It was a nice warm evening on Tuesday 6 February. That evening, I was making my way to a Loch Lomond Group industry tasting at one of Melbourne’s iconic whisky bars, Whisky & Alement. After carefully weaving my way around the bar’s surprisingly small after-work crowd, I was greeted by a smiling bartender who informed me that the tasting was being held in the bar’s upstairs room.
I made my way up the creaky stairs and, to my delight, was greeted by a room filled with people speaking with Scottish accents. As an Aussie whisky lover who has locked in private visits to a number of Scottish distilleries this coming June, I was excited. Very excited.
The first person I met was Bill White, Loch Lomond’s Group Operations Director. I quickly learned that “Loch Lomond” is pronounced lak-low-mund and sitting behind Bill were six whiskies produced by the Loch Lomond Group: one bottle of Loch Lomond Original, two bottles of Inchmurrin and three bottles of Glen Scotia.
After meeting some retailers and bar owners, I sat down before six carefully poured glasses; three were filled with Inchmurrin and three were filled with Glen Scotia single malt Scotch whisky.
Inchmurrin Scotch whisky
Inchmurrin Scotch whisky is distilled and aged at the Loch Lomond distillery which sits by the River Leven at the most southern tip of Loch Lomond.
Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater lake by area in the United Kingdom, spanning about 71 square kilometres. The loch itself is dotted with an archipelago of islands. The biggest of the islands is “Inchmurrin” (Innis Mheadhran in Scottish Gealic).
Inchmurrin Scotch whisky is part of Loch Lomond’s “Island Collection” which also includes a line of whisky called Inchmoan (Inchmoan, or Innis na Mòna/Innis-Mòine, is another island in Loch Lomond and its name translates to the “peat island”). As you’ve probably already guessed, Innis is Scottish Gaelic for island.
Although Inchmurrin and Inchmoan whiskies are named after islands in Loch Lomond, the islands only serve as “inspiration” for the whiskies. Bill tells me that the “Island Collection takes its inspiration from the islands on Loch Lomond and uses” Loch Lomond Group’s “specialist stills to create whiskies with characters associated with individual islands”.
When tasting the Inchmurrin whiskies, they all seemed to have a soft easy-drinking grassy and fruity character. That grassiness was aromatic on the nose and soft on the palate, and it added to Inchmurrin’s uniqueness. Later, I was pleasantly surprised to learn from Bill that Inchmurrin is known as the “grassy isle”!
That grassy character in the whisky, Bill shares, has its genesis in the length of time Loch Lomond ferment the wort that eventually becomes Inchmurrin whisky. Fermentation takes four days and over the course of this time esters form in what becomes an alcoholic wash. The wash is distilled at high strength using straight neck pot stills to try and “capture” the esters formed over the four day fermentation. The spirit that trickles out of the stills is described by Bill as a light “grassy and floral spirit with notes of pear drops, crème caramel and soft fruits”.
The first whisky we tasted was Inchmurrin 12 year old which is aged in casks that previously held bourbon and casks that have been re-charred. This is the first Inchmurrin I have ever tasted, and that “grassy-ness” I just mentioned was really pronounced in this expression, coupled with the taste of malt, grain, sweet fruit and a toasty, chocolatey/cocoa finish.
The second whisky we tasted was Inchmurrin Madiera, which is finished in madiera casks for 9 months after being aged in ex-bourbon casks. It was spicy, tasting especially of cinnamon, raisin, wood smoke, cocoa and, that grassy note.
The third whisky we tasted was Inchmurrin 18 year old. It was even more spicy than the Inchmurrin Madiera, with a peppery and cinnamon heat and pronounced oak. The fruit notes were sweet, syrupy and ripe, and they tasted like a spiced fruit mice pie. The Inchmurrin 18 year old was, however, noticeably less “grassy” than the Inchmurrin 12 year old, which presumably is the result of it having spent more time in oak casks (about six extra years, during which time the Inchmurrin spirit appears to have faded and succumbed to the flavour of the oak).
Glen Scotia Scotch whisky
Next, it was time to explore some Glen Scotia whisky.
Glen Scotia whisky comes from the Campbeltown whisky region of Scotland.
Campbeltown was once a hub of whisky production due to its proximity to Glasgow and nearby access to ports, but prohibition and wars killed off much of its whisky industry and only three distilleries remain in the region these days: Springbank, Mitchell’s Glengyle (Kilkerran), and, Glen Scotia.
Now, with all that in mind, this leads me to the fourth whisky we tried on the night: Glen Scotia Double Cask, which is aged in ex-bourbon barrens and then finished for anywhere between 9 and 12 months in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It offered soft notes of chocolate coated raisins, and it was drying and astringent.
The fifth whisky we tried was the Glen Scotia 15 year old. I can still taste it a day later – it tasted like I was giving a vanilla fudge cake a big wet kiss. As a huge fan of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, I love the taste of the vanilla flavours which American oak gives a whisky; that flavour is thought to come from “vanillins” in the oak. Boy, did Loch Lomond manage to draw out these vanillins from the oak and infuse them into this whisky! Vanilla and fudge dominate at first, and then as the waves of blissful vanilla soften, the palate gently dries into a finale of cocoa/toasted oak and spice with hints of sweet raisin. Bill clarifies that the Glen Scotia 15 year old is matured in a “mix of refill bourbon and refill American oak hogsheads and then married in fresh bourbon for 12 months before a 6 week finish in first fill oloroso”.
The sixth (and the last) whisky we tried was Glen Scotia Victoriana, a highly complex whisky defined mainly by toasted oak, subtle wood smoke and berry compote flavours. And that complexity is not surprising once you find out the arduous journey Loch Lomond put this spirit through to make it into Victoriana: a “first maturation” in “80% first fill bourbon and 20% refill American oak hogsheads” then the casks are “selected and vatted together before being finished in 70% heavily charred barrels and 30% Pedro Ximenez sherry casks for 12 months”, according to Bill.
Thank you to Ian from Alba Whisky for his kind invitation to this event.