In 1845 a new distillery was constructed by John Begg
- nearby, but on the south bank of the river
Dee this time. This was the same distillery you can see these days, so the owners consider 1845 as
the official opening year of Lochnagar distillery. In the mean time (in 1837, to be precise) the reign of
Queen Victoria had started. She ruled for 64 years; so long that they named an entire period in British
history after her. The Victorian era coincided with the industrial revolution, so it was a very important
time for the Scotch whisky industry as well. Queen Victoria visited the nearby Balmoral Castle for the
first time in 1848, as well as the nearby Lochnagar distillery. Apparently the distillery people had
managed to impress her majesty, because they received a so-called 'royal warrant' in the very same
year, allowing them to use the world 'royal' in their name - just like Royal Brackla and Glenury Royal.
The new distillery from 1845 was appropriately named 'New Lochnagar'.
It operated relatively undisturbed for many decades (well, perhaps apart
from a temporary closure in 1860), until John Begg passed away in 1882 and
his son Henry Begg took over. He passed away in 1896, but Royal Lochnagar
remained a family business for a while longer. Henry's son Albert Begg and
his other children rebuilt the distillery in 1906 and stayed in control for a
decade until Albert Begg (Henry's only male heir) passed away in 1916.
Royal Lochnagar was sold to John Dewar & Sons in the same year.
John Dewar & Sons became part of Distillers Company Limited in 1925.
In 1930 administration of Royal Lochnagar was transferred to SMD (Scottish
Malt Distillers Ltd.) and they seemed to be pretty good at it. Apart from the
time the distillery was closed during World War II, SMD managed to keep
Royal Lochnagar running until a significant reconstruction in 1963.
(Royal) Lochnagar (Pronounced: just like it's written)
57°2'4.0308 N, 3°13'8.2344 W
Ardmore, Fettercairn, Blair Athol, Edradour
1 Wash still, 1 Spirit still
450,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo (since 1930)
Ballater, Aberdeenshire AB35 5TB, Scotland, UK
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
With an annual production of circa 450,000 litres of alcohol, Lochnagar
is Diageo's smallest distillery. According to the '2009' edition of the Malt
Whisky Yearbook only five active distilleries in Scotland have a smaller
production than Lochnagar; Glenturret, Bladnoch, Daftmill, Edradour
and Kilchoman. One might imagine that a malt whisky distillery with such
a limited production capacity would bottle all its whisky as a single malt,
but part of it is still used in blends - notably VAT 69.
Royal Lochnagar is one of the first distilleries I've actually visited myself.
During the trip to Speyside that a few malt maniacs made in 2003 we
dropped by the distillery - but I recall it was during the weekend and
nobody was there to show us around. We still had a good time though,
enjoying the scenery and wildlife in the area. In fact, if memory serves
it was there that we discovered that a disproportionate number of malt
maniacs are avid bird watchers (the feathered variety of course).
So, even though Royal Lochnagar is located slightly off the beaten
track (not far from Balmoral Castle on Deeside) and there are no other
distilleries nearby, the surroundings make a detour well worth the effort.
After the rebuild Royal Lochnagar runs with a cast iron mashtun, three washback (two Oregon pine and one Scottish larch), two stills and two cast iron worm tubs. Royal Lochnaga used to have its own maltings too, but the buildings were converted into a warehouse with room for +/- 1000 casks.
2004 - The last 'UD Rare Malts' bottling
of Lochnagar is released; the Royal Lochnagar 30yo 1974/2004 (56.2%, UD Rare Malts). It's the successor of the Royal Lochnagar 23yo 1973/1997 (59.7%, UD Rare Malts) and the Royal Lochnagar 24yo 1972/1997 (55.7%, UD Rare Malts) which was bottled especially for the USA.
2005 - Lochnagar is added to the 'Classic Malts' range of Diageo. This range used to contain only six different single malts - Cragganmore, Dalwinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban & Talisker - when it was introduced in the late 1980's but in 2005 a bunch of other single malts suddenly became classic, including Caol Ila, Cardhu and Clynelish.
2008 - Now that Royal Lochnagar is 'promoted' to the status of 'Classic Malt', a Distillers Edition is released as well, double matured in Moscatel casks.
James decided to build another distillery near a mountain with the
name Lochnagar, again on the north side of the river. James must
have been lacking in social skills, because this distillery was burnt
down as well. The second fire occurred in 1841.
The Royal Lochnagar
distillery was built in 1826 by founder James
Robertson. Three years earlier James had actually founded another
whisky distillery in Glen Feardan. Just like distilleries like Glenlivet
and Mortlach, this distillery started production around 1823, when
the Excise Act that legalised whisky production came into effect.
Unfortunately, this distillery (on the north side of the river Dee) was
burnt down by James Robertson's competitors.
1) Corgarff Castle in the Grampian Mountains is located inbetween the Royal Lochnagar and Glenlivet distilleries.
