Lowland distillery Lochlea’s first single malt is here! This is not a drill! We can’t imagine this will stick around long but we wanted to let you know what to expect from this exciting debut.
On the Ayrshire farm that Robert Burns once called home lies one of the most intriguing new distilleries in Scotland. For a time, Lochlea Distillery was one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. After four years of construction and a £6m investment, it began distilling in 2018 but made absolutely no fuss about it. Whisky was quietly popped into casks. Lochlea is so under the radar that it was the only operating distillery in Scotland not included in The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2021.
Taking centre stage
The independently owned farm-based distillery then spent much of the last year dipping its toes into the spotlight and is now taking centre stage like Celine in Vegas with its inaugural release. Released on Burns Night, naturally, (that’s a connection they won’t stop milking in a hurry, and who can blame them?) the dram is our first window into what Lochlea is all about.
It’s a whisky a lot of you are very keen to get to know. We’re not even a month in and this is already one of the most highly anticipated launches of the year. Lochlea whisky is an operation with history on its side, but even more excitingly a very bright future thanks to its comprehensive and admirable approach, as well as something of a distilling superteam. So, we thought we’d break down the story of what’s in your glass (if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle) so you can fully appreciate why this is one of the drams Master of Malt customers are most excited to try this year.
How Lochlea makes its whisky
Lochlea is truly a farm distillery, growing barley solely for its own whisky production just 150 yards from the distillery. The resulting draff is used to feed local cattle and its water is sourced on-site. This gives Lochlea several things: complete creative control, a unique spirit character, and full traceability from field to cask. The finest of Ayrshire’s natural resources is showcased in every bottle, while the distillery’s carbon footprint is kept to a minimum.
This might come across as a humble, down-to-earth operation, but make no mistake: Lochlea is serious about its whisky. The farm’s existing buildings were converted to make way for a state-of-the-art distillery that can produce around 200,000 litres of pure alcohol a year. There’s Douglas fir washbacks, a two-tonne mash tun, and pot stills made to spec in Scotland to create an elegant, light, and fruity spirit. This is matured predominantly in ex-bourbon (Maker’s Mark, a favourite choice) and Oloroso casks, as well as some Pedro Ximénez (PX), STRs (shaved, toasted, re-charred), and secret options for limited-edition releases.
A distilling supergroup
Running the show is quite a team, assembled by owner Neil McGeoch. Last year he brought in both David Ferguson from Beam Suntory to take the role of commercial manager, as well as Laphroaig legend John Campbell to become production director and master blender. Distillery manager Malcolm Rennie, meanwhile, spent 34 years in the industry at the likes of Kilchoman, Bruichladdich, and Ardbeg.
Rennie began on a consultancy basis but soon found himself more involved and the distillery says that he sees Lochlea whisky as the result of his life’s work. Working for an independent distillery allows for a lot of creative freedom and Rennie, for example, insisted on a slower distillation process to create a more congener-heavy profile that would benefit from time in cask. From what Rennie says about the production process, you get the impression that making whisky rarely goes as smoothly as it has at Lochlea and that has led to some incredibly promising results, which is enough to make me slightly drool on my laptop (damn you Rennie!).
Lochlea Distillery’s first single malt
So, what can we expect from Lochlea’s debut? First, details. The UK will receive half of the first batch of 7,000 bottles produced, with the rest being distributed across 10 other markets in Europe and North America. The whisky we’ve got in our hands today (briefly, probably) has been maturing in an on-site warehouse since August 2018 in first-fill bourbon and PX sherry casks and has been bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration or additional colouring. It’s also priced at an incredibly reasonable £50, so this is one to be opened, shared, and enjoyed. There’s even tyre tracks in the label design as a nod to the distillery’s farming identity. Neat.
Campbell says that the whisky will provide a taste of what’s to come and that a core expression and some limited small batches will follow this year. “This whisky will showcase the DNA of our Lochlea spirit, with a slight twist, ensuring it is different to our core expression which is set to be released in early 2022.” The brief was to make a ‘truly distinct whisky’ and Campbell adds that “a great deal of time, perseverance and attention to detail has gone into this first release to ensure it is as authentic to Lochlea as possible – nothing added and nothing taken away”.
How does it taste?
As for how it tastes, at the core of this release is a new make spirit that is described as having a profile that’s “bursting with orchard fruit” with a “beautiful elegance way beyond its years”. This has developed into a single malt release that is being billed as not quite what you expect from a typical Lowland malt. “For us, on the nose it is bursting with fresh orchard fruit and zesty orange, with vanilla fudge and a lovely cereal note in the background. The palette is rich and sweet with burnt caramel and hazelnuts with a medium mouth-coating to finish while still holding on to that fruit,” says Campbell.
Sounds wonderful. We’d love to know what you think of it if you managed to pick one up, and we’re sure we speak for everyone when we say we can’t wait to taste what comes next. Happy Burns Night, folks. Slàinte!