Every year when the holiday of Sukkos rolls around, I find myself gravitating to warming, ardent spirits --- single malt Scotch whisky chief amongst them.
One of the newest product roll-outs for the US market comes from the Loch Lomond Group --- established in March 2014 by Exponent Private Equity, under the management of Colin Matthews, after acquiring the Loch Lomond Distillery Company, which included the Loch Lomond Distillery in the Scottish Highlands (in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, just north of the Lowlands line) and the Glen Scotia Distillery in Campbeltown, as well as the Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse at Mauchline in Ayrshire, the largest independent bottler of spirits in Scotland. Imported to the US by A. Hardy USA LTD, their impressive portfolio of Scotch whiskies is gaining both critical and consumer attention --- and for good reasons.
The history of the company oddly starts in 1772 with the founding of the Littlemill Distillery in the Scottish Lowlands. The distillery was closed in 1992, dismantled in 1996, and later demolished, with the last remnants of the distillery destroyed by fire in 2004. Although Littlemill’s ownership changed hands over time, in 1964 --- when it was owned in partnership between Duncan Thomas and the American Barton Brands --- the owners also created the Loch Lomond Distillery (it was built in 1965 and production began in 1966). The distilleries were practically neighbors, with Littlemill just below and Loch Lomond just above the Highlands/Lowlands line.
By 1984 Loch Lomond Distillery closed, only to be bought in 1985 by Alexander "Sandy" Bulloch of the Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse LTD. Bulloch was to become something of a whisky tycoon, but his start was the 1974 founding of his Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse LTD bottling plant. Bulloch resumed production at the Loch Lomond Distillery in 1987. Although Littlemill was closed in 1992 when its then owner, Gibson International, went bankrupt, it too was acquired in 1994 by Bulloch’s Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse LTD. He never resumed production at Littlemill, but periodically released single malts from its maturing stock.
As it happens, Bulloch’s Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse LTD also acquired the Glen Scotia Distillery in Campbeltown in 1994, following Gibson International’s bankruptcy. Bulloch immediately mothballed the distillery’s operations. Founded in 1832, Bulloch finally brought the Glen Scotia distillery back online in 1999, though temporarily under the operation of the Springbank folks (a neighboring Campbeltown Distillery). Then in 2000 the Bulloch fully resumed operations at Glen Scotia with staff from the Loch Lomond Distillery. Bulloch wasn’t getting any younger, however, and so in his early 80s sold up the family business to Exponent Private Equity in 2014 for £210 million GBP. It was a solid deal all around, and now, finally, we are getting Loch Lomond whiskies here in the US, as well as some new Glen Scotia releases. Without further ado, here are just four of their many great offerings to consider:
Loch Lomond Single Grain Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $35): Although made of malted barley, it is distilled in a continuous Coffey still rather than a batch-driven Pot still, and so is considered a "grain" rather than a "malt" whisky under the rules established for Scotch Whisky. Whatever – it is light but wonderfully refreshing, with a nose of sweet fruit and cereal, and a nutty and tropical fruit palate, with oak spice balancing it all out, with a lightly tingly, fruity finish.
Loch Lomond "Original" Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $40): This Non-Age Statement whisky offers pleasing aromas of Scottish heather (sort of a woodsy/mossy/herby smell), light peat smoke, salted, hard pretzels, and something vaguely reminiscent of the sea-shore. The palate offers more pretzel with a slightly sea-salt dusting, sweet almost candied fruits, a dollop of vanilla cream, a slight touch of oak spice, a little citrus fruit bite, and whispers of peat. The finish offers a little candied ginger, citrus fruit, cereal grains, a little mint with chocolate (remind me a bit of Girl Scout Cookie Thin-Mints), and a kiss of oak. A seemingly fairly young whisky, but really rather elegant, and quite lovely --- especially for the price!
Glen Scotia 15 year old Single Malt Scotch (46 percent abv; $90): part of the much welcomed 2015 re-launch of the brand, this rich and chewy 15 year old expression was fully matured in used bourbon casks, and offers some light hints of vanilla, sugared citrus zest, sea spray, ginger and a little smoke, with a lovely, rich almost heavy mouth-feel, offering flavors of tropical fruits, a little clove and ginger spice, some interesting milk chocolate notes, vanilla, and a little sea salt. The finish is warming with spice and a bit more of that now darkening chocolate. A touch brooding, but really yummy and rewarding.
Glen Scotia Victoriana Single Malt Scotch Whisky (51.5 percent abv; $125): Finished in deep charred oak, and bottled without filtration at cask strength, this one definitely has some heavy wood elements that might not be for all tastes --- so more for the rest of us! With aromas of toasty sugar, fudge, peaches, vanilla, a little smoke, and a light sea spray, evolving on the full-bodied palate to deeper smoke, toffee, chocolate, wood spices, ginger, fig, orange peel, vanilla, and a little distinct brine, and a great if short finish that includes mint, raisins, a hint of marmalade, oak, and a little endearing smoke. With lovely layers of flavor dancing up and down, and then to and fro --- this is an interesting and deeply satisfying whisky.