ABV: 46% Distillery: Littlemill Bottler: Gordon and MacPhail Region: Lowlands
There’s always an air of excitement surrounding closed distilleries. Some have passed into legend, some still have just about enough stocks for occasional (and expensive) glimpses back into distilling’s past. But, all too often nowadays I’m hearing closed being directly equated as a measure of quality by itself. Distilleries have come and gone. Some were deemed surplus to the requirements of their time, others unfortunately had periods when their output was considerably less than remarkable, and poor whisky doesn’t help meet sales targets. Tasting whisky from a closed distillery does offer a unique experience in the form of a liquid time capsule, a glance back into whisky’s past. But, whilst rarity may determine price, it is a poor gauge of quality by itself.
Experimental Lowlander Littlemill closed in 1987, but 20 years later it’s still possible to sample. Loch Lomond Group bought the remaining stocks of Littlemill in 2014, some 10 years after a somewhat mysterious fire burned what was left of the deconstructed site to the ground. Likewise, independent bottlers keep Littlemill fans happy with occasional releases, though, as you’d expect, as stocks dwindle, prices flourish. But, just because Littlemill doesn’t exist anymore, does that make bottles of it any good? Well some certainly are very tasty, others frankly legendary. We tasted a nice fruity example earlier in the year in the form of 1992 21 year old from Cadenhead’s. I’ve tried a few expressions from the distillery over the years and have generally found that I’ve enjoyed the ones distilled during the 1990’s – they’ve been exceptionally fruity, almost Irish in their structure and nuance. Conversely, those I’ve tried that were distilled in the 1980’s have varied from being slightly strange all the way to seeming near-flawed.
Today’s Littlemill is certainly in the 1980’s oddity category, and was sampled as part of Whisky Squad’s high-end tasting session in November 2017. Distilled in 1985 and bottled in 2013 by Gordon & MacPhail as part of their Rare Old series, this 28 year old was just one of 260 bottles. It’s bottled at 46% and is still available - but you’re going to have to pay for this a piece of whisky history - £375 from Whisky Exchange here in the UK.
Nose: Pronounced and expressive, but highly unusual. A mixture of stone and tropical fruits – particularly peach and pineapple and some defined florals. Violets, roses and camomile. Sweet cereal notes mingle well with the florals and make the violet take on a confectionary quality – rather similar to the (im)famous Swizzels sweets. Alongside this, some uncommon aromas - steeped black tea, strong enough to stand a spoon in – heavy brass – and sweaty shoes. Others at my tasting compared it to the aromas of a stale fart, but that’s being a bit too unkind I feel. Nevertheless, damp trainers at the least are certainly in play here.
Taste: Fruits and….puddles. Good mouthfeel offering an animated collection of fruits – stone again, but joined by plums, damsons and orange and lemon peels Aged notes come through with tanned leather an some flavours of tobacco smoke. There’s glue here – polystyrene cement and a very odd earthiness that I’m going to describe as being like a brackish pond.
Finish: Medium in length and expressing fruits, boiled vegetables and steeped tea.
This 1985 Littlemill offers some truly unique flavours, all of which are fascinating to smell and taste, but only some of which I want to smell and taste again. Pronounced fruitiness and discernible aged notes delivery a lovely experience – but sweat and groundwater have no place in any whisky and really detract away from the best aspects of this whisky. It’s a really tough one to score as the aspects which work well, work *really* well, but those that don’t are straying close to the line to being flaws for me.
This whisky has an average Whisky Base score of over 88 points from 15 ratings. That tells me one of two things – either it’s all a matter of opinion and mine is simply aberrant in this instance – or that the ‘closed distillery effect’ once again shows that it’s hard to break our programming that the things were always better in the past.
But don't take our word for it..
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