Loch whisky review: lock on to a new level of boilermaker

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On tasting: Loch Bourbon cask, Loch ‘Boilermaker’ Bourbon cask, Loch sherry Cask, Loch port Cask

 

When I first visited Loch Brewery & Distillery in 2015, Melinda Davies and Craig Johnson, the owners, brewers and distillers, told me they were excited and a little daunted about the work needed to get their ambitious concept off the ground. But, importantly, they also had a clear vision of that concept, their starting point – an exploration of the relationship between beer and whisky.

They settled on creating three English-style ales – a best bitter, a dark ale and an amber ale – and distilling them (minus hops and with some alterations) to create three distinct malt spirits. These three spirits have since been matured in casks ranging from ex-Bourbon, ex-tawny, ex-apera and a plethora of others to be unveiled in coming years.

With so many variables to contend with, it was always going to be a ‘let’s try it and see’ adventure. But everything about Loch’s beers, whiskies and gins comes from a place of faith in the journey and enjoyment of the process. And at Loch, it’s properly small-scale, it’s batch to batch, it’s what the weather’s up to during cuts, it’s intricate and involved and Melinda and Craig have pulled it off with aplomb.

Daring whisky making like this will often produce varied results, and it’s going to take time to see which malt profiles pair best with the right casks. The limited nature of the bottlings has also meant that Loch whiskies rarely surface outside South Gippsland and Melbourne, so sought-after are they by the surrounding region, which champions its local distillery.

But the whisky program is now starting to blossom, and it’s fascinating to sit down and drink these whiskies, especially next to the beers they hail from (which I highly recommend). The Aussie boilermaker has levelled up.

  • Loch single malt whisky bourbon cask best bitter BB003
    The Stats
    • ABV: 49.5%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled from a base of Loch's Best Bitter malt profile and matured in ex-Bourbon casks.
    • Location: Loch, Victoria
    • Score: 83
    Nose
    A bit prickly upfront, then you get cocoa, strawberries, banana bread and corn flakes. With time, cut grass, a touch of licorice, subtle smoke and burnt toffee.
    Palate
    Youthful and bright, but there's enough integration here. Initial wood shavings opens up to cereal, toffee and vanilla. With water, it gets creamier: dark chocolate and apricot.
    Finish
    Plenty of length, very textural, with the malt lingering.
    Comments
    The spirit's laid bare here – the ex-Bourbon maturation shows its full spectrum. Love to see this with a couple more years to allow some of the fruitier, floral characters to come to the surface.
  • Loch single malt whisky 'Boilermaker' Bourbon cask best bitter BR007
    The Stats
    • ABV: 49.0%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled from Loch's Best Bitter malt profile and initially matured in ex-Bourbon casks before being finished in a cask that previously held Loch's 2019 Boilermaker Stout.
    • Location: Loch, Victoria
    • Score: 86
    Nose
    Much more oak-forward, caramel and biscuits, opening into an orange citrusy tang. Then the spice train, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and mandarin peels.
    Palate
    Rich and round, Coco Pops, carob whirls, peaches, chocolate eclaires and slighty drying on the mid-palate – the cask finish adding some intrigue and darkness.
    Finish
    Rocky road! and just enough grip and tannin.
    Comments
    This is a complex achievement. Try this next to Loch Best Bitter and you get a rocky road, dry/floral interplay between the malt and hops. But I also put a malty red ale next to it and the results were spectacular. It's a tasty, versatile thing.
  • Loch single malt whisky sherry cask best bitter BB006
    The Stats
    • ABV: 47%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled from Loch's Best Bitter malt profile and matured in an ex-apera cask.
    • Location: Loch, Victoria
    • Score: 84
    Nose
    Sweet and nutty like amontillado, and then some tannin and burnt wood, followed by mocha, star anise, ginger – quite earthy.
    Palate
    Some prickle and heat upfront, but then settles into fruit cake, figs and Aero chocolate bars. Great texture. The malt pokes through and the whole develops a spicy clove and nutmeg character.
    Finish
    Not as much length on the back end, but there's good structure here.
    Comments
    More opulent and rich. I feel like sherry really works with this profile, interesting balance between dry and sweet.
  • Loch single malt whisky best bitter port cask BB002
    The Stats
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled from Loch's 'Best Bitter' malt profile and matured in an ex-tawny cask.
    • Location: Loch Victoria
    • Score: 75
    Nose
    Starts with toffee, and then blueberry jam on burnt toast. Again the ginger, raspberry cordial, and a hint of a vegetal, slight cardboard note.
    Palate
    There's a fruity almost juicy sweetness here, but it's quickly met with a tart and spicy overlay that progresses into something that's just a bit hot and tangled.
    Finish
    Quite dry, a little too much tannin – a bit of a battle going on.
    Comments
    I feel there's a collision between spirit and cask here. The tawny/port cask seems to have highlighted a bitterness in the malt profile that doesn't quite work.
Luke McCarthy
Luke McCarthy is the editor and publisher of Oz Whisky Review. A freelance writer and author, Luke's the chief judge of the Perth Royal Distilled Spirits Awards, a judge at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, and his book, The Australian Spirits Guide, the first to tackle the history and resurgence of the Australian spirits industry, was published in 2016 by Hardie Grant Books.