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The Lost Distillery Company are a rather unique bottler of scotch whisky with each title in their range being inspired by one of Scotland’s many closed distilleries. Using a team of archivist’s they scour historical records to gather as much information about each distillery as possible and then use this data to estimate the likely character of the whisky. Once complete, the blenders take over, sourcing malt from all over the country with which to create a modern representation of the spirit.
When first presented with the range, people are often quick to question its accuracy, which of course can never truly be judged. Not unless a veritable goldmine of ancient whisky is discovered in some long forgotten warehouse somewhere. Having spent some time getting to know the range over the last few months, it would certainly appear that some were based on more data than others and the pair I’m reviewing today are an excellent example of that. The official website outlines the story of Jericho, with a generous amount of information regarding the ingredients and equipment used, whilst in stark contrast stands Lossit, a farm distillery that once operated on Islay and left little trace of its existence behind.
Whilst I understand the tendency to question the idea behind the drams I have found them to be of impressive quality. Besides, anyone can create a range of blended malt whiskies but in a sea of made-up marketing concepts, this range shines a light on forgotten chapters in the story of scotch whisky and as a lover of history, that is something I rather appreciate.
*Full disclosure: I was sent samples of these whiskies so that I might share my thoughts. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Jericho Classic Selection
A distillery was founded at Nether Jericho farm somewhere between 1822 and 1824. Founder William Smith ran the business successfully for some 40 years, selling his spirit all over Aberdeenshire. Upon his death in 1864, the farm and distillery passed to stepson and heir, John Maitland who remained at the helm for the next two decades. When he too passed away, both tenancies were acquired by William Callander and his brother in law John Graham.
The two men oversaw expansion, increasing capacity from 25,000 gallons a year to 50,000 and renaming the distillery Benachie, after the 1732 foot hill that rose above the farm. During this time the distillery was at its peak, with carts pulled by Clydesdale horses lugging casks to the railway station at Insch on a daily basis. Farmers delivering barley were often said to leave in an inebriated state, having thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of the owners.
Like so many distilleries however, Benachie began to feel the pinch at the onset of the 20th century and a 1909 increase in excise duty compounded the problem. By 1813 the stills had fallen silent and though its whisky was still being sold in pubs during the First World War, the distillery would never return to life. A plan to relaunch in 1920 came to nothing and the company was eventually wound up in 1960. Today the farm remains but much of the distillery has either fallen to ruin or been demolished.
Smell: Rich sherry and a wee bit of smoke. Lovely nose in fact. Salted caramel. Dark honey. Raisins & currants. Maple syrup. Cherry. Light wafts of smoke. With water some apple and pear comes through with a touch of vanilla.
Taste: Good texture. Cinnamon. Pepper. Highland Toffee. Burnt caramel. Charred oak. Sea salt and subtle peat. Over time some berry notes emerge – raspberry and blueberry.
Value for Money: The Lost Distillery Co “Classic Selection” bottles retail around the £40 mark so whilst not quite in the bargain basement category, they’re pretty affordable.
This is interesting, though sadly the palate doesn’t quite live up to the great promise of the nose with the sherry influence somehow lacking a little in depth. I wonder if perhaps the ‘Archivist’s Selection’ bottling, at the higher strength of 46% may rectify that a little. It is nevertheless a pleasant sipper however, and it isn’t often you come across that mix of sherry and smoke at such an affordable price.
Lossit Classic Selection
Lossit was founded in 1817 by farmer Malcolm McNeill. An illicit farm distillery, it relied on its own barley and on peat cut from the local bog, an arrangement which changed little when it was licensed a few years later. Farm and distillery ran as one, with farmhands doubling as distillery workers and a successful harvest providing excess barley to be converted into whisky.
Upon McNeill’s death, the distillery fell silent, his son more interested in the farming side of the business but in 1849, new owners arrived in the form of Stewart brothers George and John Chiene. They removed the farm and fired up the stills once more, advertising their spirit in newspapers across Scotland: ‘so long and favourably established, that it requires no description’.
Unfortunately, what made Lossit the ideal location for an illicit distillery was also a problem to overcome once it was a legitimate business and the Stewart Brothers were eventually tempted away to pursue their distilling careers elsewhere. Blender Bulloch, Lade & Co took over yet while the spirit was used in the BLC blends for a number of years, the stills were never again put to use and by 1870 the company had vacated the premises. The buildings were gutted and the equipment buried in the grounds. There, somewhere near the village of Ballygrant, the Lossit pot stills remain, never to see the light of day again.
Founded in 2005, Kilchoman now calls itself ‘Islay’s farm distillery’ but it has some way to go yet, before it matches Lossit’s 50 years of operation!
Smell: A classic islay nose – lots of medicinal peat smoke. That little hint of iodine. Liquorice. Bonfire smoke. Charcoal. Vanilla. Apple. Pear. Barley malt.
Taste: Peat smoke with juicy oak. Vanilla. Liquorice. Plain scones. Pepper. Sea salt and brine. Tobacco. On the lighter side where mouthfeel is concerned.
Value for Money: I’ve spent much of 2020 working my way through this ‘Classic Selection’ and across the board I’ve found them to have a pretty good quality to price ratio.
A typical Islay profile: plenty fire and brimstone but the balance never slips too far to the peaty side. In other words, the smoke is just about kept in check so that both the barley and cask character are allowed to come through in their own time. Perhaps there is nothing particularly unique about it, but it offers that ‘something-a-bit-different’ option for lovers of Islay peat.
**If any of the Lost Distillery Company drams have caught your eye, you can buy them from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission should you make a purchase after following a link from my page. Several other excellent retailers are also available.