“After 27 years at Laphroaig, I knew all the answers there,” said whisky veteran John Campbell at one point throughout this online tasting. “However, when I moved on to Lochlea, many things were new to me. It felt good to be somewhat uncertain again and to take on a new challenge, too.” – Almost one year has passed since the Distillery Manager of one of Islay’s mightiest units hopped over to the mainland to become Production Director and Master Blender at a small, emerging distillery in the Lowlands. In the months following up on John’s arrival, Lochlea launched its first three whisky bottlings: First Release (January 2022), Sowing Edition (March 2022), and Our Barley (July 2022). The last-mentioned duo comprised the line-up of this virtual dramming session via Zoom …
Before we come to speak of the whiskies, let us take a closer look at the place where they are made. Lochlea Distillery resides on the premises of Lochlea Farm some 30 miles south of Glasgow. Founder Neil McGeoch bought the land in 2006. First, he used it as a cattle farm, then as a barley farm. In 2017, Neil began building a whisky distillery on site. And in 2018, he heated up his Forsyths stills for the first time. At the moment, the small distillery team produces a bit more than 200,000 liters of alcohol per year; with room to push the annual volume to close to a million liters. However, as John told us, there is one regulating factor here: the barley. “Right now, we are the only distillery in Scotland that grows and malts 100 per cent of its own barley on site,” he said with pride. “We are well provided for self-supplying our current needs, but if we went for maximum output, we would probably run out of barley before we ran out of distilling capacities.”
So far, Lochlea has amassed more than 4,000 filled casks, all of which rest in the distillery’s three on-premise warehouses. The most popular wood type is ex-Bourbon (sourced mainly from Maker’s Mark), but there are others like sherry, port, or STR as well. Unsurprisingly, Lochlea also owns a good amount of ex-Islay casks from John’s previous employer. While the distillery has not worked with peated barley thus far, the Lochlea team has put some of its new make into these vessels to absorb the smoky, fumy, and briny notes from the ‘Phroaig-soaked staves. If all goes according to plan, we will be able to get a first taste of this wood n’ spirit combination later in the year.
The first of the two whiskies we savored together with John was Lochlea Sowing Edition, vatted from 23 first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels and limited to 7,000 bottles (all of which are already sold out). Since my sample only included half-a-dram, I did not get to dive all too deeply into this lovely pour. Yet, I still managed to get an impression: The light-colored Lowlander has a creamy nose full of vanilla pudding, butter cookie, apple mash, and peach juice; the fragrances are frolicking, prancing, and easy-going. The palate is crisp, fresh, and vibrant with apple, pear, lime, and toffee as well as green banana and white chocolate. During the medium finish, Sowing Edition presents itself full-bodied, well-pronounced, and also a wee bit spicy.
While we sipped our dram, John shared further insights into the making. “Sure, this is a young whisky,” he pointed out. “How could it not be? Our distillery is only four years old. So our spirit does not yet have the depth and oiliness that comes from decades in the cask. Still, there are certain things we can do to ensure we have a top-quality product at a young age, like hand-selecting our casks and working with specific types of wood.” In case of Lochlea’s fleet-footed Sowing Edition, these and other techniques worked mighty fine: It is an accomplished single malt that impressively and delicately showcases the distillery’s fruity, lively house style.
The main attraction of the evening was Lochlea’s newly released core range bottling Our Barley, from which the distillery’s German distributor Kirsch Import had send every tasting participant a full bottle! Thus, we could all spend extensive quality time with it. Considering how much I enjoyed Our Barley, I happily refilled my glass repeatedly throughout the degustation. Here’s how I experienced the drop: The honey-golden spirit smells of orange sticks, sponge cake, and caramelized nuts as well as red apple, pineapple, and peach. Around these scents, there is a spicy cinnamon cloud. The mouthfeel is smooth, creamy, and milky. Once the liquid has reached the taste buds, it produces yummy notes of banana milk, vanilla pudding, icing sugar, honey, jam, and marshmallow (the latter slightly burned). The salivating finale is rich with cocoa, apple, ginger, raisin, and various kinds of zests. Plus more cinnamon. Thanks to the three differing cask types in the recipe – bourbon, sherry, and STR – the dram has a multi-layered profile. Still, it remains approachable and easy to drink, encouraging big and satisfying sips. Now that I have an open bottle waiting for me right there in my whisky cabinet, I will certainly come back to answer Our Barley’s unuttered cry for yet another dram again and again and again!
Lochlea Sowing Edition (Single Malt Whisky / Lowlands / 1st-fill Bourbon / 48% / EUR 65)
Lochlea Our Barley (Single Malt Whisky / Lowlands / Triple Cask / 46% / EUR 50)
*** I was kindly invited to the event by Kirsch Import
and given a bottle for free. Thank you. ***