One of the unique characteristics of the historic building is the fact that it has been used for both the production of whisky and control of the illegal whisky trade. During Scotland's violent past the many castles in the area had a military function. Before the production of whisky had even started in Scotland, Corgarff Castle had been burnt down four times - in 1571, 1689, 1716 and 1746. Not long after James McHardy had acquired a permit to distill whisky at Corgarff Castle the facilities were set on fire in July 1826 - probably by competitors. In 1827 the army obtained the castle and repaired the damage. After the reconstruction a garrison of the 25th regiment was stationed at Corgarff Castle in order to combat whisky smuggling in the area. James McHardy used the new situation to his advantage; he acted as supplier to the garrison and even added a small hospital to the castle. Even though the garrison didn't have more than 58 soldiers they managed to put an end to most illegal whisky production and smuggling in the area by the time they abandoned the castle again in 1831.
2) The (Royal) Lochnagar distillery is named after the nearby Lochnagar mountain which overlooks the distillery.
3) Rumour has it that John Begg used to be involved with illicit distilling before 1845.
4) Queen Victoria's favourite cocktail was a mixture of red bordeaux and Scotch whisky. This might seem like an unusual combination at first sight - until you realise that many whiskies are 'finished' in ex wine casks these days.
5) At times the Royal Lochnagar distillery has also been known as 'Lochnigar'.
6) In recent years the Lochnagar distillery has been used as a 'training' distillery by Diageo. Staff and potential distillery managers often start their career at Royal Lochnagar.
7) Queen Victoria is reputed to have smoked cigarettes during her visits to the Highlands of Scotland to keep away the so-called midges - tiny but persistent mosquitos.
Lochnagar 37yo 1972/2009 (50.7%, The Whisky Fair / Three Rivers, 126 Bts.)
Nose: Refined and very polished. Perfumy - but in a good way. A lovely delicate sweetness. Marzipan.
Amazing complexity with spices and organics emerging. Very interesting development over time as well.
Taste: Round & smooth. The mouth feel is pretty perfect around 50%, but I added some water nonetheless.
Score: 89 points - for me, perfumy whiskies can push the wrong buttons - but this one works brilliant.
Lochnagar 21yo 1986 (50%, The Whisky Agency, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Round and classic. Essences of old fruits. Growing complexity; beautiful but you have to pay attention.
Some bubblegum. After almost a year of breathing the aroma is highly simplified. Coffee and smoky notes.
The complexity dragged the score into the upper 80's. However, you need to finish the bottle quickly.
Taste: Smooth with subtle fruits that match the nose from a freshly opened bottle. But the profile changed...
After almost a year of breathing, the palate had fallen apart. Bitter, beery notes.
Score: 86 points - the finish is just a tad too short and dry to reach high into the upper 80's.
Lochnagar 35yo 1970/2005 (46.2%, Jack Wieber's Old Train Line, 167 bottles)
Nose: Fresh and fruity - feels much younger than 35yo. Polished and refined.
Taste: Bitter and quite flat. Salty? After 'decanting' it a few times between different glasses it vanished.
Score: 81 points - starts out very promising but shows hardly any development.
Royal Lochnagar 30yo 1973/2003 (57.9%, Douglas Laing Platinum)
Nose: Rich but nondescript at cask strength. Flattens out with water before growing sweeter.
Taste: Hot. Coffee. Too powerful at cask strength. Sweeter and smokier with some water. Very nice!
Score: 86 points - adding water usually benefits the nose more than the palate, but not here.
Royal Lochnagar NAS 'Selected Reserve' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Quite sweet and fruity in the nose with just a touch of oil. Maybe a hint of something coastal.
Taste: On the palate it seemed a little maltier. Fruity with some smoke again.
No oil here, but it still didn't impress me enough to reach the 80's.
Score: 78 points - this was the fourth expression of Royal Lochnagar I ever tried.
Royal Lochnagar 26yo (40%, Von Fass, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Alcoholic with a hint of apple - reminded me of calvados. Sweeter 'bakery' aroma's next.
Quite transparent with a playful spicyness. More fruits after a minute. Then nuttier.
Subtle organics keep shifting in and out of focus. A wonderful sweet, satisfying undertone.
Taste: Ultra short fruity start, turning bitter, then sweet, then bitter again. Very entertaining.
Distinct fruitiness. Hint of beer in the finish. Feels quite hot at 40%. Tad winey in the finish.
Score: 83 points - Pretty good stuff; the only thing keeping it from the upper 80's is the finish.
I imagine this would have performed even better at 46% or 50%, though.
Royal Lochnagar 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled 1990's)
A pretty 'standard' malt in a pretty 'standard' bottle with a label that must have been designed before WWII.
Nose: Oily, but not unpleasantly so. Liquorice. Faint sherry and fruit.
Some smoke. Drops off after 15 minutes.
Taste: Dry and smoky start. A very distant echo of fresh fruit.
Long, sweet, malty finish. Not much depth, but quite pleasant.
Score: 74 points - Nice, but not quite complex enough for my sophisticated taste ;-)
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Royal Lochnagar 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 Lochnagar page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Royal Lochnagar 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