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The original ‘Loch Lomond’ distillery was founded in Tarbet in 1814, at the northern edge of the Loch from which it took its name. Unfortunately, the business lasted all of three years before production ceased and little of its story has survived to the present day. In order to tell the story of the current distillery however, we must first travel even further back in time.
The foundation of Littlemill distillery has long been shrouded in mystery, with little to confirm the date of its creation. A ‘1773’ date stone pointed to the possibility of it being one of the earliest known distilleries in Scotland, but until recently there was little to prove that spirit was being produced at that time. That is until a recently discovered ‘Justice of the Peace’ document dated 2 November 1773 grants one ‘Robert Muir of Littlemill‘ permission to ‘retail ale, beer and other excisable Liquors‘. This mention of ‘excisable Liquors’ is the strongest evidence yet that Littlemill could indeed be the very first licensed distillery in all of Scotland.
Littlemill was a traditional lowland distillery, producing triple-distilled spirit for much of its existence. This all changed however when the site was purchased in 1931 by Duncan Thomas, who installed new stills, each fitted with rectifying heads which could be manipulated to produce multiple spirit characters.
In 1959, Barton Brands of Chicago invested heavily in the distillery and were soon looking to expand their scotch empire further. Working closely with co-owner Thomas, Barton Brands established a new Loch Lomond distillery in an industrial estate on the edge of Alexandria in 1965, fitting it with the same unusual Pot Stills they had grown accustomed to at Littlemill.
A victim of the early 80’s industry downturn, Littlemill closed in 1984 and was sold just two years later, along with Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia distillery in Campbeltown to the Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Company. The new owner it seemed had little interest in resuming production however, and plans to create a distilling museum at Littlemill were soon forgotten. The site was dismantled in 1996 and the warehouses demolished. What little was left was destroyed by fire in 2004. Today, a housing development stands where once the ‘earliest distillery in Scotland’ produced its spirit.
Fortunately, the years have been kinder to Loch Lomond. Capacity was expanded in 1992 with a second pair of stills, identical to the first, before a Coffey still was installed in 1994, making it the only site at the time to produce both malt and grain whisky at the same location. A third pair of stills followed in 1998, two more in 2007 and a modified Coffey still for producing an unusual malt whisky was installed in 2008. Today the distillery is utterly unique in its ability to create up to 11 different new make spirits and this versatility has led to an ever expanding range of whiskies on offer which currently includes a Loch Lomond single grain, lightly peated Loch Lomond single malt, unpeated Inchmurrin single malt and heavily peated Inchmoan single malt. To quote Loch Lomond brand ambassador Ibon Mendigueren ‘it’s like Willy Wonka and the Whisky Factory’.
In many cases, the success of a distillery can balance on the quality of their standard bottlings and the Loch Lomond 12 year old is as good a place as any to begin getting to know this most complex of distilleries. Bottled at 46%, it retails in the UK at around £35 – £40.
Smell: Caramel, Honey, Charcoal, Charred Oak, Malty Biscuit, Apple, Lemon, Cream, Vanilla, Pepper and light Smoke.
Taste: Toffee, Vanilla, Salted Caramel, Bitter Oak, Apple, Pepper, Subtle Smoke, hint of Maltiness on the finish.
Value for Money: A fine malt with a decent age statement, bottled at 46% for under £40 is great value by any standard.
Loch Lomond are finally starting to make a name for themselves and deservedly so. The distillery is easily one of the most exciting in the land these days and this flagship 12 year old is the perfect way to get to know it.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.
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