A tasting of 2 new ranges of whisky from a distillery that I have never tried before, at an undisclosed location, paired with a six course menu. Checkers certainly knows how to push all my buttons. The occassion: the launch of Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia whiskies which are available in South Africa exclusively at Checkers Liquorshop.
A slightly nippy and blustery Highveld autumn day – reminiscent of a Scottish summer’s day – greeted us as we arrived at our venue. The View in Parktown is the headquarters of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment and felt like a really fitting location to explore these drams from Scotland.
I’ve got a soft spot for Checkers when it comes to chain liquor stores in SA. I see them as somewhat of a disruptor in the local marketplace. Their Private Barrel Co range is an excellent initiative – bringing single cask whiskies (fairly oftern from distilleries that many South Africans aren’t familiar with) to the market at very reasonable prices. In fact, I’m sure they’ve barely broken even on some of their releases. If they’re listening… *Please bring in more Mortlach!!* Their two previous Mortlach releases (sister casks) flew off the shelves.
And now they’re doing it again by bringing in two ranges (and soon a third!) from the Loch Lomond Group. Head of Checkers LiquorShop, Joseph Bronn welcomed us to the tasting with a brief intro. His enthusiasm for Loch Lomond, Glen Scotia and whisky in general is infectious.
As can be seen below, the Loch Lomond distillery virtually straddles the line separating the Highlands from the Lowlands, and then there is the Glen Scotia distillery in Campbeltown – a once prolific whisky region. The last piece of the puzzle is their bottling plant (up to 65 million bottles produced a year!) and bonded warehouses in Glen Catrine. (Click on the distillery names above to be taken to their respective websites where you can read up more on their history.)
It was interesting to see the distillery’s versatility – it can produce up to 15 different styles of whiskies on it’s 3 sets of stills. The image below will give you an idea of just what they can make.
The Scotsman with Ties to South Africa
Next up it was Bill White’s turn. After leaving Edinburgh university he joined Anglo American coal division (Amcoal) initially at Vryheid, KZN and then Witbank. After 8 years he returned home to Scotland where he started work with William Grant & Sons at their Dufftown site. While there Bill looked after new make distillation at Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie before becoming the Distillery manager for 5 years. That was followed by a move to their bottling operation in Glasgow before becoming WG&S’s Operations Director where Bill was intimately involved in a number of projects such as the building of Ailsa bay Distillery and the Tullamore DEW distillery. He joined Loch Lomond as their Head of Distilling in 2014 where one of his roles has been to increase the output of the Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond distilleries.
And then there was the food! The glorious food!! Hats off to Chef Sasha Sonnenberg from Prep’ed by Sasha. She really seemed to take her time to understand the character of each whisky and in the end, produced what is without a doubt the best official whisky and food pairing menu that I have had the pleasure of enjoying!
Here’s hoping I get to sit down to another pairing prepared by Sasha soon. My favourite pairing? The Vanilla Sous vide salmon, crushed potato, red onion, creme fraiche, yuzu pearls, vanillabean and oak smoke. Eating it was a sensory experience and the Loch Lomond Signature just worked so well with it.
Our line-up for the tasting: Loch Lomond Single Grain, Loch Lomond Signature, Loch Lomond Single Malt, Glen Scotia Double Cask, Glen Scotia 15 Year Old Single Malt and finally, Glen Scotia Victoriana.
Here are my quickfire impressions of each of the whiskies tasted as well as their pricing. I’ll do proper reviews when I have a chance to sit down and spend some time with each whisky individually.
Loch Lomond Single Grain
A Single Malt that is classified as a Single Grain thanks to SWA regulations (Basically LL use a Coffey – a.k.a. continuous – still to produce the malt whisky, but SWA regulations states it must be batch distilled in pot stills to be called a Single Malt). Quite a contentious issue, but I won’t get into that here. Very mild and light dram with pleasant creamy cereal notes and a touch of honey. I’m keen to put this head-to-head with our local Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky Single Grain and see how it holds up.
Loch Lomond Signature
A fantastic dram at it’s price! Michael Henry, master distiller at Loch Lomond has this to say about the Signature: “Loch Lomond Signature has a little of everything we do here – malts from our different stills, our own grain and recharred barrels from our cooperage in the solera and really shows what our distillery is about.” Do yourself a favour and read up a bit about their operation and the 100-cask solera system. Really interesting stuff! And this can technically be classified as a “Single Blend” as both the malt and grain whiskies in Signature come from the same distillery. Pretty much the same as our local Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish whisky.
Loch Lomond Original Single Malt
A darker, nuttier version of the Single Grain in my opinion, with a definite citrus twist to it. Coupled with a hint of smoke that weaves its way through the malty notes, tying it all together.
Glen Scotia Double Cask
I’m a sucker for Campbeltown whiskies! The Double Cask (It spends time in 1st fill bourbon casks, then goes into PX sherry casks for a stint) doesn’t disappoint. Slightly dry, but at the same time fairly full-bodied. Fruit, fudge, slight saltiness and some spicy notes with a hint of oak char. Lovely!
Glen Scotia 15 Year Old Single Malt
Slightly dry and more refined than the Double Cask, leading with the fruit. The maritime air (saltiness) is more subdued, as are the spices. Decent, but I prefer the Double Cask.
Glen Scotia Victoriana
Watch the ABV on this one! It weighs in at 51.5%. Really enjoyed the Victoriana – a layered whisky with a lot going for it. Creme Brulee, red fruits, a hint of tobacco and coffee, citrus (marmalade?) and more.
Not tasted at the event, merely listed here as it available at Checkers LiquorShop. Official tasting notes read as follows: “High Commissioner is a blend selected from our finest grain and malt whiskies; High Commissioner has flavours of soft fruits, peach, pear and chewy caramel. Sweet and fruity with notes of malted barley, overlaid with a touch of peat. Well balanced and complex with a long smooth warming finish.”
Loch Lomond Reserve
Not tasted at the event, merely listed here as it available at Checkers LiquorShop. Official tasting notes read as follows: “This unique premium blended Scotch whisky contains both malt and grain whisky distilled at the Loch Lomond distillery. Each barrel is selected for its character and maturity, then expertly blended to create a well-balanced whisky that delivers a perfectly smooth finish.”
Not knowing a lot about Loch Lomond going into the tasting, I had some reservations about their whiskies. Those reservations have all disappeared! The whiskies offer a compelling alternative to what we are used to seeing on our shelves. And there is still their Inchmurrin range to come!
The whiskies are priced well and definitely worth a punt if you are looking to try something new. I’ve got my eyes on the Glen Scotia Double Cask and Loch Lomond Signature – I’ve a feeling they’ll be making a regular appearance in my whisky cabinet.
Thanks again to Checkers for the invitation and carry on with your sterling efforts to bring new and affordable whiskies to South African consumers. Just know it is appreciated.