Homer Simpson once said the pig is a wonderful and magical animal. Any meat lovers out there surely cannot disagree with his statement. Afterall, without the majestic pig, we would not have beloved staples like bacon, lechon (roasted pig), barbeque, carnitas tacos, ham and certain sausages.
If the pig is the most generous and versatile of animals, then I say grain is its equivalent in the plant world. As we say in Asia, rice is life. Without grain, there would be no flour for bread, or pasta dough, or noodles. There wouldn’t be corn for tortilla wraps. There wouldn’t be wheat for cereal. Most important of all: there would not be barley for beer and whisk(e)y.
Despite their flexibility, it has become apparent that not all species are equal in quality and utility. Certain varieties have their own specialities. Sadly, pigs and grain were eventually bred for the sake of efficiency. While there is nothing wrong with that because growing food is never easy. Too many factors often come into play which can ruin food supply. As a result, a lot of quality breeds of swine and grain are either close to extinction and close to being forgotten. It has fallen to romantics and visionaries like Sean Brock and Glenn Roberts to become champions of these forgotten treasures.
I once heard that the really good restaurants make really good food because they respect the product. “It’s all about the meat, not the chef” Dario Cecchini said in Chef’s Table. Even if distilleries use old recipes, is what they’re making really the same if the yeast and raw material are different? Sadly, the bottom line has been mostly about profit and numbers lately. Corporate suits show little to no respect for the product. It’s been all about the assembly line. How fast and how much one can make.
Breeds of pig and grain going extinct or forgotten are like dead distilleries to me. Once totally gone, the only thing we can enjoy about them are memories of them. If history is a chain of events, then losing something for good is like losing a link in the chain for good.
Since I’m on about less known, to forgotten breeds of pig and grain, I think it’s appropriate to talk about one of the lesser known whisky from a dead distillery. While legends like Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank are among the most well-known whisky from dead distilleries, Littlemill is not that much talked about. Is it because there’s not much stock to go around? I’ve read that it only had one wash and one spirit still. Despite being officially founded in 1772, it continuously changed owners and underwent mothballing on multiple occasions.
In its most recent history, it was mothballed from 1984 to 1989. Then production was halted again in 1992. Then production was halted one last time in 1996. The equipment in the distillery were all dismantled after that. Since that was not enough, the remains of the distillery caught fire in 2004 which led to its demolishing in 2005.
Berry Bros. Littlemill 1990 – review
Drawn from cask #16, 46% strength, NCF and uncoloured.
On the nose: Dried apricot, green apples, hints of cinnamon, hints of honey, minerally, sandpaper, carton box and something waxy. Hints of green melon and heat come out after.
In the mouth: Cereal, licorice, hints of apple juice, hints of dried apricots, hints of fresh squeezed lemon, hints of honey, guava and something like a waxy fruit and barley husk note I can’t get a hold of. There are very weak and lingering tastes of toffee, licorice and mashed pear at the end.
I’ve only tasted two Littlemills, ever. The other one was a 1992 single cask from a Taiwanese independent bottler. They’re both very unlike the better-known Lowland single malts. There is a funk that reminds me of Cognac hogo which I haven’t tasted in Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, Glenkinchie, Rosebank and St. Magdalene. I read that the stills of Littlemill were quite unique. I guess this is the reason for the funk?
This is a good lesson or reminder that not all Lowlands are soft and boring. This gives off unique flavors, which is something I’d like to just focus on very relaxed evenings. There’s so much to dissect in this. I haven’t had a lot of offerings from Berry Brothers to comment whether this is a good bottling from them or not. But I only wish they bottled this at a higher abv. After all, whisky from a dead distillery deserves to go out with a bang.
A 46% strength Littlemill for around $120 back in 2016? I’d say this was a good deal. A lot of other 20+ year old single malts are close to this price. Add the fact that this is from a dead distillery and Littlemill is a spirit of history I think every serious whisky fan should try at least once.