Wednesday 14 October 2015

Whisky Discovery #1470

Littlemill Private Cellar Edition 2015 25 Year Old 50.4% abv
Lowland Single Malt
Price tba

The Littlemill distillery was founded at Bowling to the west of Glasgow on the banks of the river Clyde in the 1770’s and laid claim to being Scotland’s oldest distillery. That was up until 1992 when it stopped production. Triple distillation was practised at Littlemill until around 1930, when new equipment was installed. The stills had rectifying columns and were also isolated with aluminium. Their goal being to produce whisky that would mature faster (Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016). The distillery was dismantled in 1996 and part of the buildings demolished, the remaining buildings were destroyed by a fire in 2004.

Michael Jackson described the house style as 'Marshmallow-soft'. A restorative, or perhaps with dessert

All that's left is the ghost of Littlemill and the last remaining drops of this Lowland whisky, once gone, an important piece of Scotch whisky's heritage will be lost for ever

I've only tried three releases from the Littlemill distillery previously;
and so the opportunity to taste this new and rare limited release from The Loch Lomond Group was a very special treat indeed.

The Loch Lomond Group's Master Blenders John Petersen and Michael Henry have selected ten of the remaining casks from 1989 and 1990, which they believe to best represent the style of Littlemill to create this 2015 release. The spirit was originally laid down in American and European oak casks on 17th December 1989 and April 1990. For this special release it has been married together and has been finished in first fill Oloroso Sherry casks from European oak. Just 1500 numbered bottles will be available, each packaged in a premium bottle with ornate stopper and collar house within a bespoke wooden box. Each box contains a miniature of the the whisky too.

So What Did I Think?
I know I've often mentioned this before, but a whisky with an age statement takes me back to that point in time. From what I remember 1989/90 was a bit of a wild time for me so we won't dwell on that here, but I can tell you a few stories of the shenanigans that I was up to if you pour me a drink or two!

We're told that this has been made with locally grown peat kilned barley and blended with spring water from Auchentorlie Burn. When I first poured my sample into the glass, bread dough notes came through initially but these were quickly masked by the sherry notes - a first fill Oloroso cask will do this! The light delicate Lowland style I was expecting has been covered up by the dark fruity Sherry with notes of blackberry and cherry. A drop of water brings the malty notes which is followed by dark chocolate, with that slight bitterness from a high cocoa content.

Tasting and the 50.4% abv comes across as quite punchy  and I felt benefited with a drop or two of water just to open it up. The water brings a silky chocolate note and texture, balanced with a woody maltiness. Gentle spices of cloves and just a hint of ginger are here too. Both the chocolate and spices linger for the long finish, which concludes with the slightest hint of smoke.

Many thanks to Steve Rush of The Whisky Wire and to Loch Lomond Distilleries for sending me this review sample

Whilst this is a pleasant enough dram, I was a little confused as to why this little piece of history needed to be finished in a Sherry cask. The renowned 'Lowland Style' has been completely masked by the Sherry in my opinion, and I would have preferred to have tasted this in its unfinished state. The cynic in me thinks that perhaps these 10 casks were not quite up to scratch for single cask releases. With such a high perceived 'book value' these rare casks (there can be no question about their rarity as no whisky has been laid down since 1992) needed some 'work' in order to make the book value into commercial value.

I once spoke to a spirits buyer and master of cask selection who told the owners of a large stock of old maturing whisky that the majority of their perceived book value had to be written off, as quality was not good enough for single cask releases and was therefore sold off for blending stock. I'm sure this story brought on this recent bout of cynicism. Writing off 10 casks of a closed distillery would be hard to swallow (no pun intended) and I too would try anything permissible to rescue and retrieve it’s value. 

Finishing in a first fill Oloroso cask will impart a significant flavour profile. My cynical mind says that this has lifted what was perhaps a mediocre whisky into something the master blenders would be happy to put their name, and reputations on. But perhaps I'm completely wrong and it has simply been done to update the whisky to align with today’s taste.

That said, I did enjoy the chocolatey notes the Sherry cask has imparted, and this release should interest a Littlemill collector as I'm sure Sherry cask finished releases have been few and far between.

Slàinte! Dave

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