This Littlemill has a tough act to follow. My last whisky from this closed distillery was a tasty Signatory 13 year old but its still hard to shift the memory of that 26 year old Littlemill from the Whiskybase Archives series. Seriously, I’ve had a few Littlemill’s over the years including some whiskies that would be better utilised as a hand sanitizer. Yet that particular example was one of those whiskies you don’t forget in a hurry.
Littlemill is a touch behind the majority of closed distilleries we associate with whisky currently. The majority of these fallen comrades ended production between 1983-1985 when there was a worldwide crash in demand for whisky and mass overproduction. In retrospect, perhaps if Littlemill had gone like the others then it’d have been for the best. Instead it staggered on until 1994 before partial demolition and an arguably perfectly timed fire destroyed what remained. This cleansing by flame laid open the site to developers who moved in to construct residential accommodation. If Littlemill had held on for just a little while longer then it’s theoretically possible that its last owners – who are bottling increasingly expensive releases from the distillery now – would have seen sense and invested in the distillery and its future.
Such considerations are in the past and we have to accept the reality of things now. However, I’m often struck by the romantic nature of sitting down with a whisky from a bygone distillery. What other hobby, pursuit or realm offers you the chance to taste and experience something that has been lost to time? We can collect items and read history books, but there’s nothing better than actually nosing and tasting such a whisky to take you to the place itself. This is partially why I love experiencing whiskies from these lost distilleries. My exploration is ongoing but already I know that why these producers closed had very little to do with the quality of whisky they were producing. Instead it was a variety of reasons including purely financial, the lack of an identifiable brand and the value of the land that they resided upon. These and other reasons spelled doom far more than distilling an offensive whisky.
There is a positive aspect to be found even when we’re discussing the closure of a distillery. The recent loss of Littlemill means that we are now entering a bountiful period. There will be many more casks waiting to be bottled than distilleries that ended their lifespan in the 1980’s. Until the last couple of years it was fairly straightforward to purchase a new release from Littlemill. Yes, it’s a little more popular now thanks to the vogue of the secondary market and escalating prices. However, Littlemill is now being appreciated to a greater degree than ever before thanks to some sterling releases. Time may have snatched the distillery but its legacy is the casks coming of age.
This Littlemill forms part of the Hunter Laing Old & Rare range. Released in 2015, this was originally distilled in November 1988 before being bottled at 53.5%. Coming from refill hogshead HL14522, just 75 bottles were struck from the cask. My thanks again to Noortje for the sample and the Dutch master photographs that adorn this review.
Hunter Laing’s 1988 Littlemill 26 year old – review
Colour: a light caramel.
On the nose: a sticky toffee, honey and brown sugar with cinnamon bark. There’s some marzipan but a sense that this is more spicy than brimming with Lowland fruits. Towards the end cranberries arise. Returning, there’s a floral aspect, strawberries and some dried peaches.
In the mouth: more of the cinnamon bark, some orange peel and vanilla toffee influence. Again seems more cask than Littlemill. Plenty of cask char that actually becomes oddly smoky the more time I spend with a dram.
Perhaps this may have scored higher without the experience of those aforementioned Littlemill’s. Yet a fancy box and label doesn’t hide the reality of the contents when it comes to opening a bottle. Only 75 bottles from the cask which is very interesting, but more so the smoky aspect on the palate. You’d associate a touch of smoke with older distillates from bygone distilleries when they still operated floor maltings or directly fired stills. For Littlemill in the 1980s this isn’t a feature so it’s an interesting oddity but not the Lowland fruit bomb we were hoping for.