Malt of the Moment
Royal Lochnagar is the smallest distillery by Diageo standards with an annual capacity of just 500,000 litres, which puts it on a par with new arrivals such as Ardnamurchan and...
Find out more...
Royal Lochnagar is the smallest distillery by Diageo standards with an annual capacity of just 500,000 litres, which puts it on a par with new arrivals such as Ardnamurchan and Annandale. Unsurprisingly, there’s little of its whisky to go around with the standard bottling being the relatively overlooked 12-year-old expression. However Royal Lochnagar enjoys popularity in foreign markets and in recent years has releases a No Age Statement distillery only bottling, as well as an exclusive for the Friends of the Classic Malts programme.
The distillery we know today was established in 1845 on the south side of the River Dee by James Robertson. It was one of several attempts to establish a legal distillery in the area that stretched back to 1823 when Glen Feardan was built on the north side of the river. Fire struck this fledgling distillery in 1826, before another attempt nearby was also burned down. Eventually their luck changed and the New Lochnagar distillery finally took shape and avoided the fate of its forefathers.
The luck certainly did turn as in the early 1840’s the relatively new monarch, Queen Victoria, was visiting the region with Prince Albert, before returning again in 1844. Seeing the area as a suitable escape, a lease was acquired on the Balmoral Castle estate in 1848 and in doing so the royal linkage with the area was sealed and endures to this day. The Lochnagar distillery is situated nearby to the estate and one day after visiting her neighbours, the Queen was impressed enough to bestow the honour of a royal warrant to the distillery in 1848. Throughout the history of the whisky industry, only a trio of distilleries have received this honour including Royal Brackla and Glenury Royal so it’s a rare privilege.
Ownership of the distillery endured within the Begg family until 1916, having only rebuilt the distillery a decade prior. The economic conditions around this time and the arrival of the First World War meant that many distilleries shut down production. Several did not return to life once peace had returned to Europe and the presence of individually owned distilleries was dwindling. Instead consolidation of distillery ownership was now growing amongst companies with blending requirements. The new owners of Lochnagar were John Dewar & Sons, a famous blending operation from Perthshire, but this was a short-lived stint. By 1925, the Dewar company itself had been acquired by the Distillers Company who would eventually morph into the Diageo we know today.
It’s within this stable of ownership that Royal Lochnagar remains to this day and its history thereafter has been relatively uneventful. The early 1960’s brought investment with a widespread refurbishment of the distillery – as was common across the industry – and an end to the use of its traditional malting floors. Despite this major investment the distillery was not expanded nor the number of stills increased. Today, a single pair of stills remains in operation as has always been the case. These are comparatively small in stature with an onion shape topped by their tall necks. It’s all about copper contact and reflux that gives Royal Lochnagar a heaviness that is offset by the fermentation to bring out the fruity aspects in the spirit. With just a single warehouse in operation on site that remains in use, most of Lochnagar’s output is sent to Glenlossie that has a sizeable warehouse capacity.
As very little is produced at the distillery, its releases are popular with the Selected Reserve in 2012 having sold out and independent bottlings proving very elusive. Given its shyness and lack of publicity even the 12-year-old is a rare inclusion at some bars amongst the widespread Diageo range of whiskies. If you do see a bottle or have the opportunity to try Royal Lochnagar then do so, as enthusiasts will snap up bottles quickly to appreciate its wares.