Hosted at The Joker in Brighton, this was always going to be one of MnC’s highlights of the year and Ibon Mendeguren didn’t disappoint. If you think you know how whisky is made, here comes Loch Lomond [LL] to blow your mind.
Ibon has an accent reflective of his colourful habitation, upbringing and ancestral background. He moved to Scotland 10 years ago to work in a 5 star hotel and had at this time amassed a whisky collection amounting some 600 bottles. Ibon got offered a job with LL after being asked by a gentleman in the hotel what he thought about it’s [LL’s] whisky. “Great whisky, awful bottle/label”, replied Ibon – or words to that effect. The gentleman it turned out owned the Loch Lomond distillery.
Founded by Duncan Thomas & Barton Brands in 1966, Loch Lomond was always intended to be fully self sufficient. As a result, LL is one of only four distilleries with a cooperage employing 6 coopers full time – the eldest around 70 years old.
So how much of the flavour of whisky comes from the spirit? Whilst many may typically argue around 30%, Ibon believes that at LL, as much as 50% of flavour comes from the spirit – and when you start to peel back the brewing & distilling complexities at this distillery, you begin to understand why.
- LL have been experimenting with different yeast strains for more than a decade. This is the due influence of master distiller John Peterson who had previously worked for all the major beer companies before coming to LL around 26 years ago. Ibon says John is obsessed by beer making. Chardonnay it turns out is currently LL’s most successful yeast alternative aside from the commonly used M & MX strains.
- Furthermore, LL have an extra long fermentation time of between 90-120 hours. After around 60 hours, yeast dies away. After this period, lactose molecules develop and eat the remaining carbohydrate and protein left over by the yeast. This creates more fruity compounds.
- Then there are their stills. Pot, straight-necked [hybrid] & continuous stills, that between them can make 13 possible styles of spirit.
The first two whiskies of the night are made up 4 of those 13 styles.
This is a 4yo single malt that can’t be called single malt because it’s produced in a Coffey still.
The SWA don’t recognise continuous column still distillation as traditional, favouring the ‘batch system’ of whisky made in pot stills – EDIT: this isn’t actually correct. see Phil’s comments below].
Standard grain whisky produced in column stills comes off the still at around 94.5%. This spirit runs off the still at 84%. Ibon says that the only other distillery making single malt from a column still is Nikka. Is Lomond the mini Nikka then? Penderyn also have hybrid stills as do Yorkshire.
- N: Much like the SMWS’s Glendronach 9yo WB I’m presently enjoying, this is also fatty, fruity and mineral-y, with caramel, grass and tempered bourbon cask resins to boot.
- T: Caramel, fruits, chocolate, pink grapefruit and a ginger spiciness.
- F: More caramel and cocoa/chocolate – chocolate digestives basically.
- C: Integration-wise, similar to Glen Scotia’s ‘Double cask’ I got to retry only days ago [blog]. This is a clever recipe culminating in a beautifully balanced fruity 4yo. Quite a result given the constituents.
Scores 81 points [3 more than before]
Made up of 25ppm peated malt and three other distillate styles from LL’s straight-necked stills.
- N: A creamy funky pong with a latex/sulphury hint mixed with curdling cream, shortbread, pancake dough, butterscotch vanilla, soft lamb?… It changes all the time.
- T: Weird butterscotch, scorched fruits and white pepper. Here comes that same creaminess from the nose again – sour cream. Mortlach-esque as a few of these turned out to be.
- F: The US oak brings a vanilla sweetness.
- C: Originally intended for the US market, it proved so successful there that it was rolled out to the wider global market.
Scores 83 points
The LL group bought all the names of the islands in the surrounding area for future branding use. Inchmurrin is the biggest of those islands. This whisky is made exclusively from their hybrid pot still with a column on top that consists of 17 plates. With reflux occurring within each plate and a water jacket on top acting as a mini condenser, this process maximises the oils and produces a spirit at 85% abv, reduced to 65% before being casked.
- N: Shares a similar pong to the 12yo, but here it lifts with time. Thai flavours, a sherry hue [is there a little sherry influence here?], pastry-like sawdust, pastry’s – maple pecan,… all good things.
