Ayrshire has a long history of distilling. The world’s most widely-distributed blended Scotch, Johnnie Walker, originated in Kilmarnock, and plenty of innovative gin distilleries have been popping up in the area in recent years.
But this January, we will be able to drink the first drops of a brand-new single malt whisky, from Lochlea Distillery in East Ayrshire. The independently-owned distillery has been based in Lochlea Farm, near Mauchline, since 2018 in preparation for their inaugural release. But with so many Scotch whiskies to choose from, what sets Lochlea apart?
“What’s key is that our whole production process is managed within two miles of the distillery,” explains John Campbell, production director at Lochlea Distillery. “That is unique within the Scotch whisky industry. We have our own water source, we grow our own barley which is harvested on-site, and the resulting draff is used to feed local cattle. It is all traceable, open and honest.”
These green credentials were part of what enticed John to Lochlea, departing his home on Islay where he was the highly-respected distillery manager of Laphroaig. “All of the values of Lochlea reflect my own personal values,” he says, “that is why it was such an easy fit. It also appealed to me to come to a part of the world that doesn’t have as many whisky distilleries as Islay or Speyside, we can create our own sense of place and of character. The whisky itself will be a lowland style, very approachable, with fruity and floral notes, which should have something everyone can enjoy.”
And although the whisky is new, Lochlea Farm has an impressive history of its own. It was once home to the Bard of Ayrshire himself, Robert Burns, who lived and worked at the farm from 1777 to 1784.
“Burns spent an important part of his life here,” explains Lochlea’s commercial manager David Ferguson, “and he was writing some of his most famous work while tending the fields that we now grow our barley on. He was passionate and progressive and that is something we have in common with him.”
The approach taken by Lochlea to ensure the sustainability of their business is certainly progressive – with the recent installation of a reed bed system that will filter waste from their production process. “All of our waste products have a second use somewhere,” says David, “and we are trying to ensure that our carbon footprint is kept as low as possible.”
Yet for Lochlea, these environmental actions are not a ‘tick box’ exercise to impress consumers, but a logical part of running a business on a working farm, with such close ties to the natural environment. David, John and the team at Lochlea are making long-term plans for the future of the distillery, and the Lochlea brand, although they remain tight-lipped about the details of any future releases.
“We have been in production for three years and the distillery was in the planning for several years before that,” David explains, “but it is only this year that we have started telling people about the brand and what we are doing. We want to have a high-quality single malt that speaks for itself and is on sale in all the best places.”
The Lochlea Single Malt First Release will be available later this month, with the distillery’s website hosting an interactive map where shoppers can find their closest stockist of the whisky. And by the looks of things, it certainly won’t be the last we hear of Lochlea.