As far as any single scotch goes, Littlemill whisky must surely be a prime candidate for surprise of the year. Cask after cask –shared or otherwise – has come to the market and regardless of bottler, quality has been exceptionally high. The refill or bourbon casks have been both fresh, zesty and rounded while the sherry casks (such as the Littlemill 1988 Archives we reviewed in August) have offered varying degrees of contrasting, dark-fruited richness.
This example from the good chaps at The Whisky Barrel comes under their popular “Burns Malt” series and is listed as a Sherry Cask. Judging from the colour, it’s from fairly inactive refill wood and may therefore serve as a perfect contrast to that aforementioned, well sherried Archives release. What a shame it is that, along with a number of much loved distilleries, we are discovering such quality only after Littlemill is lost to history.
Littlemill is a name that some will be quite unfamiliar with, however given a brace of excellent casks reaching the market over the last few months that is surely set to change. This sadly closed Lowland distillery once held a claim to being the oldest in Scotland but after difficulties during the industry’s early/mid 80s slump and further problems just a decade later, 1994 would see its final runs of spirit. For a time it looked like a revival remained possible, but after much of the plant was dismantled in 1996 and a fire ravaged the site further in 2004, this faint hope seems less likely than ever.
Towards the end of its life Littlemill distillery saw some exposure as a single malt, though on the strength of an unremarkable 8 and 12 year old it failed to draw great praise. Things are changing now though, as the spirit distilled in the late 80s and early 90s comes of age and finds its way into the hands of the best independent bottlers. Recently we have seen a mix of fairly naked, zesty releases alongside examples with a much greater sherry influence. Both styles have their own merits of course and in the end it’s a matter of taste, but it’s hard to deny that the best sherry casks find a fantastic balance between edgy citrus and a polished, fruity roundness.
Putting aside the dubious nature of regional flavour profiles in Scotch, it’s probably fair to suggest that the active Lowland distilleries receive the least attention of any. In the past the styles of whisky being produced in the borders of Scotland were fairly wide ranging, with the likes of St Magdalene distillery and Littlemill producing a spirit that diverges greatly from what is often marketed as the “classic” Lowland style today. Auchentoshan distillery typifies the light, sweet and clean spirit character that is now associated with the region, and while it has some firm followers it is sometimes passed over as a pleasant but ultimately unremarkable single malt.
This entry level distillery bottling might not be the best selection should we wish to dispel the distillery’s reputation for mediocrity, but before we charge into more unusual and older examples of Auchentoshan’s output its worth taking a look at what is a good quality, highly accessible Auchentoshan 12 year old. After all, this type of bottling is a platform for discovering the joys of whisk(e)y, and filtration and colouring apart you could certainly do worse than a dram of this over rocks on a warm summer’s day, or as an introduction for those who might find your cask strength Ardbeg just a little overpowering.