- T: Waxy/fatty pastry’s, ginger cake, butterscotch, spice, pong,..
- F: Drying yet with more fattiness and more of a malty pong.
- C: Individualistic style, though perversely, Mortlach-esque throughout.
Scores 84 points
Inchmurrin 2007/2017 9yo Ob. cask #5834 [276 bts] 58.4% WB83
All those yeast experiments have presently boiled down to this: South African Chardonnay – 25 kilos of the stuff per washback batch. Neatly put, this Inchmurrin is made using one yeast, one still [type] and one cask – aged for 10 years in a refill barrel.
- N: With notes of funky creamy soda, cider, pear, grapes and genever, it’s a spirit-forward whisky with a spicy/abv liveliness.
- T: With water, we’ve a rum & Armagnac-like sipper with funky raisins and all sorts of nuts and fruits,… moving towards a raisin/sultana maltiness followed by cherry – all sorts of cherry.
- F: Short but very satisfying. A passing Strawberry Split note seals the deal. Pleasingly, there hasn’t been any blatant cask action from any of these malts so far.
- C: This much affect in character, just from the yeast? Take note! Very drinkable too.
Scores 85 points
Loch Lomond had the first charring machine in the UK, back in 1994. Charring at LL starts at 300°c, increasing to 500°c for a medium char. A 6-7 minute char at 700°c reaches [Ardbeg] Aligator levels where the inside of the cask is effectively destroyed.
Inchmoan mean island of the peat. This smoker is made up of straight-necked & pot still distillate [a 66/33 ratio], with a peat level of 50ppm. LL make a medicinal peat and a spicy peat spirit, maturing them separately for around 12 years in re-charred US casks before marrying. This process creates a uniquely different peat style.
- N: Peppery & salty start with peppered ham, plimsolls, lamb and muddy white pepper. Reminds me of SMWS’s recent Laphroaig releases.
- T: More of that SMWS Laphroaig style [though lighter], with flavours of turkey, flakey pastry, white pepper and spice.
- F: Muddy ash and vanilla.
- C: Abound with family character.
Scores 85 points
Inchmoan 1992/2017 Ob. ’Island Collection’ 48.6% WB86.68
Though frequently stated as a 25yo, Ibon says this official bottling is actually just shy at 24.5 years. Matured in refill US oak.
- N: The freshest and the least freaky of the flight. That said, we’ve muddy white pepper aromas with a light yet smokey-meaty character, minced lamb-y pancakes, vanilla cream and curry-like aromatic spices.
- T: Fruity-to-oily-to-dry [old Bowmore-esque?], with a development of descriptors towards grapefruit & white pepper, putty/plasticine and caramel.
- F: Sour-savoury Garibaldi biscuits and putty with an ashy mineral finish. Fab!
- C: Very good stuff. £200 a bottle mind!
Scores 87 points
A special surprise from Ibon after this session came in the form of a Littlemill, from the closed distillery acquired by the Loch Lomond Group along with LL & Glen Scotia in 2014. Not much is known about the original LL distillery in Tarbet. Ibon tells us there are seven different Tarbet’s North West of LL, so spelling, pronunciation & a description of that place would have been crucial for directions back in the day. Officially founded in 1772, new evidence has come to light that potentially dates the Littlemill distillery as far back as 1713, which would certainly make it the oldest known distillery in Scotland – subject to the provenance of said evidence.
What a treat! A sample from an unreleased batch of 25yo Littlemill that was officially released in 2015 with a lower abv of 50.4%.
- N: Proving that age does matter, this is unlike anything we’ve had tonight. Floral fruits shoot off [liqueur-like], against salty, leathery & deep fusty & dusty dunnage-y notes. Bliss.
- T: Thick, sweet malty>salty,…. with a patient delivery and mouthfeel that only comes with time.
- F: Leads into oloroso sherry which plateaus,……..
- C: Those finishing casks dominate too much for my palate, but concentrate on the nose and arrival and you won’t go far wrong.
Scores 87 points
With thanks to Ibon and the Malt n Copper team.