Loch Lomond Original Single Malt – Warrumbungles National Park

Loch Lomond Original Single Malt – Warrumbungles National Park

The Whisky: Loch Lomond Original (40% abv)

Country Of Origin: Scotland (Highland)

The Location: Warrumbungles National Park, Australia

Volcanos aren’t something Australia is well known for and that’s probably not surprising since the active volcanic activity on our geologically stable continent has been pretty low for several thousand years. But Australia’s landscape is littered with the remains of extinct calderas, craters, cones and dykes. In several places these form impressively rugged, towering features and one of the best known of these is in the Warrumbungles National Park several hours northwest of our home in Sydney.

The Grand High Tops walk is the best way to get a view of many large bluffs, domes and spires in the area and to get up close to features such as the ‘Breadknife’ a crumbling volcanic dyke that runs several hundred meters long, stands around 80 meters high and is barely a few meters thick.

Belougery Spire

Although a fit walker could do the circuit in a day we chose to complete it as an overnight hike, allowing us the opportunity to explore side trails and to spend a night out in the wilderness.

We started our trek up from Pincham Camp Car Park, winding along the paved tourist path through dense, scrubby forest. Eventually the pavement gives way to a more natural dirt path and the trail hops a few small creeks before the gradient steepens and a long uphill climb commences. As you walk there are glimpses of the tors and bluffs all around, especially Beloughery Spire and Crater Bluff. Gaining elevation improves the views and the scenery starts becoming pretty epic. You fully realise the scale of the spires and bluffs as your circumnavigate them and the occasional rockclimber scaling the sheer cliffs highlights the immensity of some of the rockfaces.    

We took a few minutes to detour to Balor’s hut, favored as a base camp by rockclimbers and then made our way past the Breadknife and up to Finnola Pinnacle

The ‘Breadknife’

View from the ‘Grand High Tops’

Here we followed the trail along a saddle eventually reaching Dows Camp, a cluster of flat spaces alongside a small creek. It was shady and sheltered and would be our campsite for the night.

I’d brought along with me a miniature bottle of the Loch Lomond Original (LLO). A budget single malt in a plastic mini bottle that I’d been gifted a while ago. I’d worked my way through the fairly unimpressive 12 and 18 year old single malts that made up the trio of this tasting set and after my experience with those I hadn’t been bothered to go further down their range to a NAS single malt. But needing something I could stash in my pack for a chilly night out I grabbed the little bottle of LLO, figuring this would be the best time to get through it.

After pitching our tent we decided we had enough time to scramble up to the top of Bluff Mountain, the highest peak in the national park to get a view of the sunset. I grabbed the bottle of whisky and a glass almost as an afterthought.

Bluff Mountain

After a steep vertical ascent of around 300m in around 30 minutes we were panting but reached the top as the sun started to kiss the horizon. The view is expansive with 360 degree views of the major bluffs and spires. A pair of eagles roamed and soared in the dying light. As the sun set there was just enough time for a few photos. And a whisky.

To say I wasn’t expecting much of this whisky is an understatement. While the 12 and 18 had been ok their orchard fruits seemed subdued with heavy vegetal and damp cardboard notes making for some fairly drab and unimpressive drams. As some of the cheapest whiskies in for their respective age segments it wasn’t a big surprise.

So I raised my glass to my lips, bathed in the golden light of the sunset, not expecting much,  and…… wow! Bursting with juicy ripe fruits this exploded into my mouth in a way I was not expecting. I waited for the prickle of spicy heat that had to be inevitable with a young, budget NSA whisky and while the heat and spice came it was pretty mild and took a back seat to the dominant vibrant fruit – this whisky was turning out better than expected.

It was about then that I realised I should take this tasting seriously.

Nose

Orchard fruits, mild vegetal notes – cooked greens ( a little too much cabbage, though the fruitiness almost totally hides it). Damp oak leaves in autumn. Malty. Cream. There’s oak but it’s old furniture, slightly mouldery with paper in the drawers.

Palate

Quite syrupy mouthfeel (but not a syrupy sweetness). Juicy and abundant orchard fruits. Honey Vegetal (herbs). Custardy, almost brulee. Ever so slightly oily. Some spice, not very well integrated. Light touch of coastal smoke.

Finish

As the finish kicks in I get some sour cardboard (mostly hitting the top of the tongue) with vanilla and fruit trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to cover it up. Vegetal peat is present but subtle. The finish is mostly short although the sourness and some fruitiness carry through and the peat makes it medium dry.

What do I think?

Sensational. Plenty of flaws (youthful heat, bitter spice, a damp cardboard flavor) but the explosion of fruit and the tasty drying peat are the dominant characteristics and these make the experience delightful. For many the fruitiness of the whisky will be too much, it’s like skydiving into an orchard without a parachute, or being hit by a fruit truck, but that’s part of the appeal of this whisky for me. In terms of flavor this really delivers and there’s way more complexity than there ought to be in something this inexpensive. There are some obvious flaws that are mainly balanced or masked by other flavors but the finish is where this lets itself down and for some it’ll probably be what ruins it. For me it keeps it together enough to leave a smile on my face. After my surprisingly great experience with this miniature my next purchase was, predictably, a full sized bottle of LLO and it lasted a matter of weeks (a very short period of time in my cabinet). And I’m already considering another bottle. This was really easy to reach for when I just wanted something I could enjoy without having to over-analyse or delve into nuanced subtlety. I’ve since had a lot of fun mixing with it (this makes a killer Old Fashioned).

What does it remind me of?

Highland Park 10 – fruity and smoky while feeling young – although the LLO has a much better mouthfeel, juicier fruit and I enjoyed it more overall (editors note: much later I tried the LLO against the HP10 and HP12 – the LLO fits between these two, with the HP12 being more balanced and elegant, though for the price I’d go for the LLO over the other two as a fun, daily drinker that can happily mix into cocktails or be thrown onto ice by heathens. At time of writing the LLO is half the price of the HP12). This is also unsurprisingly similar to the Loch Lomond 12 and 18 although weirdly I think the pleasant features of the Original are more pronounced and the flaws (or less pleasant flavors to me) are less apparent – not what you expect when you go to younger, cheaper whiskies!

For what it delivers it’s supremely good value and for new whisky drinkers wanting to expand their selection to include something moderately peated, or for those who want a peated whisky for mixing there’s nothing better on the market for the price.

If Loch Lomond intended to create a super affordable single malt that’s easy to enjoy then I think they’ve succeeded here. I accept that it won’t be a style for everyone, or that the negatives will turn some whisky drinkers off but I think the majority of whisky drinkers will enjoy this and I think it would appeal to a very wide range of drinkers. This is no game changer but it showed me to things: 1) that budget single malts really can be super enjoyable and 2) that even if you don’t like a couple of whiskies in a range that doesn’t mean you won’t like others.

If Loch Lomond intended to create a super affordable single malt that’s easy to enjoy then I think they’ve succeeded here. I accept that it won’t be a style for everyone, or that the negatives will turn some whisky drinkers off but I think the majority of whisky drinkers will enjoy this and I think it would appeal to a very wide range of drinkers. This is no game changer but it showed me to things: 1) that budget single malts really can be super enjoyable and 2) that even if you don’t like a couple of whiskies in a range that doesn’t mean you won’t like others.

This was a surprising and really enjoyable experience to have my preconceptions overturned.

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