ASK whisky fans about “silent” or closed distilleries and they’ll quickly reel off the famous names, like Port Ellen and Rosebank. But what about Scotland’s other lost distilleries?
Scott Watson is on a mission to find those silent stills. Back in 2013 he teamed up with co-founder Brian Woods to launch The Lost Distillery Company.
With help from Professor Michael Moss, the former archivist at the University of Glasgow, the company carries out research into closed distilleries. It then creates blended malts based on what it thinks the whiskies would taste like if those silent sites were still operating today.
The team considers factors ranging from the era and locality through barley, peat, water and yeast and on to the type of mash tun, wash back, still and cask that the distilleries used back in their day. It then buys whiskies from around 80 of Scotland’s open distilleries and blends those malts to create a taste it thinks will do justice to each site’s history.
Echoes of the past
The company’s Scotch is split into three ranges: the classic selection (£38 each), which has flavour profiles that reflect 10- to 12-year-old whiskies; the archivist series (£55 each), which has a 15- to 18-year-old flavour profile; and a vintage collection (£199 each), which typically tastes like 25-year-old drams. The blends can often contain much older whiskies in their DNA though.
So far, the team has recreated whiskies from: Auchnagie, a Highland distillery at Tulliemet in Perthshire, which was open between 1812 and 1911; Stratheden at Auchtermuchty in Fife (1829-1926); Towiemore near Dufftown on Speyside (1898-1931); Jericho in rural Aberdeenshire (1822-1913); Gerston at Halkirk in Caithness (1796-1882); and Lossit on Islay (1817-1867).
Next month, the firm will add Dalaruan – a former distillery at Campbeltown that was open between 1825 and 1925 – to its roster.
The whiskies in the classic selection divided quite neatly into two camps: the lighter styles and the fuller and richer drams. Among the lights, Auchnagie had fresh flavours of cereals and lemon, with white pepper on the finish, while Stratheden provided fruiter orange, lemon and green apples tastes and Towiemore strayed further into apple territory, with delicious vanilla fudge and biscuit flavours and a twist of caramel on the finish.
On the richer side, Jericho offered vanilla, orange and redcurrant on the nose, leading into raisins and vanilla fudge on the palate, with Gerston showing a whiff of smoke among the vanilla and cereal aromas and a rounder palate of dark chocolate, orange and vanilla, and Lossit took in smoker aromas and milkier chocolate amid the vanilla and orange on the tongue.
Walking in history’s footsteps
Stepping up a gear, the archivist selection really cranked up the volume on the flavours. There were more cereal, lemon and vanilla flavours for the Auchnagie, more green apple and lemon for the Stratheden, more cereal and pear for the Towiemore – just generally more of everything.
The richer archivist malts were when I began to get really excited though. Jericho – may favourite from the range – marched in with dried fruit, Christmas cake, caramel, cinnamon, cloves and a super-long finish. Lossit almost matched it for me, with treacle, prune and raisin joining in with the smoke. Gerston held its own nicely too, with vanilla fudge, lemon and caramel notes.
The vintage collection currently features Auchnagie, Stratheden and Gerston. Auchnagie followed its familiar pattern of cereal and lemon, but with more of the fudge thrown-in for good measure, while Gerston had a much creamier mouthfeel and tonnes of spun sugar on its finish.
The vintage Stratheden was a real star for me though – apple crumble, cinnamon, pear, pastry and toffee. Some of my favourite flavours wrapped together in warming alcohol and ready for a fireside dram on a cold winter’s evening.
All the whiskies are non-chill filtered, reflecting the techniques used when the distilleries were open, and the team doesn’t add distiller’s caramel to mask the colours. When they were lined up in glasses along the bar in The Lost Distillery Company’s tasting room in the grounds of Dumfries House, the range produced a veritable whisky rainbow of hues.
The Lost Distillery Company became a tenant last year on the estate, from where it serves customers in around 40 countries. It’s certainly an inspiring place to work – the 2,000-acre estate in Ayrshire was rescued for the nation by Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, in 2007 and, to celebrate its first decade under the prince’s stewardship, the estate is opening an educational farm next month to help train local people.
Prince Charles’ vision for Dumfries House was “heritage-led regeneration” and it certainly appears to be living up to that goal. Around 150 staff now work at the house and in its grounds, which include bases for the Prince’s Trust’s training schemes, covering a broad range of disciplines from traditional skills such as carpentry and stonemasonry through to chefs in the estate’s restaurant kitchen.