Lochside is one of those closed distilleries that is never coming back. Located in the eastern Highlands—well east of the Speyside and separated by it from most of the distilleries we usually associate with the Highlands—it was closed in 1992 and then demolished in 2004-2005. It was somewhat unusual in that it was set up to produce both grain and malt whisky—though I’m not sure if grain whisky was indeed produced there for its entire history. As with a number of closed distilleries, Lochside’s reputation expanded well after its closure. It is also one of the distilleries that has a magical year of production associated with its name. People go on about Caperdonich distilled in 1972 and BenRiach and Tomatin distilled in 1976, and in the case of Lochside, it’s the 1981 vintage that is said to be the magical one. I haven’t looked into it closely but I suspect the same selection bias is at play as I’ve described for Caperdonich and Tomatin. Feel free to heap coals on my head. It won’t be the first time.
Anyway, I haven’t had very many Lochsides and so I’ll be happy if this is an example of an excellent 1981. This was bottled by under the mysterious label “Captain Burn’s”. As far as I can make out this is a series put out by a relatively obscure French bottler. Their selections may or may not originate in the warehouses of Gordon & Macphail. If you know more about them, please write in below.
Lochside 29, 1981 (50%; Captain Burn’s; from a bottle split)
Nose: Malty and fruity with some cocoa powder. The fruit is musky (pineapple with some lime peel) and there’s some pepper mixed in as well. After a few minutes the fruit is more tropical with some papaya and some guava mixed in. Not much change with more time. With water it all gets washed out a bit and the fruit is a little sweeter.
Palate: Leads with the fruit and pepper. The fruit is sweeter here and does not present the richness promised by the nose. The mouthfeel is a bit thin. With more time the soapy note that popped out on the finish starts showing up earlier. With water the soapy thing recedes a fair bit but it still doesn’t have very much depth.
Finish: Long. The fruit expands at first but then there’s an astringent, almost soapy note that develops. Peppery again at the very end. Less soapy here too with water—some zesty bitterness instead.
Comments: Blind, I would probably have guessed this was a Ben Nevis, but I would not have guessed it was as old as it is. Well, I rather like Ben Nevis on the whole, but that soapy note that sometimes mars Ben Nevis is present here too. It’s too bad as this could really have been a great, fruity whisky. Well, this was certainly no magical 1981 Lochside.
Rating: 83 points.