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The smallest of Diageo's distilleries, Lochnagar (pronouced: lok-NAH-gar) has been available as a single malt longer than most people realise. Very old examples have been bottled by G&M for a number of decades now, usually under their 'Avonside' label or simple by the name Lochnagar in their CC range. There are long aged examples dating back to the late 1940s which are almost all spectacular examples of old style highland distillate. Excessive crystalised, green and dried fruits are the hallmark along with all the usual characteristics of rancio, leather, perfect sherry, balsamico, earth, mushrooms, pipe tobacco and furniture wax. The best bottlings can still be found at comparatively quite reasonable prices considering the money that many other old G&M bottlings now command.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Capacity: 450 Thousand Litres
1940s-1969: Excessive Fruit, Dusty Wax And Polish
The distillery was slowly modernised throughout the sixties. In 1963 the first step was taken when the stills were converted to mechanical stoking, this was eventually upgraded to full internal steam heating in 1969 and in between t the worm tubs were changed to shell condensers. This, along with Dieageo's new fermentation regimes helped to change the character of the distillate and steer it down a more modern path.
1970-Present: Herbs, Honey And Spice.
Since the early seventies bottlings of Lochnagar have revealed a more robust, spicy and focused style of highland malt, one that still has great character and flavour but without the typical lush qualities that were the hallmarks of the pre-modernisation spirit. The best examples have been in a a clutch of independent examples by the likes of Cadenhead's and Douglas Laing and the ever dependable Rare Malts series provided some excellent examples. Lochnagar is a spirit that seems to show equally well in sherry and bourbon, it is rare to find bourbon matured examples from the owners but independent examples can be found. They are usually much more herbaceous, oily and fruity. The official 12yo is a good sherried benchmark for Lochnagar with its rich notes of fragrant smoke, Dundee cake and mulling spices. However the 'select reserve' bottlings are often something of a let down by comparison, especially considering the price.
Diageo are rightly proud of Lochnagar, it is a neatly produced, distinctive malt with a great provenance and the quality seems to have maintained itself well over the years. Lets hope there is still enough to stock in the hands of the independents so that we can have a steady and balanced range of expressions from this great wee distillery.