Scotland’s oldest licensed distillery revealed
Littlemill Distillery has long laid claim to an extensive and fascinating history, but new historic documentary evidence unearthed from the archives now conclusively proves that it was the oldest licensed whisky distillery in Scotland.
For over 220 years a date stone on the gable end of one of the distillery’s warehouses carved with 1772 offered the best suggestion as to the age of this world-renowned distillery, but there has been no documentary or legal proof until now.
This new evidence has come to light following the discovery of the local Justice of the Peace’s records for Dumbarton, dated 2 November 1773, which state that ‘Robert Muir of Littlemiln’ was granted the first ever license by the Government of King George III to “retail ale, beer and other excisable Liquors.”
Additionally, in 1772 accommodation was built next door to the distillery to house the Excise officers who represented the King – and ensured any distillation was duly recorded and the relevant taxes calculated and paid. This suggests that something was already afoot onsite before 1772 and cements Littlemill’s position as Scotland’s first and oldest licensed whisky distillery.
Colin Matthews, CEO, Loch Lomond Group commented:
“It has often been rumoured that Littlemill was the oldest licensed distillery in Scotland which until now have been only rumours. We have now uncovered conclusive documentary evidence to confirm these rumours and claims as reality, having commissioned detailed research to establish the facts. We are thrilled and excited to have discovered these clear and unambiguous documents dating back to 1773 that confirms that Littlemill was indeed the very first Scottish distillery to obtain a licence to sell ‘excisable liquors’.”
Charles MacLean, whisky historian and author added: “The wrangle about ‘the oldest distillery’ has been running for ages, so this is a significant find. There have been several claims before, based on the fact that illicit distilling took place on the site prior to a license being granted. The Dumbarton Justice of the Peace records, referencing Littlemill, does not refer explicitly to distilling, since prior to 1781 private distilling was perfectly legal so long as the spirits were not offered for sale. So, this license to sell excisable liquors amounted to a license to distil as we understand it today. What a shame Littlemill itself burnt down in 2004, but thankfully some limited stocks remain!”
Brothers George and Archibald Buchanan – the original owners of Littlemill – were trailblazers for the rich tradition of Scottish whisky production, and Littlemill continued to lead the industry for over two centuries. Notably, it was one of the first distilleries to have a female licensee, Jane MacGregor, in 1823. Later, in 1931, under the stewardship of the American Duncan Thomas, Littlemill was at the forefront of still innovation with technical designs that could create three styles of single malts from full-bodied to light.
Whisky production at Littlemill, situated in Bowling on the banks of the River Clyde near Glasgow, continued until the distillery fell silent in 1994 and was subsequently destroyed by fire in 2004, never to produce a drop again.
Loch Lomond Group launched the Littlemill 40-Year-Old Celestial Edition (46.8% ABV) in late 2018, the oldest expression ever to be released from the lost Littlemill distillery. This rare release celebrates the life’s work of Littlemill owner Duncan Thomas and represents the culmination of his knowledge and experience, capturing the essence of his pioneering distilling process. Littlemill 40-year-old was recently scored at an impressive 90/100 by whisky expert Dave Broom on scotchwhisky.com.
Only 250 bottles of this precious liquid have been produced, each displayed in a stunning presentation box capturing the exact map of the night sky seen above Littlemill Distillery on the night the spirit was barrelled.
The latest addition to the Littlemill range will be released in September 2019. Littlemill 29-year-old (RRP £2,500; 47.3% ABV) is the third release from the Private Cellar Collection, comprising only 600 bottles which will be released across the world.
The liquid is contained within a bespoke Glencairn crystal decanter etched with an illustration of the River Clyde and a silver star signifying the Littlemill distillery’s location. The decanter is accompanied in its beautifully crafted presentation box by a 5cl miniature of the liquid, a piece of an original Littlemill cask, and a booklet sharing the fascinating history of the Littlemill distillery and tasting notes from Master Distiller Michael Henry.