Foundation Year: 1845
Where: Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Crathie, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5TB, Balmoral
State of Production: Active
Whisky Distinctive traits: Smooth and sweet
Visitor centre: Yes, open to public
Our adventures around Scottish distilleries continue. After exploring the twin distilleries of Clynelish and Brora, and discovering all the secrets of the Mortlach distillery and its ‘beastly’ whisky, we headed to Royal Lochnagar.
A little bit more about Royal Lonchanagar
The Royal Lochnagar Distillery is set in one of the most romantic settings in the Highlands. It is located just a mile from Balmoral Castle and lies at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains, fuelled by the crystal clear waters of the Scarnock Springs.
Originally called New Lochnagar, the distillery today combines traditional pagoda heads and techniques such as open mash tun. It has a whisky visitor that people can visit to learn more about the history of the distillery and its whisky. Let’s then see together what we discovered about it!
Royal Lochnagar History
As always, let’s start with some history. The founding of Royal Lochnagar was turbulent. It was a difficult period in the Highlands during 1823 when James Robertson founded and built a distillery near the present site.
A Difficult Beginning
Just three years later after its foundation, in 1826, the distillery was burnt down by some competitors. Robertson, unflinching, decided to rebuild it, this time next to Lochnagar Mountain. Unfortunately, when the distillery was almost complete, the same dishonest rivals succeded again to set the site on fire. It was a disaster. Poor Robertson was once again defeated.
The origin of New Lochnagar
In 1845, Lochnagar was given a new chance. John Begg built a new distillery, ‘New Lochnagar’, on the banks of the River Dee.
What about the nasty rivals?
Well, in those years, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had bought the nearby Balmoral Estate ( btw, this move confirmed Scotland as a fashionable destination for the English middle classes and royalties in those years). Hence, Begg invited his new neighbours to his distillery soon after the opening. Needless to say, the gracious Queen and her consort actually loved the whisky! In fact, they loved it so much that in 1848, Queen Victoria granted a special warrant to the distillery. New Lochnagar then became Royal Lochnagar. No one would have dared to burn the place down after that! Apparently, when the Queen stayed at nearby Balmoral Castle in the summer, she loved to take a short trip to the distillery for a break from her duties (who could blame her!).
The distillery remained a Begg family business for some time. When John Begg died, his son Henry took over the management in 1882. And after him, his sons decided to rebuild the distillery.
In 1916, the distillery left the family’s hands when John Dewar and Sons acquired it. Eventually, Diageo acquired ownership of Royal Lochnagar. Under Diageo, Royal Lochnagar, the distillery continued to prosper.
Diageo and Royal Lochnagar
Royal Lochnagar is actually the smallest distillery owned by Diageo. Indeed, the distillery has a very small production capacity: only 450’000 litres a year. But never underestimate anything by appearance… especially a distillery!
Royal Lochnagar’s official bottlings are rather few, but they are absolutely incredible. Indeed, the distillery produces a relatively small amount of whisky, most of which is used in Johnnie Walker’s black and blue label. As for the single malt bottlings, Royal Lochnagar produces a standard 12-year-old single malt for public sale bottled at 40% abv.
The 12-year-old has some complex aromas, with notes of light toffee, and boat varnish, followed by a lychee-like acidity. At the palate, this delicate single malt offers fruity tones, planed wood, and light toffee. A truly well-balanced and smooth whisky.
In June 2022, the distillery also released a special edition whisky, known as the ‘Balmoral platinum edition‘ for the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II. A great piece to have in your collection!
In general, Lochnagar whiskies are renowned for their light and delicate taste, with sweet and incredible smooth notes.
Naturally, the way the whisky is distilled contributes to the elegant dance of its flavours.
The malt used in the production of Royal Lochnagar is unpeated. The distillery used its own malting floors until 1963. Then it stopped and now sources its malt from Diageo’s central maltings.
Everything about Royal Lochnagar’s plant, especially its two small stills and worm tubs, may let you think that is a classic, ‘heavy’ 19th-century site. However, the result is a very light spirit.
The wash still has a capacity of 6,700 litres and the spirit still has a capacity of 3,720 litres. The pot stills have a traditional Speyside shape, with a wide, spherical lid and a tall conical neck. The distillation is slowed down to maximise reflux and the stills’ doors are opened after distillation to allow air in to rejuvenate the copper. Meanwhile, the worm tubs are run warm. All of these elements combined together help produce a new make with the aroma of dry grass with a background of fruits. Then, the new make is usually let to mature in a combination of Oak, Sherry and Muscat Casks.
Royal Lochnagar has a very unusual feature: a duty-paid warehouse. Indeed, Royal Lochnagar is home to Diageo’s Malt Advocate Academy, which is where the company’s employees are trained on the different kinds of Whisky! Just think, a school where they teach you about whisky! I dare to say, it is even better than Hogwarts!
That was everything we learned during our tour in Royal Lochnagar distillery. Have you ever visited the distillery? Which of its whiskies are your favourites? Share this article and tag MNIW to let us know!
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*The cover photo of this article is from visitscotland.com