...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Littlemills for my little girl: Littlemill 20 year old 1992 Berry Bros & Rudd

In the days leading up to Mathilda Rose's birth, my whisky drinking slowed to a stop.  I needed to be in Ready Mode at a moment's notice.  Plus with stress levels being high, I wanted to avoid utilizing it for medicinal purposes.  So for three weeks, I was down to a maximum of one drink per night; then the final week I stopped altogether.

But now she's here and to hell with restrictions, right?  Well, wrong.  First, I'm a responsible dad.  Secondly, when I opened my celebratory bottle of Yamazaki 18 I found out quite quickly that my former meager tolerance had been reduced by half.


To celebrate, I have four weeks of reviews of very different whiskies.

I'm leading off with Littlemills for my little girl this week.  I've tried a handful of indie bottlings of this closed distillery over the past few years and enjoyed all of them, in fact, I've liked them better than the pair of Rosebanks I tried during the same time frame.  So, at the moment it's the only Lowland distillery (current or former) that I consistently dig; though, I have heard that the old official 12yo can be a bit hideous uninspired.  In tomorrow's post I'll include some more info about the distillery, but since I've pished around so much in this post already, I'm going straight to the booze.

This is the first of three Littlemills this week.  Three, no more, no less.  Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.  Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.  Five is right out.  Once the number three, being the third number, be reached...

Distillery: Littlemill
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Age: 20 years (1992-2013)
Maturation: likely an ex-bourbon barrel
Cask number10
Region: Lowlands (though close to the Highlands border)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%

Thank you to Eric S. for another great sample!

The color is amber with some brassy notes up top.  At first there's lots of youth in the nose, especially chlorine and varnish, then big notes of barley and yeast.  Hints of sawdust and caramel.  Lime-flavored gummy candy, salty beach scents, pencil eraser, and white vinegar.  It grows more buttery with time.  The palate focuses mostly on barley, salt, and walnuts.  Gradually notes of caramel hard candies, spicy basil leaves, and tart oranges emerge.  Lots of heat still present.  The finish is simple but sturdy: cocoa powder, hazelnuts, and toasted barley.

The nose grows more bourbon-like with a boost to the sawdusty caramel.  There are orange peels and lime peels, flower kiss candy, and the inside of a Big League Chew bubblegum bag.  More water leads to more flowers and peels.  The palate is saltier and slightly savory.  The orange peels show up, as does an herbal bitterness.  The finish has the mild bitterness as well, along with toasty barley, and sour citrus.

A decent malt.  It's lean, pleasant, and with hints of greater things.  Its pleasures depend on how one feels about spirit-forward whisky.  In this whisky's case there's still tons of youthful barleyness present.  If one requires more oak in the presentation, then this may bore.  Personally, I like the low oak quotient.  But "like" is a far as I'll go.  It was a fun whisky to try but there's no need for me to get a bottle.

Serge Valentin is almost over the moon
 about this one, though he's clearly finding more going on in the palate and finish than I do.  But his reference to wormwood is right on; I liked the bitterness but wasn't sure what it reminded me of and Serge's review came to the rescue.  The whiskybase community also loves this stuff, but because only one person wrote up tasting notes I don't know what they're raving about.

Now, back to my opinion...  This whisky wins a couple extra points from me because I admire Berry Bros & Rudd for bottling the cask when they did.  They could have let it age for five more years and doubled the price.  Or they could have waited until it was 30+ years old and quadrupled the price.  But had they done so that sawdusty caramel note from the oak would have gradually taken over all the other flavors by the third decade.  A buyer would then shill out $500 for a "super-premium" single malt only to get the sort of oak juice that can be found in many 12+ year old bourbons at 1/10th its expense.  But instead, this Littlemill is brisk and spirity with subtle stirrings of American oak.

Tomorrow another 1992, but for today:

Availability - UK/Europe only, not sure if this specific cask has sold out yet
Pricing - around $130 w/o shipping, depending on exchange rate
Rating - 85


  1. I demand to know how Eric S. makes these sample labels!

    1. MAO, these are all done via Microsoft Word. Simpler ones, like the BBR labels are fairly simple, but those with extensive images are a bit more challenging. I "cheat" by copying an image, if it is possible to find them through Google, etc. and inserting them into the field as appropriate. Some are really difficult, like Springbank. It has proven nearly impossible to find a workable "S" for the label and there is no standard font that I can find to create one.

    2. And the you seal the bottle in wax! Wow....

  2. If you want to try the OB 12 Year, I grabbed a bottle recently. It was $34, so I figured it was worth a crack, if only for the sake of comparisons.

    1. $34 is a great price. Can get it for $50-$60 around here. Another OR closeout, I presume? My wording about the 12yo may be a bit harsh, I'll dampen it a little.

    2. Yup, closeout. Just wish that had happened with Glen Scotia 12, which I genuinely like, before it disappeared.

      And no need to reword. I have yet to read a glowing review of of Littlemill 12 Year. My expectations are set very, very low. To exceed them all it has to do is not suck.

    3. We have the some of the old Glen Scotia 12 around here, but it was near $70. If it was $50, I would have given you a shout. I found a place with the old 17yo for $75.

