On the way up to Speyside last week with the Whisky Geeks, we stopped off at one of my favourite distilleries. A place where I learned a huge amount from my time working with Diageo while training for my role at Glenkinchie distillery. Fond memories keep this place dear to my heart, and it will always sit high on my favourite places to visit.
is Diageo’s smallest single malt distillery, one of it’s quaintest and one of it’s most traditional. The home of Diageo’s internal training program, the Malt Advocate’s Course, it is an absolute joy to tour. The only qualm I have, and it’s a small one, is Diageo’s insistence that photography is hazardous. (Fair play, Lochnagar has burnt down twice in it’s history, but I’m certain that an iPhone had nothing to do with it.) It makes me wonder how they filmed the brand videos and staged the brand photography. However, rules are rules, and have to be respected. Despite all of the neon warning signs and bulletproof glass, we have a plant of charm, beauty and best of all, an incredible spirit.
The ‘Royal’ in Royal Lochnagar was put there by Queen Victoria back in 1848. Sitting within the Crown’s Estate at Balmoral, Lochnagar was perfectly placed to please the Monarchy, who loved holidaying in Scotland. (They still do today, with ‘No stopping’ signs on the roads surrounding their estate a stark reminder as to how they like to frolic in the woods without fear of snipers with cameras, this maybe explains the no photos rule.) All they had to do was get their amazing single malt in a glass in front of a member of the Royal family. To do this, John Begg, the distillery manager had invited Prince Albert to tour the distillery. He duly turned up with Queen Victoria and their three eldest children the next day. Of course Albert loved the stuff, and soon Lochnagar became the first distillery in the UK with the ‘Royal’ prefix to match it’s Royal Warrant as supplier to the Queen.
Not too much has changed at Royal Lochnagar these days. They still aim for a lovely, delicate and sweet single malt, perfect for sipping whilst out in the woods. They have kept their old open top mash tun, draining it slowly to gain a clear and sweet wort. This is fermented for 75-126 hours (They run 5 days, so have a longer weekend fermentation, probably the longest in the industry) creating a soft, fruity character in the wash. This is then distilled super slowly in their tiny pair of stills. Tiny stills with worm tubs that should create a heavy full bodied spirit. This is where the boys at Lochnagar get clever.
To encourage and achieve more spirit contact with copper and ensure a light spirit character, they run their worm tubs hot. This keeps their spirit as vapour for longer, allowing it to remain in contact with the whole of the worm for as long as possible, delivering the desired effect. A new make with apples and pears and no hint of feinty or meaty aromas.
Finally, they use sherry butts, but only refill. They want to embrace the sweetness from the wood without overpowering the delicacy of their new make. Therefore they trust other, heavier single malts to remove astringency from the casks before they use them. (This graph
The result? A wonderfully delicate, fruity Whisky in a glorious setting. Just make sure to forget your camera!
In my glass: Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve
, a specially vatted Royal Lochnagar bottled each year to commemorate the visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.