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A Deeside Diamond Whisky editor John Bruce on the royally approved Lochnager


n 1848, while most of Europe and much of Latin America experienced uprisings in what became known as the Year of Revolution, Queen Victoria decided that it might be amusing to have a place in which to while away her holiday time. In search of this wee “but and ben”, the Royal party arrived on Deeside in Aberdeenshire and happened upon Balmoral Castle. Having deemed the property “small but pretty”, Victoria ordered for Balmoral to be rebuilt to rather more satisfactory dimensions and set about meeting the locals. The great Queen’s foresight in engaging with her populace ensured she avoided the fate of the rather more stand-offish second home owners of the following century. “Come home to a real fire – buy a holiday home in Wales,” went the joke from the 1970s, a play on British Coal’s television adverts at a time when Welsh nationalists were taking particular umbrage to the English penchant for snapping up country cottages. Like many present day holidaymakers, the monarchs thought it necessary to find a place for a wee tipple and fortunately enough, Lochnager Distillery happened to be less than a mile from the castle. John Begg, the distillery owner,

demonstrating fine Scottish opportunism, had invited Prince Albert to visit, ostensibly due to the consort’s interest in all things mechanical. Apparently there was also great interest in lubrication as Victoria, Albert and their three eldest children arrived the next day. A Royal Warrant of Appointment as supplier to the Queen swiftly followed and Royal Lochnager was to be a very successful distillery for many years. As with most of the Scottish distilleries, ownership changed as the industry flourished and waned but today the distillery is owned by Diageo, the global drinks company. The vast majority of the output from the distillery is utilized by Diageo in the production of their market dominating Johnny Walker Black and Johnny Walker Blue deluxe blended whiskies and, as the distillery is one of the smallest in Scotland, this means that no great amounts of the single malt itself are available. The distillery markets only three expressions and the 12 year old core expression is a great example of a highland malt. Traditional production values, fine spring water and carefully selected barley have produced a typically smooth, indeed sweet highland malt. 2

HK Golfer・FEB 2012

Single malt whisky is a marvellous success story and much of that success is due to the careful control of quality and entitlement to the name, as well as the exponential growth in demand for something that is limited in supply. The boutique bottlers have been referred to before and they have found a particularly profitable but entirely beneficial niche in the industry. On the way back from a recent trip to Scotland I was looking for something new to sample and happened upon the Old Malt Cask Royal Lochnagar 14 year old, which Douglas Laing has put out as its Diamond Jubilee commemorative malt. The Old Malt Cask range was launched by Douglas Laing with 50 bottlings from various distilleries to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company but they now have more than one hundred carefully selected fine malts in the range. Each single cask bottling is, by definition, limited in number with casks selected from all of Scotland’s great distilleries. Chill filtration is eschewed and the preferred strength is 50 per cent abv. Not everything falls entirely into place for the commemorative malt that I purchased however, as this strength is traditionally referred to as the “Golden Strength”. But I would suspect that a “Diamond Strength” might be less of a delight than this little gem. If this bottling is an example of the quality across the entire Old Malt Cask selection, then Douglas Laing have done a magnificent job. Sampled, unfortunately, with more than one friend, I only just managed to keep the last fifth of the bottle for myself. In keeping with the theme of this edition, I will readily say that this, with the exception of the HK$1,500 that I recently found in the pocket of a little worn jacket, was my best discovery of 2012. The nose is my least favourite part of the experience as it is somewhat too alcoholic, but this is an entirely minor complaint. Sweet but with hints of green fruit the initial taste morphs into a very rich and almost butterscotch middle that lengthens into a honey laden but warmly alcoholic finish. It demands a little water to bring all of these sensations to the fore and is, in this Olympic year, pure nectar. HKGOLFER.COM