      Wouldn't mind swapping for a sample of the Littlemill whenever it's opened. If it doesn't suck, then it would be nice to give it some (late but) good word of mouth.

    4. Which store? I'd be very interested in getting a bottle of Glen Scotia 17.

  3. Please, include a baby photo with *every* review at least for the next 6 months!
    Once again, congratulations, you're experiencing now the best kind of Pappy there is!

    I found the key words in your review that link to what I find special about this distillery: bitter, herbal, savory. The "wormwood" is what I think I called gentian/Underberg in my review of Scott's Selection Littlemill. BTW, I think you had some of that Littlemill, how does it compare, if you remember?

    BBR did age this a little longer, they have a 22yo on the market, of which I have a bottle (with your help).

    Littlemill is at the moment also my favorite lowlander, although I'm discovering that Linlithgow is a strong contender.

    K&L has an attractive bottle of Exclusive Malts Littlemill. I'm not ready to buy a whole bottle, due to previous questionable XM casks, as you know. I now sampled the K&L XM Miltonduff, it had a similar oak burn to the XM Aberlour, although less pronounced. I am amenable to a bottle share at some point.

    1. I have so many photos of the baby that I'm starting to see a potential meme developing. It's just too bad I didn't get a picture of her spitting up on my Guinness t-shirt.

      I'm curious about that 22yo BBR now. Do you know the cask number on it? If it's a different cask, then I hope they also bottled it before the oak notes expanded.

      My written notes on the Scott's Selection version are limited. Lemon peel, honey, dried herbs. I remember it having less of an alcohol bite (despite the higher ABV) than this BBR. Probably should have gone in with you guys on that bottle!

      I'm with you on the K&L Exclusive Malts hesitancy. Staff notes of "sweet oak" and "oak spice" aren't encouraging to me after our experiences. If K&L did a public tasting of it in LA, then it would give them a chance to clear up concerns.

    2. That Littlemill was bottled under the K&L Faultline label by EM and so far the Faultline selections have all been really good (check out the bourbon too). But I didn't get the Littlemill because I was more interested in that Mortlach. I did get the official Littlemill 12 a year ago and I agree that it's uninspired. Now I know the contents are older than 12 but it still tastes young (third fill barrels?) and rough.

      Maybe it's time to email David OG about holding more tastings (seems the Hollywood store doesn't have them as often). Driscoll schedules theirs on Wednesdays but I sadly missed Bill Lumsden's visit last month.

    3. Michael, there are more bottles of the Scott's Selection around, although at $170+. I'm probably going to snatch one of these at some point soon - let me know if you want 1/2. For the XM Littlemill it seems like we'd need a bigger crowd split to hedge against the risk - 3 or 4 per. It's casked much earlier than the other XMs so it could be different, but I don't know what their deal is and why several casks are weird in similar ways - caution is the word.

      BBR 22yo Littlemill: Cask Ref #17, 54.3%, d.1990 b2013. - so a different animal, I was wrong about the longer aging of your 1992. Probably BBR doesn't bother to play with half casks anyway.

    4. Hey Eric, we might be talking about different Littlemills. The one we're referencing is the brand new one released by Exclusive Malts using their own label and everything. The 25yo 1988. http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1158726

      I remember the Faultline Littlemill (http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1079278), but I've actually only tried one of the Faultlines (North Highland). A $30k-$50K license is required for a retailer to hold a LEGAL spirits tasting in store in the LA/OC area thus no one outside of Wally's Wines actually does them. The counties thought they'd bring in some extra revenue and no one bought in. The only way to do them is at restaurant/bar that has a liquor license and the only way K&L will do one of those is if a large group buys in. Thus the only times the tastings happen are if Southern California Whiskey Club or LA Scotch Club get involved. And those groups each do a couple every year and try to hit those up when they happen. Sorry this is so long-winded. What I'm trying to say is that you guys have it better up North!

    5. Florin, I'm going to opt out of splitting the K&L Littlemill unless K&L does a tasting in town and I discover the Littlemill kicks butt. Plus the buying freeze will be going for a long time. Regarding the problem XMs, I'm wondering if they were recasked into new oak.

    6. Yes, recasking into new strange oak is a possibility, especially since we now know - thanks Mao! - that "single cask" does not mean what we think it means. I understand the buying freeze, baby needs shoes, as they say. Shoes before booze, I'm all for that!

    7. Oops, I actually thought that XM Littlemill was a Faultline bottling. I might have been thinking of that old Faultline Littlemill from a few years ago. Sadly I also missed David Stirk's visit to Redwood City though I'm not sure what was in the tasting line-up.

      Wow, Driscoll mentioned that he had to go through some hoops to get spirit tastings at the Redwood City store but I wasn't aware that LA/OC has made it cost prohibitive to hold them.

    8. Eric, yeah I think it's one of the reasons the folks up north get many more official whisky tastings in general. The population, demographics, and wealth can be found in SoCal, but it's so much more difficult to get these tastings set up.

  4. Michael, your write-up was close to my experiences. Very malt forward, although I seem to have found more sweet fruits than you did, along with a similar bitter/citric element.

    1. Thanks for the sample! I do like the salt, malt, citrus peel, and herbal characteristics that I found, but some more sweet fruits would have made it a better ride.