery that operates under the Loch Lomond Group umbrella. LL is releasing three whiskies from Glen Scotia—we got ahold of the Double Cask, which is a single malt finished in American bourbon barrels before being stuffed into Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. I’ve got a thing for whiskies finished in sherry barrels, so I’m psyched when I pop the cork.
It has a rich, spicy nose and a lot going on inside the bottle. The sherry adds a rich fruitiness to the scotch. It’s dry on the backend, with a little bit of pepper lingering on the tongue when the sip is dissipating and just the faintest hint of peat when it’s completely over. This is a good scotch for the American palate, which leans towards the sweeter side of whiskey (bourbon). There’s some sweetness up front—mostly vanilla wrapped nicely in a perfectly round mouthfeel. I like adding ice to this one, which brings out more vanilla and puts a spotlight on that fruit from the sherry (is it cherry, maybe?). Also, the ice brings out the peat, which serves as a welcome balance to all those sweet notes. Double Cask is really easy to drink. There’s enough smoke to let you know it’s a scotch, but it isn’t the defining characteristic.
Loch Lomond has released three different Inchmurrin expressions, which are named after the largest of the Loch Lomond islands. The more I learn about scotch, the more I think Scotland is comprised of as much water as land. But I digress. For this single malt, the master distiller ages it in hand-picked American oak casks before finishing it in casks that were previously used for fortified Madeira wines, a dessert wine that hails from islands off the coast of Portugal. Get all that? Here’s what you need to know: all that time in bourbon and Madeira wood has given this scotch some enticing orchard fruit character, specifically peach and pear. There’s also vanilla and caramel upfront, and a dry, nutty finish and the spice you’d expect from a rye. Adding ice does this whisky all kinds of favors, bringing out the fruit and caramel notes in particular. If you’re looking for a touchstone, Inchmurrin plays out a lot like an American rye—spicy, dry but plenty of sweetness too. If I’m picking a favorite (and I am), this is it.
This is the only scotch from Loch Lomond we received with an age statement. Like many of the others in the portfolio, it’s a single malt aged in American oak. The green bottle makes it look dark, but it’s actually kind of bright in the glass—more light copper than whisky brown. If you’ve been waiting for a “scotch-lover’s scotch,” this is it. The 18 Year is straight down the middle of the road scotch. As in “scotchy scotch scotch.” It has a thin mouthfeel, and a faintly malty presence without actually being sweet. It’s smoky as hell, with a little bit of barrel char, some pepper, and yeah, peat. And more peat. Ice brings out something nutty on the nose and rounds out the mouthfeel. But even under ice, there’s a rustic element, kind of like the horse blanket notes you find in a good saison. It’s good, in an earthy sort of way, and at $123, is a bargain for true scotch lovers who don’t want to splurge for the $3,000 Littlemill 25 Year Old.