*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Read enough about enough distilleries and you’ll notice several claiming to be some version of the “oldest” distillery out there. Some are “the oldest Irish”, some “the oldest Scottish”, some “the oldest continuous something”, some just plain “the oldest”. Marketers tweak a few facts here and there to position distilleries as oldest this or that, but while it may be occasionally accurate, most of it is ultimately kind of a load of crap…evocative, nostalgic crap, yet crap nonetheless. Lots of distilleries claim to have opened way back in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, but many of those have not operated continuously since then, some have had sizeable periods of silence. Nor have most had the same owner the whole time, indeed, most have had several, so for me, these claims lose a bit of steam once distilleries’ histories are more closely examined. Just because someone distilled something 200 years ago in the same place that someone else is distilling something today does not have much bearing on how good or bad a whisky is. Simple occupation of a piece of land for a period of time isn’t all that impressive. I’m more impressed by the few distilleries that have operated continuously for a long period of time, and doubly so by those few that have done so with basically one owning family; Glenfarclas and Springbank for example. That kind of history and longevity influences a whisky in a more impressive way.
Littlemill can make a fairly strong claim to being one of the “oldest” distilleries in Scotland, being established on the site of an old brewery around 1772. It has seen many, many different owners over the course of its life, perhaps the most interesting being Jane MacGregor in 1823, who, along with being the first post-Excise Act licensee was also one of the first women to own and operate a distillery. Littlemill made whisky in the Lowland “triple distilled” style until it closed for a couple of years in the late 1920’s. An American, Duncan Thomas, bought the distillery in 1931 and owned it until Barton Brands, who had come on as co-owners in 1959, bought him out in 1971. Barton closed Littlemill in 1984, resumed production in 1988, and then, apparently being really wishy-washy, stopped again 1992. A few attempts to revive it were made, but the distillery fell into disrepair and eventually was pretty much wiped out by a fire in 2004. This bottling from Hart Brothers is nice opportunity try a whisky from a defunct distillery.
The Nose: Fairly spirity with some ever so slightly sour beery notes, crisp grain and dried hay. Lemon curd, poached pears and raisins come through as the fruit notes. Faint oak hovers behind that tinged with a slight Sauvignon Blanc-like green flintiness. The grain takes on a subtle chocolate quality as this opens up a bit.
The Palate: Airy mouthfeel, quickly very zippy and tingly with cider-y apple, dark chocolate, and burnt toffee notes. There’s a continued slight sourness with earthy spice, vanilla bean and raw ginger. A fair amount of wood influence grows towards the end, but it’s very high-tone and a bit coarse.
The Finish: Kind of numbing and still spirity with a slight feint-y sourness and bright tannic dryness.
Thoughts: It’s always interesting to taste a whisky from a distillery that is no more. This definitely had that milder Lowland feel but the some of the subtle interesting flavors here are bowled over by the spirity quality and that faint but persistent sourness. I didn’t mind that sour, beery quality but in tandem with that spirity-ness, it took away from the rest of the malt. If not for the presence of the wood that grows towards the end, you could be fooled into thinking this was a younger whisky.
Hart Brothers 1992 Littlemill 16 Year Old, Lowland