Isle of Arran Distillers’ new Lagg distillery has officially started production, having filled its first cask of maturing spirit earlier this month.
Lagg distillery in final stages of construction
Lagging behind: Although distilling has already begun, construction at Lagg is still in its final stages
The distillery, located on Arran’s southern tip near the village of Lagg, recorded its first spirit cut on 19 March and officially filled its first cask on 10 April.
Cask #1 is a Sherry butt filled with Lagg’s heavily peated spirit measured at 50ppm, at a strength of 63.5% abv.
The Sherried single malt will eventually be bottled and presented to members of the Lagg Cask Society – a club reserved for those who have purchased a cask of Lagg’s maturing whisky for £6,000.
Lagg master distiller James MacTaggart said: ‘It’s incredibly exciting to be taking the very first steps in producing what will eventually be a magnificent Lagg whisky, something truly unique to anything we’ve produced previously.’
The single malt is expected to mature into a ‘rich, earthy and smoky’ whisky, which will be ‘very different in character to what the distillers currently produce at the original distillery in Lochranza’, which is based on the island’s northernmost point.
Originally scheduled to open to the public in 2018, construction work is still ongoing at Lagg, which is now expected to open to visitors early summertime.
By next year, footfall across both the Lagg and Lochranza sites is expected to exceed 200,000 visitors
While Arran’s classic whisky style is unpeated, the distillery at Lochranza distils a small amount of peated malt every year for its Machrie Moor expression. In opening Lagg distillery on the south side of the island, Isle of Arran Distillers will shift all production of peated whisky to its new site, a distillery that will be dedicated to the exploration of peat.
Lagg single malt itself will be a heavily peated style, made using barley with a phenol content of 50ppm. While all barley will be malted on the mainland, the peat used to dry the barley will be sourced from all across Scotland, perhaps even the world, as Lagg explores the impact of peat terroir on whisky flavour.
Experimentation won’t stop there – Lagg will work with various yeast strains and barley varieties as it ‘plays around’ with different aspects of the production process. Despite its focus on innovation, Lagg will be a sizeable operation, capable of producing 500,000 litres of spirit each year.
With 140 apple trees already planted on the surrounding estate, Lagg will also produce its own cider and apple brandy, rather than follow the rest of the ‘craft’ Scottish distilling movement and produce gin.
Before Arran distillery commenced production in 1995, there hadn’t been a legal distillery on the Hebridean island since 1837. While Isle of Arran Distillers’ first distillery came to life toward the end of a downturn for the Scotch industry, its second is being realised in a boom period.
In 2017, some 22 years after Arran distillery opened at Lochranza on the north side of the island, groundwork began at Lagg in the south.
Phase one saw the immediate build of three new warehouses to provide maturation facilities for both distilleries, while construction of the new site began in November 2017.
Lagg distillery eventually took its first spirit cut on 19 March 2019 at 14.35pm, and filled its first cask on 10 April, a Sherry butt which will be reserved exclusively for members of the Lagg Cask Society.
Construction is still ongoing at the distillery, and the visitor centre is not expected to open until summer 2019.
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Shell and tube
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Concerto barley, 50ppm
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Racked and palletised
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Kerry M strain
Isle of Arran Distillers logo
Isle of Arran Distillers
LAGG DISTILLERY UNVEILS TRIO OF EXCLUSIVES
Newly-opened Isle of Arran distillery Lagg has released a trio of heavily-peated distillery-exclusive bottlings, all of which have been produced at its sister site in Lochranza.
Machrie Moor Fingal's Cut Sherry and Quarter Cask Finish, and Arran Malt's Rum Cask Finish
Triple threat: The trio of malts have been produced in the Isle of Arran distillery
The bottlings consist of two whiskies from Isle of Arran Distillers’ Machrie Moor range – one finished in quarter casks and one aged in Sherry casks – and a rum cask-finished whisky bottled under its Arran Malt label.
Graham Omand, distillery manager at Lagg, said: ‘These heavy, peaty malts happened to be coming through from the distillery in Lochranza at the right time for the Lagg opening.
‘Lagg will be producing a peaty spirit, so it was really fortuitous that those were ready to go.’
Priced at £59.99, Machrie Moor Fingal’s Cut Sherry Cask Finish has been aged in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace distillery for around eight years, before being transferred to ex-Sherry casks for ‘an additional six months-to-one year’s maturation’.
Its sister bottling, Fingal’s Cut Quarter Cask Finish, was also matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks for around eight years before undergoing secondary maturation in smaller quarter casks, priced at £44.99.
Named after the Isle of Arran’s Machrie Moor, home to the historic site known as Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, the Quarter Cask Finish has been bottled at 46% abv, while the Sherry Cask Finish has been bottled at a cask strength of 54.4% abv.
