HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! What better way to start 2016 with an interesting piece from a fresh faced whisky enthusiast! You see... Benoit Bailey and I have not met, yet... well not in the physical sense but we have been friends on twitter for some time (@RatherBeOnIslay) and most recently we had a fantastic evening on Skype sharing some whisky samples. During that conversation we also discovered we are going to be on Islay at the same time in May 2016 so we are both looking forward to hanging out, visiting distilleries or hiking together once we are there.
Benoit loves peated whiskies, there is no doubt about that. So you can imagine my surprise when one of our twitter conversations turned to talking about Lowland whiskies?! Specifically, he has a healthy obsession with Littlemill. So when I received a sample of the Littlemill 25, 2015 Private Cellar Edition for review I thought it would be a great idea if he would review it with me. What followed was very unexpected but so much fun! Between the two of us we had 7 different Littlemills so we sent each other samples and picked a date to have a horizontal tasting. The results of that will come in a later blog, but for now here is Benoit's first whisky post ever:
"Littlemill… Did you say Littlemill? I could understand Port Ellen, or even Brora, but, Littlemill…?? Well for a peathead like me, this is a strange choice as a favorite lost distillery especially in Canada where it is difficult to find Littlemill bottles. Well, in fact, it is Littlemill just because I am a peathead!
This was the first non-peated whisky (Berry Brothers & Rudd Littlemill 1992 20 yo cask 9) that I tasted and truly enjoyed. You know that feeling of something being so good you want to open a new bottle as soon as the first one is finished! It's also the first time that I bought a bottle when in fact should have purchased the remaining lot before it was sold out ->Hart Brothers Littlemill 1989 21 yo first filled sherry butt, oh my!!
I'm sure you have had that unfortunate feeling of regret at one time or another. After tasting that very first Littlemill, the floodgate opened and suddenly, there was way more to whisky than just the peated variety.
I understand that Littlemill mostly seemed to have a bad reputation. This is why up to recently, I was only buying the bottles that I could find tasting notes for. The low scores of the young official bottling’s on the Malt Maniacs’ Whisky Monitor Database are examples of this bad rep.
No wonder this Lowlands distillery closed: a distillery needs to have a good "teen" whisky to be successful. However, if we look back at the Malt Maniacs’ Whisky Monitor Database, it is also apparent that the older independent bottlings of Littlemill get much better ratings – as well as much more appealing tasting notes. Could it be that Littlemill needs to spend at least 20 years of quality time in casks in a dark corner of a warehouse or simply that the independent bottlers got rid of the bad casks? Who knows?
Maybe the recent official releases by Loch Lomond, the actual owner of the Littlemill brand, could give us an insight into that. However, my bottles of the 2012 as well as the 2014 release of the 21 yo are still unopened. I tried to register for the Whisky Wire Littlemill Flash Blog review of the 2015 Private Cellar Edition 25 yo to taste it but sadly to no avail…
From the few Littlemill I sampled, I can draw my own humble flavor profile of Littlemill:
1) Icing powdered sugar: Until recently I had never seen any review mentioning this. I was pretty insecure when I used this description. However, I now have found out that Michael Jackson described the Littlemill as “marshmallow, perhaps powdery icing sugar?” Talk about confirmation that I should stop being insecure about my description!!!
Interestingly, this flavor was still present in a first filled Port Pipe I tasted as well as in the sherry butt bottle I mentioned earlier– the later tasted like candied white powdered doughnuts, and Homer Simpson would have liked them a lot. I have never done a pairing with these white powdered doughnuts, but as I write this, I realized that these two bottles might make a perfectly paired dessert dram with it! For me this is the staple flavor that defines Littlemill.
2) Fruity: Usually citrus but also tropical fruits. And lots of fruits, enough to get your daily ration of fibers and vitamin C in a dram! This is what I am looking in the tasting notes when I am on the hunt for the Littlemill. This is what got me hooked on it!
3) Vegetal: It's a flavour that I would describe as hay in a bad way, almost decaying hay - never tasted that but I am sure this is it! I could pick it up in some of the samples I tasted before but not as much as in the official 12 yo I recently open. This explains why this bottling is rated so low and probably why I was able to find one very recently in the USA at a decent price. But luckily, you can still taste the icing powdered sugar in it, which rendered it mildly enjoyable despite the vegetal notes.
I am likely to update this flavor profile as I open more Littlemill bottles in the future. I just wished I had as many different Littlemill bottles to taste as Menno, the initiater and owner of the Whiskybase.com web site, and the likely foremost collectionner of Littlemill.
On a final note, on my first trip to Islay, I decided to stop in Bowling, on the site of the former distillery, 15-20 minutes away from Glasgow International Airport to do a recon. The amazing header picture of the new @Littlemill2015 twitter account would have been useful as a guide at the time of my visit. Of the Littlemill distillery, not much is left. We can still see the enclosed distillery Exciseman's House on Dumbarton Road. Its deterioration is sadly chronicled on the Buildings at risk Register for Scotland.
There are also remains of the distillery that were incorporated at each end of a modern apartment building at Littlemill Place that is across the Exciseman's House. The other buildings were either demolished or destroyed by a fire. However, there is also a Littlemill Lane just west of the Exciseman's House with a building just off Dumbarton Road made in the same stones as the remains of the distillery found at Littlemill Place. If it was not part of the distillery, it must have been built in the same years.
I also walked to the Auchentorlie Burn, the water source of the former distillery and brought back would could have been future whisky. Did I say that I am a Littlemill fan or what? It can be easily access by a footpath/bicycle route that parallels and is between the main road, the A82, and Dumbarton Road. This burn supplied water for the Little Mill, the mill on the estate of Auchentorlie, which was on the same site as the distillery and explains its name. Interestingly, we can see the burn disappears under Dumbarton Road to reach the River Clyde near the Exciseman's House on what was the distillery site. Further down Dumbarton road, well east of the Exciseman's House are also Littlemill Court apartment buildings that commemorate the mill and the distillery but without remains.
There is an interesting YouTube video that shows the inside and outside of the abandoned distillery in September and October 1996. At 3:47 you can see shelves with bottles apparently left behind as well as some casks. The emptied racked warehouse as it appeared on October 1st 1996 is also shown at 5:26. Finally, the video shows crew at work from October 15th to the 30th demolishing buildings adjacent to the Exciseman’s House when it was clearly in better shape. Well, all this talk about Littlemill has left me really thirsty… Johanne, how about a tasting?"
Thank you Benoit for not only providing us with a walk through your experience in Scotland but some insight on this silent distillery. I've written previously that I had had a pretty bad first experience with Littlemills to the point where I was somewhat reluctant to try them again. Super glad I did a few times in 2015 as it's changed my mind, and with some insight on what bottlings I should be looking for, they are still somewhat reasonably priced as far as silent distillery whisky goes.
In the coming days, I will be posting the results of my and Benoit's Facetime Littlemill horizontal tasting of 7 different bottlings. It was a great night with new discoveries including what we both thought of the Loch Lomond Group Littlemill 25. Stay tuned, there were some very interesting whiskies that night.
So here's to a new year, may your discoveries be as interesting as mine!