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 Single Malts

Bonnie, Bonnie Banks Despite several misgivings, John Bruce samples Loch Lomond and comes away (mostly) impressed


he above is not a headline that has been seen much in recent times, particularly in a financial centre like Hong Kong. Unfortunately for Diamond, Dimon, Goodwin and their ilk this does not represent a seismic shift in public perception but rather the reality that last month I attended a wedding at The Cruin Inn on the banks of Loch Lomond, and it was indeed a bonnie setting with the first sunshine for many weeks, a gorgeous bride and free miniatures of single malt to along with the wedding supper. I thought that my good friend Gillian’s nuptials would also provide me with the opportunity to visit the nearby Loch Lomond Distillery but slightly more efficient research would have informed me that it is one of the few distilleries in Scotland that doesn’t put on tours for the public. I had to satisfy myself with a wee drive around the building and a couple of purchases in the adjacent shop. No matter – and the distillery’s website provides this wonderfully apposite quote: “Whisky is a mystery, a magic of locality. The foreigner may import not only Scottish barley, but Scottish water, Scottish distilling apparatus and set a Scot to work on them, but the glory evaporates; it will not travel.” It is a commonly held view that the location, be it Island, Speyside, Highlands or Lowlands can be tasted in the final product. Anyone who samples an Islay malt will know that this is indeed true as the combination of ocean salt and strong peat produces something that is similar to a Highland malt in the way that both blackcurrants and oranges can be called fruits. I confess that I had not sampled a Loch Lomond single malt whisky before and I must also admit that I harboured a somewhat snobby idea that this was not a real malt and was a bit of a “tartan souvenir”. I do however recognize this failing in myself and counter it with the memory of the proprietor of an upmarket off licence in Scotland where I used to work over the Christmas holidays. This job was revelatory to a young adult. One thing it taught me was which doctors not to consult in the town as at least a couple of them bought two bottles of whisky per night. The second thing was the power of branding. Customers would come in and ask for brandy and he would show them the various Cognacs, even the newly established Armagnac which was making major inroads into the market. However, when the customer pointed at another brand he would state that is only a “mixing brandy” as if it was just slightly preferable to paraquat as an after dinner tipple. Being a student of modest means I always noticed that this poor relation cost more 20

HK Golfer・AUG 2012

than my favourite brand of blended whisky which the same man lauded as absolute nectar. Since then I have tried – not always successfully – to avoid being influenced by the great marketing machine. The Loch Lomond Distillery itself is rare in that it is family owned, and represents a fine piece of successful vertical integration on the part of the Bulloch family who started as wholesalers and bottlers in the 19th century and progressed through many incarnations to be the company which purchased Loch Lomond distillery in 1985 to secure adequate supplies of malt whisky for their operations. The company also produces single grain and blended whiskies – and this worried me, as I believe all the great distilleries are single-minded in their pursuit of excellence. Misgivings in mind I sampled two of the expressions released by the distillery. The first appealed because of its name – Inchmurrin Single Malt. Inchmurrin is a privately owned island in the middle of the loch whose owner, an old school Scot named Tom Scott, died earlier this year. This 12-year-old expression is lightly coloured, with a slightly citrus nose. A very fine example, it became quite rich in the mouth and the finish was as sweet as any Highland malt that I have recently sampled. I preferred it neat and in small measures. It was, I’m pleased to say, far from being a feared “tartan souvenir” whisky. The second expression was an 18-year-old Loch Lomond single malt and this was also highly enjoyable – certainly enjoyable enough to convince me that I was wrong in my initial assessment of the distillery. Despite this, however, and to show that my snobbery was not completely unfounded, I cannot recommend Ginger Tam’s, a herb and ginger-infused whisky liqueur that I purchased from the same store. This, quite frankly, was liquid proof that a fool and his money are easily parted. HKGOLFER.COM