The Arran Malt Rum Cask Finish expression also underwent eight years of maturation in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks before being finished in ex-rum casks.
Priced at £64.99, the Rum Cask Finish has been bottled at 57.2% abv.
Arran malt: The bottlings are available at Lagg, which has opened its doors to the public
Lagg distillery opened to the public on 12 June, while the distillery’s first casks of maturing spirit were filled in April 2019.
Although its spirit won’t be fully mature until 2022, the distillery is offering 20cl bottles of its new make as a ‘spirit drink’ at the distillery visitor centre, in addition to selling casks of its maturing whisky.
In addition to purchasing the exclusive bottlings, visitors can also tour the new facility, dine in the distillery’s restaurant and order cocktails from the bar, which overlooks Campbeltown and the island of Ailsa Craig from Arran’s south coast.
GRAHAM OMAND, LAGG
After a seven-year stint at Isle of Arran Distillers’ Lochranza site, Graham Omand has taken the reins as distillery manager at Lagg, the company’s second distillery in the south of the island. He speaks to Matt Evans about his family’s whisky legacy and how Arran can dodge the infrastructure issues plaguing Islay.
‘One of the biggest eye-opening moments of my whisky career was about seven years ago at the Arran Malt and Music Festival. James [MacTaggart, Omand’s uncle and Arran master distiller] approached me in his broad Islay accent and said: “’Ey, would you mind doing a masterclass for me? You have to stand in front of 20 people, taste some whisky and talk about it.”
‘I almost dropped dead with fear. I was only 23, but James just said: “It’ll be fine; they’ll hang on your every word.” It was nerve-racking, but a fantastic experience. That was the moment I realised whisky was where I belong.
‘I’m originally from Islay, so I had an immediate affinity to the whisky industry long before I was working in distilleries. I got a degree in biotech to get into the analytical side of the industry. Around this time, James said to me: “We’re hiring to improve our production. You have the qualifications, so if you’re willing to work long shifts, you can come to Arran.” I immediately said yes.
‘My god, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t ever want to give it up. I absolutely adored it and my passion and understanding of whisky really flowered at the Lochranza site. It must have shown, because a year ago I was given the opportunity to take the reins at Lagg.
‘As Lagg’s distillery manager, I have to understand the bigger picture now. When I was working at the distillery in Lochranza, I was often the only one on my shift and my goals were simple. Now I’m in charge of filling, warehousing, logistics and lots of other elements of the business. I’ve had to learn to delegate. Letting go of that control was the hardest part.
‘Building a distillery anywhere is a headache, but throw in ferries and temperamental weather and that makes it 10 times worse. Sometimes, the construction crew would expect parts and the ferries were delayed for a day, but those sub-contractors couldn’t come back for two weeks. It has this knock-on effect.
‘These problems are part of operating a distillery on a small island. Infrastructure issues are something we’re very concerned about here: Islay’s tourism has exploded in the last 10 years and sometimes their roads simply can’t take it.
‘On Arran, for now, the roads are in pretty good condition, but we are thinking about the increase in numbers. As more people make their way down south, the council understands the roads will need a bit more looking after, particularly with the hauler vehicles that will come to assist us with production.
‘It’s very intimidating being James MacTaggart’s nephew – he’s a titan in the industry. Almost everyone who’s tasted a whisky knows who James MacTaggart is, which I only realised when I saw people hanging on his every word and travelling across the world to have a chat with him.
‘It’s scary knowing that, one day, I’ll have to step up to be the Islay man on Arran to answer all the whisky questions, but I know James is always a phone call away if I need a wee cheating help. He’s imparted a lot of wisdom to me over the last eight years, which has been a great help in setting up the new distillery.
‘Arran’s old ways of distilling have had an important influence on our recipe. The reason we picked a heavily-peated style is because, in the past, the island’s illicit distillation was always done with peat kilns. It’s the classic Arran way. It’s a very different spirit to Lochranza, because we already have a peated version of that spirit in the Machrie Moor expressions.
‘We’re doing a very grassy, malty character and, other than the single Sherry butt, which is Cask No 1, we’re casking entirely in first-fill ex-Bourbon. We’re hoping the ex-Bourbon will give the whisky a slightly rounder, sweeter edge. We’re really excited to try it.
‘I’m not a big fan of steel washbacks at all. To get a good fermentation, you need to go down the Oregon pine or Douglas fir route. It may be more hassle, it may cost more, but I feel as though a lot of distilleries, with stainless steel everywhere, are depressing sights. Steel washbacks also need a lot of temperature regulation, so we’ve tried to go wooden as much as we could.
‘What makes whisky making on Arran special? I think it’s the people. I know that sounds quite clichéd, but the people that work for the distillery are fantastic. Everyone’s happy to do their job and everyone wants to give back to the island. The men and women working for their local distilleries feel like they’re doing something for the community, creating something for future generations.’