THE REAL STORY OF LITTLEMILL DISTILLERY
BEGINS OVER TWO CENTURIES AGO.
IN 1750 ARCHIBALD BUCHANAN PURCHASED
AUCHENTORLIE ESTATE, JUST A FEW MILES WEST
OF LOCH LOMOND ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER CLYDE,
FROM HIS BROTHER ANDREW.
AND WITH IT, A BREWERY CALLED LITTLEMILL.
In the 15th century, a staple drink for many people was beer, with the brewery on the grounds of Auchentorlie supplying amongst others, the monks of nearby Paisley Abbey. Archibald & George Buchanan had their eye on making something infinitely more complex and significantly more valuable.
History tells us they went on to do so in some measure and with very great success, establishing Scotland’s first and oldest licensed whisky distillery in 1772.
That same year accommodation was also built next door to the distillery to house the Excise officers who represented the law - and ensured any distillation was duly recorded and relevant taxes calculated. This suggests that something was already afoot onsite some time before 1772 (indeed, in a less than official capacity, the brewery, which was attached to Dunglass Castle nearby, may well have been distilling liquor as early as the 14th century).
After one year, on the 2nd of November 1773, local Justice of the Peace records for Dumbarton show that ‘Robert Muir of Littlemiln’, an employee, was granted the first ever licence by the Government of King George the 3rd to “…retail ale, beer and other excisable Liquors.”
For over 220 years the date stone on the gable end of one of the warehouses on which was carved ‘1772’ remained firmly and proudly in place, until in 1994, the distillery closed and the stills of Littlemill finally fell silent. Three years later the distillery was largely dismantled.
Transcript of the 1773 Justice of the Peace records...
At Dumbarton the second day of November one thousand seven hundred and seventy three years The Justice of the Peace of the County of Dumbarton having neglected to meet yesterday for the purpose aftermentioned, therefore in terms of the Devolution of the Law of Neil Campbell, Clerk of the Peace for the County aforesaid, did allow and licence the persons after named and designed in the said County to retail Ale, Beer and other exciseable Liquors for the space of one year for commencing upon the first day of the said month and year and ending upon the first day of October next seventeen hundred and seventy four years.
HOUSING FOR THE EXCISE OFFICER IS BUILT AT LITTLEMILL
THE DISTILLERY MANAGER’S HOUSE IS BUILT ON SITE
MRS JANE MACGREGOR BECOMES THE FIRST FEMALE LICENSEE IN SCOTLAND
LITTLEMILL DISTILLERY IS REBUILT AND EXPANDED BY HAY & CO.
OWNERSHIP PASSES TO DUNCAN THOMAS WHO RE-OPENS THE DISTILLERY
THE REMNANTS OF THE DISTILLERY ARE DESTROYED BY FIRE
Housing for the Excise Officer is built at Littlemill.
Robert Muir attains the first license for the distillery.
The American declaration of Independence.
Land is leased by Sir Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath to John Clarke for 57 years after Whitsunday (seventh Sunday after Easter).
Cluster housing in Littlemill village is built – infamously known as “Tile Row”
The Distillery Manager’s house is built on site.
The distillery changes ownership to Matthew Clark & Co.
Mrs Jane MacGregor of Littlemill becomes the first female licensee in Scotland… and the world.
Ownership changes to Hector Henderson also a shareholder in Campbeltown distillery.
The Littlemill shipyards opened on the ground known as Frisky Hall Orchard. It was active for a total of 128 years, closing in 1979.
Littlemill distillery is rebuilt and expanded by Hay & Co.
The distillery is temporarily closed.
Ownership passes to Duncan Thomas who re-opens the distillery.
Ownership passes to Barton Distilling.
The distillery is temporarily closed.
Littlemill Distillery is bought and re-opened by Gibson International.
Ownership passes to the Bulloch Family. The stills of Littlemill Distillery fall silent forever.
Littlemill Distillery is dismantled.
The remnants of the distillery are destroyed by fire.
“The stills of Littlemill Distillery fall silent forever in 1994.”
After one of its brief closures in 1929, Littlemill was bought and reopened by American entrepreneur and chemist Duncan Thomas in 1931. One of the forgotten innovators of Scotch whisky, it was Thomas who introduced a new design of Saladin box for malting with two ventilation towers and a single kiln, switched from the Lowland tradition of triple distillation to double distillation, and installed new hybrid stills with copper pot still bodies and rectifying columns instead of swan necks to have greater control over the distillation process and allow a number of different characters to be produced.
Throughout this time, Littlemill was at the forefront of still innovation, boasting a unique ability to create three styles of single malts - a light and delicate traditional Littlemill Lowland whisky and two experimental malts - the heavily peated Dumbuck and a full-bodied whisky called Dunglass, after the castle nearby.
Up until its final days, Littlemill Distillery continued to innovate and produce exceptional Lowland malt whisky of great character. Using water sourced north of the Highland line in the Kilpatrick Hills, peat from Stornoway and malt from Perthshire, the Littlemill whiskies reflect a beautiful summer whisky, whose characteristics reveal gentle vanilla and floral notes on the nose with the sweetness of honey and creamy fudge which continues onto the palate with classic Lowland fruit flavours.
Master Blender, Michael Henry joined the Loch Lomond Group in 2007 after perfecting his craft in both brewing and distilling in Belfast and Glasgow. Michael is now responsible for blending whiskies across the diverse group portfolio, giving Michael a unique perspective and ability to hand select the best casks. It is due to this that Michael is now responsible for safeguarding the last of the Littlemill liquid, preserving the distillery style and character ensuring the legacy of this wonderful distillery lives on in each expression.
Would Archibald and George Buchanan ever have dreamed that their legacy at Littlemill would last well into the 21st century?
Of course, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that over the next few years, Michael Henry, our master blender at Loch Lomond Distillery, will use his skills to carefully select the very finest liquid from the remaining casks of Littlemill to create a limited number of expressions bottled and released in strictly controlled numbers of just a few hundred bottles.
These whiskies will pay homage to the true Littlemill distillery character. And of course, allow the lucky few to taste the final legacy of Scotland’s oldest distillery.
The Buchanans’ would have been very proud. In these last precious drops from the distillery you started centuries ago, Sirs, we salute you. Slainthe!