Littlemill (Pronounced: just like it's written)
Lowlands (some say Southern Highlands)
Loch Lomond, Inverleven, Auchentoshan
Closed - dismantled (in 1996)
1 Wash still, 1 Spirit still
Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd.
Bowling, Dumbartonshire, G60 5BG, Scotland, UK
Yes, including 8yo, 12yo and 17yo
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
was one of those distilleries that was located in the
area near Glasgow that's on the border between the Highlands
and the Lowlands. Littlemill is usually classified as a Lowland
distillery - possibly because the distillery used the technique
of triple distillation that's traditionally used in the Lowlands - as
opposed to the double distillation that is customary in the rest
The Littlemill distillery is quite possibly the oldest malt whisky
distillery in Scotland, with roots going as far back as ca. 1750.
Some Irish distilleries claim even older roots (Bushmills says it
was founded in 1608), but the foundations beneath claims like
these are fairly weak. Littlemill saw many different owners in its
long history. Until the 1930's the traditional triple distillation
technique from the Lowlands was used at Littlemill; afterwards
the proprietors switched to the method of double distillation.
2004 - The last remains of Littlemill distillery (largely dismantled in 1997) are destroyed by fire.
2005 - Even though the Littlemill distillery was largely dismantled in 1997, the 8yo official bottling from the 1990's was replaced by a 12yo OB a few years after we entered the third millennium.
2011 - Hart Brothers releases a 20yo bottling of Littlemill to celebrate the royal wedding of Prince William.
Littlemill was closed in 1984, but the distillery was re-opened again in 1989 by new
owners Gibson International. Closed again in 1994, it was then sold to the Loch
Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd. - who were practically neighbours of Littlemill. "Dumbuck"
(heavily peated) and "Dunglass" (unpeated) were the names of two malt whiskies that
were produced by experimental set-ups at Littlemill that didn't operate for very long.
As a result, bottlings under these names are extremely rare.
Littlemill's claim that it's Scotland's oldest distillery
- or at least Scotlands oldest
surviving distillery until recently - could be based on historical fact, but it's difficult to be
certain because documentation from so long ago is often vague. And anyway, since
Littlemill distillery was closed and demolished a few years ago (and the last remnants
destroyed by a fire in september 2004), the honour now goes to a distillery that was
founded in 1779; the Bowmore distillery on Islay.
That weakens the claim of owner Cooley that Kilbeggan
has a distilling history of 250 years. Looking at the time
the distillery was actually in production, Bowmore wins.
There's another reason why Littlemill and Bowmore (and to a lesser extent Balblair,
Blair Athol, Glen Garioch, Highland Park, Oban, Strathisla and Tobermory) can claim a
longer heritage than Kilbeggan. All of these Scottish distilleries were founded before
the year 1800 and were indeed operational in recent years. What's more important,
the 'Kilbeggan' whiskey that is sold today wasn't actually distilled at the distillery but
at another production distillery of Cooley. It is transported to Kilbeggan in massive
tanker trucks to be matured there. Even though Cooley's Jack Teeling claims that for
Irish whiskey the maturation is more important than the distillation, it's a little odd.
Anyway, Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky are difficult to compare anyway...
As far as Littlemill is concerned: it could arguably be the world's oldest whisky distillery.
Well, at least the oldest distillery that was recently operational, so the whisky is still available.
The 8 years old official bottling from the 1990's shown at the right will be difficult to find these days, but you may still be able to find a 12yo OB or an independent bottling. I can't say that I was a fan of Littlemill (a lot of them had an oily trait that seems to be a trait of many whiskies that are produced in the area), but it's something special. It would most likely be the malt whisky with the 'deepest roots' you'll ever try - and it's becoming very rare indeed.
So, really good bottlings are scarce, but I suggest you try it at least once...
That doesn't solve the debate about the location of the world's oldest distillery, though.
Two distilleries in Ireland both claim to be the world's oldest (licensed) distillery, but
both claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Bushmills boasts about a license that
was granted in 1608 by King James I to one sir Thomas Phillips, but the relation with
the present Victorian 'Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery' from 1885 is in fact pretty weak.
The distillery that is related to the license of 1608 was located somewhere else - and
destroyed in a fire to boot. The other claim is made by the Kilbeggan distillery, located
along Tullamore Road in the heart of Ireland. This distillery was founded shortly after
the year 1750 and operated for circa two centuries until it was closed in 1954.
1) Littlemill distillery was located between the river Clyde and the railway, close to the train station of the town of Bowling. Or rather, the station was located near the distillery, which was founded much earlier than the railway.
2) Gibson International were the owners of the Littlemill distillery until 1984. These days the remains of the distillery are owned by Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd. - who also own the Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia distilleries.
3) Apart from the Littlemill brand, two other malt whisky brands were produced: Dumbuck and Dunglass.
4) The Littlemill malt whisky distillery used triple distillation until the 1930's.
Littlemill 1992/2012 (52,4%, Maltbarn, ex-Bourbon cask, 131 Bts.)
Nose: Wow! Much fruitier and more expressive than I expected from a young bourbony Littlemill. Then dust.
And of course, the great start was followed by lots of cod oil. I had hoped they would have solved that by now.
I must say that I can only identify a few distilleries 'blind' with some certainty, but the oil is a Littlemill giveaway.
Taste: After the oil overwhelmed the nose I found mostly sweetness and cardboard. Hot, burning centre.
Sticky, burning finish. It's certainly not boring, but it has very few of the elements I like; fruit, wood or peat.
Score: 66 points - this is really not my type of whisky; oil also ruined many Jura's and Deanstons for me.
Littlemill 1989/2011 (52.8%, Malts of Scotland, Sherry Butt, C#2511, 325 Bts.)
