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Recreating lost whiskies…
The Lost Distillery Company is a unique idea within the Scotch whisky industry. Put simply, they create blended malt whiskies inspired by the past, digging into the stories of Scotland’s long dead distilleries.
Their team of archivist’s compile information from old tax records, documents and photographs and use them, along with an understanding of historical trends in the industry to build up a profile of each distillery and the spirit it would likely have produced. When this process has been completed, a team of “whisky makers” take over, sourcing liquid from all over Scotland that is used to create a blend that pays homage to these lost distilleries.
*Full disclosure: I was sent samples of Lost Distillery Company products so that I might share my thoughts with you, my readers. As always, I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Towiemore Classic Selection
Construction on the Towiemore distillery began in November 1897 on a site adjacent to the Keith – Dufftown railway. Built to the design of architect John Alcock, the project was instigated by Peter Dawson, a distiller, blender and international businessman. Like many of his contemporaries, however, Dawson had picked the worst possible time to expand.
The first half of the 20th century would prove incredibly difficult for the Scotch industry as a whole with the bust that became known as “The Pattison Crash” precluding a rising temperance movement in Scotland, prohibition in the US and the Great Depression, all sandwiched between two world wars and the shortages and restrictions they brought.
Towiemore also had frequent difficulties with its spirit, said to roll off the stills cloudy on occasion, possibly due to lime in the water source. By 1922, cautious blenders were refusing to take it and multiple attempts to resolve the issue came to nothing, forcing the distillery into closure in 1930. The malt floor and warehouse remained in use until the early 1990s when it was converted into an agricultural engineering facility.
The Lost Distillery Company Towiemore Classic Selection comes bottled at 43% and retails for around £40.
Smell: Raisins and cinnamon. Ginger biscuits. Salted caramel. Honey. Red berries. Cherry. Peppery oak.
Taste: Salted caramel. Raisins. Currants. Apple and cinnamon. Almond. Vanilla. Wood tannin.
Thoughts: I’ve been working my way through the Lost Distillery range over the last few months and this Towiemore has been one of the standouts thus far. The price seems reasonable given the quality of the liquid in the bottle.
Not the most complex but it’s fully flavoured and wonderfully rich with good weight on the palate and some cockle-warming spice. It is a dram to soothe the soul without overly taxing the intellect, and there’s always room for that in these troubled times.
Gerston Classic Selection
Gerston is a tale of two distilleries. The first was small in scale, constructed within an old farm building whilst the second was a development of far greater ambition, dominating the landscape for miles around.
The original business was established near Gerston Farm on the banks of the River Thurso in 1796. Founded by Francis Swanson, the distillery later passed to his sons who would take the spirit to new markets, not least London, where it became very much in demand, counting Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister and creator of the Metropolitan Police force as a loyal fan.
Their success was not to last, however. Like Towiemore, Gerston began to have difficulties with its water. One account claims the local stream changed course when a neighbouring farmer dredged his land, another states that an expansion of the distillery went wrong and spoiled the water source. Whatever the case, James Swanson, who ran the distillery at the time must have sensed the end was near and sold Gerston in 1872, only for the new owners to be forced into closure three years later. By 1882, the site had been completely demolished, leaving nothing behind but a pile of stones and some devastated patrons in London.
Seeking to fill the hole Gerston’s closure created, a London based company decided to set up a new distillery near the original site. Gerston II was built between Gerston Farm and Halkirk Bridge in 1887, drawing water from the same source as its predecessor.
Once completed the site was enormous, one of the largest and most technically advanced in Scotland at that time. In spite of such grandeur, however, the whisky failed to find a loyal audience in the same way its forerunner had. The original Gerston malt was produced using local barley, often grown by Swanson himself and dried over peat cut from nearby Loch Calder, giving it a smoky flavour. The owners of the second distillery chose instead to import barley from the lowlands, or even Europe, and decided against the use of peat in the malting process. Where the original used wild yeast, the new distillery bought in commercial yeast from Cameronbridge in Fife. The result of all this change was a spirit unrecognisable from its beloved predecessor and it failed to gain any kind of foothold in an increasingly crowded market.
Gerston II was sold in 1897 to Northern Distilleries Ltd and was renamed Ben Morven after a local hill, but the new owners struggled to divert its fortunes. The distillery closed in the early years of the 20th century and by the outbreak of War in 1918 most of the site had been demolished.
The Gerston Classic Selection is bottled at 43% and retails around £40.
Smell: Apple & pear. Grapes. Pineapple. Malt. Shortbread. Straw. Baking spices.
Taste: Pineapple and mango. Lemon and grapes. Barley. Danish pastries and cinnamon. Salted caramel.
Thoughts: £40 will buy you a tasty dram packed full of personality. Would be great to see it bottled at 46% at this price but that is wishful thinking perhaps. In any case, it carries good weight and plenty of flavour at 43%, so no grumbles from me.
Nothing particularly unique comes to the fore whilst nosing the glass, which creates an expectation of a rather pedestrian dram. It comes as something of a surprise then, when the creamy liquid washes over the palate, carrying a depth of flavour you’d normally expect from a whisky of higher abv.
It’s easy to get hung up on the backstory of these bottles and I must admit that I struggle to tie the experience of this dram to the details I’ve read about the Gerston distillery and its locally grown barley, wild yeast and peat-fired kiln. To their credit, the Lost Distillery Company provide good information on their website about each of the distilleries they have “claimed” but it certainly seems that some are better understood than others. In the end I’m not sure it really matters because what this range does rather effectively is provide the drinker with an enjoyable sip whilst shining a light on some forgotten pages of the Scotch whisky story, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
*You can buy the whiskies reviewed in this article from Master of Malt.
For Towiemore click here
For Gerston click here
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