Lochlea Distillery with David Ferguson,Commercial Director

"From Burns to Barley..."

Here at Lochlea Distillery we have been quietly distilling and maturing our single malt Scotch whisky using barley that we grow and harvest on the farm.

Can you share the history and background of Lochlea Distillery? When was it founded, and what makes it stand out among other distilleries in the region?

The initial plans were hatched for Lochlea in 2014. By 2016 contruction was underway to repurpose the farm buildings (previously Lochlea was a cattle farm) and by August 2018 the first Lochlea spirit was produced. One of the things that makes us unique within the Scotch industry is that we grow our own barley on the farm. This traceability from field to cask is central to everything we do, and gives us full control over the quality of our single malt whisky. There are also intricacies within our production process that John Campbell and his team have carefully honed, in order to create the signature Lochlea flavours of bold, juicy fruit and a wonderful cereal / biscuit character in the new make. We certainly don’t fit the mould of a ‘typical’ light, delicate, lowland malt! We are always striving for depth and complexity, having set aside the stock that will go into Lochlea 25 year old already.

The name and branding of a whisky often carry significant meaning. What is the story behind the name of your whisky at Lochlea Distillery, and how does it reflect the overall identity and vision of the distillery?

Our core single malt whisky, Lochlea ‘Our Barley’ is named for that very reason. It is made from and inspired by our barley, which we grow on-site. Being a farm distillery, sustainability and transparency are extremely important to us. We then have a range of 4 seasonal limited editions per year. Each one ties back to exactly what is happening on the farm at that time, in terms of cask selection, flavour profile, and packaging.

Every distillery has its share of fascinating stories. Can you share any interesting anecdotes or memorable events related to the history, production, or individuals associated with Lochlea Distillery?

Lochlea Farm was once home to Robert Burns, from 1777-1784. By day he helped his father on the farm, tending the same land we do today. By night, he would walk the path right behind the distillery down to Tarbolton to engage in lively debate with friends.

Much more recently in 2021, we were delighted to welcome John Campbell as our Production Director. Having been responsible for one of the top ten Scotch whisky brands in the world over the past 27 years, John brings a wealth of knowledge and a burning ambition to assist Lochlea fulfil its potential.

Sustainability and eco-friendly practices are increasingly important in the spirits industry. Has Lochlea Distillery implemented any sustainable initiatives, and do you have any long-term plans in this regard?

Yes absolutely. As a farm, we are naturally very green already. However there are several initiatives that we have undertaken to ensure a fully cyclical process and reduce our carbon footprint. For example our Spent Lees are filtered through our on-site reed beds. They contain specialty plants that filter and break this by-product down until it is clean water that is discharged to the burn, mitigating over 2300 road miles per year. Our Draff is collected by local farmers and used as cattle feed. On the farm, after our harvest is complete, we sow cover crops (mustard and radish) to improve soil structure and create a leaf canopy to help prevent soil erosion. This cover crop is then grazed intensively with sheep for a month to six weeks before we start to prepare for sowing the following year’s seed.

Finally, The by-product of growing barley is straw, which we bale after the crop has been combined. Our neighbouring farmers collect and use the straw to bed cattle through the winter. In production, we ensure all our waste products have a secondary use. Our Pot Ale is taken away to a biogas plant and used to generate electricity.

We are always looking for improvements in this area, and in every aspect of our operation. Even our business cards are made from recycled coffee cups!

Whisky industry trends are constantly evolving. What current trends do you see impacting the whisky market, and how are you positioned to adapt and capitalize on these trends?

Firstly it appears that consumers are looking for consistently high quality, premium spirits with legitimate provenance in their production. Secondly, on the sustainability side, this is no longer a trend but simply an ongoing necessity within our industry. Thirdly, purchasing data shows clearly that people want new and interesting flavour profiles, for example making use of cask types to offer a different perspective on whisky from each distillery. Fortunately we are well positioned for all three, as we only produce single malt focused on quality over yield, we prioritise green credentials in every decision we take, and we have the flexibility to have over 25 cask types maturing in our on-site warehouses.

Balancing classic, time-honored whiskies with innovative expressions can be challenging. How do you maintain this balance in its product offerings?

Over the past year and a half, we have built up a portfolio of whiskies with which we hope everyone will find an expression they enjoy.

Our core single malt, Lochlea ‘Our Barley,’ perfectly encapsulates our house spirit style: fruit and cereal-forward, with depth and complexity beyond its years.

Our limited seasonal releases allow us to showcase our spirit using more experimental cask types that reflect the farming calendar and changing seasons.

Our newly released Cask Strength (Batch One) is perfect for those seeking an amplified version of our house spirit style; a little bolder, yet elegant.

These whiskies, alongside some one-off limited editions and single casks, are how we want to show people what Lochlea is all about until we have our first age-statement product.

Why did you decide to partner with Glencairn Crystal as your preferred glassware supplier for whisky tastings, and what benefits have you seen from using The Glencairn glasses at your distillery and beyond?

Premium whisky deserves premium glassware and we highly value partnering with another Scottish, family-run business. Using Glencairn glassware allows our team and our customers to enjoy the ultimate tasting experience when sampling our whisky.

Technology and data analytics are transforming various industries, including distilling. How does Lochlea Distillery leverage technology and data to enhance the whisky-making process and ensure quality control?

We are a relatively manual distillery. Every morning the production team are opening valves and doing manual checks to fire up the distillery equipment. The only automated part within the still house are our temperature controls. We collect data on every stage of the production process, as this is critical to monitor quality and look for continual improvement. We are also implementing a brand new system across production, bottling and logistics, which will tie everything together.

How do you choose the casks for ageing your whisky, and what impact do different types of casks have on the final flavour profile?

We always purchase our casks directly from source, as we want to ensure that they maintain their freshness and integrity when we fill them. We’re looking for casks that will complement our new make spirit, which is full of juicy fruit and cereal notes. A lot of the casks we fill are first-fill Bourbon from Loretto, Kentucky and Oloroso Sherry casks from Jerez, Spain, however we also have over 25 experimental cask types currently maturing in our warehouses. As we’re still a young distillery, we’re eager to experiment with these different cask types to learn what works best with our spirit. There is always debate over what percentage of flavour in the final product comes from the spirit and what comes from the cask, however what is indisputable is that even great spirit going into poor wood will produce poor whisky. Therefore we take great care with cask selection.

Can you provide some insights into any exciting projects or upcoming whisky releases that Lochlea Distillery has planned for the near future?

On the 17th of August we’re excited to be launching our second crop of Harvest Edition, inspired by the annual harvest that takes place on Lochlea Farm. This release is matured in Port, STR and first-fill Bourbon barrels and is packed full of delicious flavours of fruit and spice. This is a limited-edition release, with just 11,000 bottles available globally. Harvest Edition (Second Crop) sits at 46% and as with all our whiskies, is non-chill filtered with no added colouring. After that we will release our 100% sherry matured Fallow Edition in late October, and we have something very special on its way in early 2024…

If you would like to find out more about Lochlea Distillery or would be interested in purchasing one of their bottles you can check your their website here

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