Nose: Oy... Weirdly oily with a nasty pressure-cooked quality. I hate these crappy cod-oil bombs!!!
Palate: Oily as well, with very few other distinguishing traits. Why do they bottle this crap? For collectors?
Score: 49 points - CRAP WHISKY! (Well, at least according to my own nose and palate... )
Littlemill 1990/2010 (50.3%, Exclusive Malts for Whisky Live Taipei 2010, first fill bourbon C#717, 203 Bts.)
Nose: Mellow. Hints of dust and oil, but overall it's fairly inexpressive. Grassy. Menthol?
Taste: Extremely smooth start. Irish or grain whisky? Like the nose, it's altogether very inexpressive.
Score: 65 points - it's not an especially BAD whisky, just more like blend than a single malt whisky.
Littlemill 1991/2009 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail Reserve for La Maison du Whisky, Cask#94, 287 Bts.)
Nose: Light, oily & sharp; sweet undercurrent. Vanilla. The sweetness grows stronger, but remains undefined.
A tad veggy? Melon. Keeps sweetening out and opening up over time, eventually stumbling into the 80's.
Taste: Sweetish and a tad bland initially. Quite smooth and slightly oily. A peppery prickle in the dry finish.
Score: 80 points - but after the bottle had breathed for a few months it had grown too oily for my tastes.
Littlemill 16yo 1991 (53.8%, Exclusive Malts David Stirk, C#166, 251 Bts., Bottled 2007)
Nose: Clean and a little grainy. Light prickle in the top of the nose but fairly restrained.
After some time it opens up a little but - more power & sweetness. Some distant spices too.
Nevertheless, even after half an hour it remains a little nondescript. Perhaps a hint of glue?
Taste: Much sweeter than the nose suggests in the start. The proof gives it a nice bite.
Flavours mostly in the grainy side of the spectrum. However, just like the nose it's fairly 'MOTR'.
Maybe a tad herbal? The slightly 'plywoody' finish suggests this came from a bourbon cask.
Score: 78 points - decent whisky, but I'll stick with my initial score; a little too 'clean' for me.
That being said, it's a perfect malt whisky for introducing bourbon drinkers to the 'single malts' category.
Littlemill 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Oily. Not much definition. This seems another 'blender's' malt on the recent gravy train.
Palate: Hint of coffee. That was about the only really remarkable element on the palate.
Score: 72 points - Not a bad whisky at all, but this Littlemill is a little too MOTR for my tastes.
Littlemill 13yo 1990/2004 (43%, Signatory, Casks #2977 & 2778).
Nose: oily and grassy. Endive. Cod oil. Grainy with some faint spices. More organics with time.
Taste: It was smooth on the palate and didn't show a lot of 'definition'. Flat and rather unimaginative.
Score: 64 points - below par for a single malt. Here's another example that suggests that these days Signatory Vintage seems to bottle some of its casks without even sampling them. Despite the 64 points I finished this glass in high spirits; it was the 6th Littlemill under my belt, so I could cross this distillery from my 'To Do List'.
Littlemill 20yo 1984/2004 (46%, Hart Brothers)
Nose: String beans. A little too sharp and 'veggy' for my tastes. Chloride. Vegetal but lively.
Palate: Nothing exceptional, but decent enough. Weak wood in the finish, though.
Score: 76 points - overall this whisky scores just above average. I guess I'm not a Littlemill fan.
Littlemill 20yo 1984/2004 (56.3%, Jack Wieber Scottish Castles, C#2444, 150 Bottles) - tasted blind
Nose: Creamy and spicy, malty and veggy. Sliced French beans.
My first thoughts went to the lower East coast of Scotland - Tobermory or Jura - because of a distinct oily note.
However, the oil vanished over time, leaving a fairly 'compact' profile. Could this be a Lowlander?
Taste: On the palate I found gooseberries. Sweet and woody with more 'body' than your typical Lowlander.
Once again a hint of oil. This convinced me to put my money on Isle of Jura. Alas, it was a Littlemill.
Score: 82 points - the combination of oil and Lowland traits should have tipped me off.
Littlemill 14yo 1989/2003 (61.9%, Cadenhead's Authentic, Bourbon Hogshead, 294 bottles)
Nose: Very sweet. Polished. Malty. Very rich. Coffee. Creamy. Peanuts. Much better than the 8yo OB.
Taste: No sweetness in the start, but with time the sweetness grows and grows. lemon drops.
Score: 83 points - which is actually VERY impressive for a Littlemill...
Littlemill 11yo 1989/2000 (61.6%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 246 Bottles)
Nose: Fairly grainy and I didn't get the oil I got in some other Littlemills at first.
It slowly opens op, showing more 'veggy' elements. The profile didn't seem to change much at first.
However, after a while some metallic notes and a whiff of peat drifted to the surface.
More and more organics appear as well - given enough time, I really started to like it.
Taste: On the palate it was bitter and veggy; not really anything else.
Score: 79 points - a nice enough malt whisky but I can't really recommend it...
Littlemill 8yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1999, Code L4/170/85 1?4?, 70cl)
Nose: Very oily at first, growing sweeter & slightly smoky. Hints of peaches & melons under an oily blanket.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet & malty for a Lowlander. Short, grainy finish. It has its moments, though.
Score: 62 points - even for an eight years old whisky this isn't very impressive.
Dunglass 5yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1970's, 5cl, Sampled in Italy)
Nose: Very, very grainy. Restrained. Oil. Sweetens out with time. maybe a little 'verggy'. Nutty.
Taste: Flat. Short and bitter. Sweetens out as well.
Score: 60 points - this expression of Littlemill malt whisky is not my cup of tea, I'm afraid...
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Littlemill Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Littlemill page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Littlemill expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or