Lochlea Distillery is turning five this year, and the team has released a very special, very limited whisky for the occasion – on Burns Night, no less. I mean, how else would you expect them to celebrate?
Lochlea 5 Year Old is that celebratory whisky, and is in fact the distillery’s first age statement single malt. It’s a vatting of just five casks, two of which were filled in the very first distillation in August 2018, meaning this is the oldest Lochlea that has ever been bottled!
On Burns Night 2022 Lochlea released its first single malt, and two years later we’re treated to the first age statement release. Time really does fly.
I visited the distillery on a freezing, but gloriously sunny winter’s day just last week. Master blender John Campbell (of ex-Laphroaig fame) talked us through each cask that he chose to create this milestone release before we tucked into the real deal.
Lochlea is pretty transparent about its cask recipe, with the five cask types and their flavour profiles displayed inside the lid of the presentation box for this edition. The 5 Year Old is made up of two first-fill bourbon casks (from the first distillation), one first-fill oloroso sherry cask, one double-matured oloroso sherry cask, and a double-matured Pedro Ximénez sherry cask.
First, he talks us through the 2018 bourbon casks. This is “trademark Lochlea”, Campbell says of cask #20. “You get the sweet, you get the fruity, and you get the dry.”
The second bourbon cask (#25) is noticeably different – intriguingly so, since this is from the same level in the warehouse as the first cask. It’s sweeter, with more minerality and a vegetal note. This is a showcase in the wonders of cask maturation, and the magic behind it we’ll never quite understand. “These were the best from the first filling,’ Campbell says of the casks.
The next whisky (cask #272) started its life in refill bourbon, double-matured in a first-fill oloroso sherry hogshead (three years in the former, two years in the latter). We’re talking vanilla pods, almond, marzipan, and a very dry, red wine-forward note.
We then move onto a refill bourbon re-racked into a fresh Pedro Ximénez cask for an 18-month finish, adding notes of maple syrup, coffee, and tobacco. Finally, a fruity, dry, and peppery first-fill oloroso cask (#295) packing red fruit, nuts, and black pepper.
Allegedly they put the first fillings into an archive, but dipped into the supplies for this release. “I’m not sure we were even meant to…” muses Emma Kirk, Lochlea’s trade brand executive.
When we get to the final amalgamation of all these casks, it’s revealed that not even Campbell has tried the finished product yet.
The first thing that occurs to me about the 5 Year Old is that it would be perfect in a Manhattan. And then, on second sip, I realised it practically is a Manhattan. That PX cask makes itself known, with sweet spices and juicy red fruit. But there’s a fragrant depth to it, like dark tobacco or incense, that makes it just that much more interesting, all backed up by classic bourbon cask sweetness that never overpowers.
Lochlea has a range of seasonal releases, so I ask Campbell which season this edition would fit in if he had to pick one. “Christmas,” he firmly replies.
The age statement is important, but I also think age isn’t something to get too bogged down in, particularly when it comes to young distilleries. Everyone in the tasting room agreed this tasted older than its years, but perhaps that just means a well-crafted five-year-old whisky tastes… well, excellent.
The majority of the allocation has gone to the UK, but that doesn’t mean we’re drowning in bottles – there are just 522 bottles to go around the UK out of the 2,000 released globally. “It’s almost better to think of it as a single cask, based on allocation,” says Kirk.
Throughout our visit, Lochlea is celebrating this milestone but constantly talking about the future – mainly, the aim to become a wholly field-to-cask operation. It’s nearly there, but there are three things that Lochlea needs to become totally single-site (and the first to do so in the Scotch whisky industry): floor maltings, a bottling line, and a bioplant. The 5 Year Old shows which direction Lochlea is going in, and I for one can’t wait to follow the journey.
Nose: Notably dry and nutty at first, giving way to red fruit and red florals (something like hibiscus), with a touch of woody vanilla in the background.
Palate: Dark and rich, with sweet cherry jam, candied spices, and hints of balsamic. Tarte tatin lurks underneath.
Finish: Drying spices make a return, with black pepper, nutmeg, and a pinch of tobacco – though the sweeter notes from the palate still linger.