The process starts with LDC researching as much as it can about the distilleries - locality, production techniques, machinery, still size, shape, capacity, water, yeast, barley, barrels & maturation techniques to create a flavour map that is then used by a nosing and tasting panel to select and marry single malts from 5-10 existing distilleries that LDC believes capture the essence of the original. The final result is a blend of 100% Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with no added colour and non-chill filtered. Neither of those processes was used a century ago when the distilleries were operational.
The Lost Distillery website has excellent information, background stories and tasting notes by Charles Maclean, although, it has to be said the company themselves weren’t helpful in providing us with any additional information about their products.
Prior to the main event we had a little bit of fun with a blind tasting of two whiskies. Let’s call it a Scottish amuse bouche inspired by Ralfy’s vlog review 795. The basis for the blind tasting was Lidl’s Queen Margot 3YO blended Scotch costing £10.99 a bottle. The first tot was as it comes from the bottle and the second tot was the same but with around 10% Caol Ila 12Yo added. The first tot had a mixed reception, most people thinking it very young even ‘new make’. Vanilla, pear, acetone and toffee were the key notes. The second tot was overwhelmingly agreed to be better with peat and spice to the fore. Nobody would be rushing out to buy Lidl’s Queen Margot, but at £10.99 a bottle it is a very good buy and the addition of he Caol Ila made it very acceptable without greatly impacting the price per tot. Thank you Ralfy!
(I subsequently tried using some Ardbeg 10YO, giving it a week to marry instead of the 24 hours for the blind tasting with a very pleasing result!).
Okay, let’s talk about the main course – the whiskies from LDC. We tried four of their current line-up.
Stratheden Classic Range – (Lowland 1829 to 1926) – 43% ABV - Retail £40
This distillery was founded in 1829 and situated right in the centre of the old market town of Auchtermuchty in Fife. The water source was a tributary of the Eden, channelled from the “Lovers pool” via an aqueduct and down past the distillery buildings where two water wheels provided the power. It took two years and the excavation of 3,000 cartloads of solid rock to route the water past the distillery!
In the 1900’s successive duty increases, set alongside distilling costs that were higher than those of modern distilleries meant that margins were eroded to the point where there was little will in continuing. The final blow was the loss of its major export market, as the United States embarked on a decade of Prohibition from 1920. The distillery ceased production in late 1924 and closed for good in 1926.
The distillery was unusual in that it only ever had one owner – three successive generations of the Bonthrone family.
Nose: Dark fruit, tobacco, marmalade, apple.
Taste: Chocolate orange, orange zest, sweet and some spice
Finish: Shortish, warming, spicy.
It was generally felt that this was better without the addition of water
Towiemore Archivist Range – (Speyside 1898 to 1931) - 46% ABV - Retail: £56
Towiemore was built in 1897 just outside of Dufftown and was in operation for just thirty years. In this time, it gained a reputation as an excellent pure malt whisky. Towiemore was a victim of bad luck and ill circumstance. Towiemore derived its water from the Towie Burn which runs through a rich seam of limestone which gave the water a mildly alkaline make-up (most water used in whisky distilling is slightly acidic). The distillery closed during WW1 reopening in 1922 with the release of a 3YO spirit. Most of its production was used in blends, but sadly something had changed in the water source and the alkalinity had increased, causing issues when blended with the typically slightly acidic malts from other sources. The change in water quality was probably caused by the lime works on the Towie Burn discharging their by-products into the burn. It still enjoyed a high reputation as a single malt, but this was not enough to save it from closure in 1931.
Interesting Fact - Captain Scott chose Towiemore as his spirit of choice for his Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole in 1910
Nose: Very clean with tropical fruits, honey.
Taste: Vanilla oak and spice.
Finish: Good length, warming and spicy
Jericho Archivist Range – (Highland 1822 to 1913) – 46% ABV - Retail £56
Tucked away in a remote valley near the town of Insch in Aberdeenshire are the remains of the Jericho Distillery, which thrived for eighty years. In 1884 it was re-named Benachie after a local mountain. Its remote location meant that transport from the distillery to the rail station at Insch was by horse and cart
In the 1900’s Benachie was still reliant on peat for fuel, on horse- power to transport spirit and almost entirely on the local market to sell its product. The final years of Benachie were marked by declining sales, loss of market and compressed profit margins. In 1909 duty on whisky was increased from 8 to 11 shillings a gallon. The combination of these factors caused the distillery to go silent in 1913.
Nose: Christmas cake, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
Taste: Some complexity with dark fruit, toffee, raisins.
Finish: Peppery, some tannin giving a drying medium length finish.
Lossit Classic Range – (Islay 1817 to 1867) - 43% ABV - Retail £41
Initially the site of an illicit still Lossit was founded in 1817, in a remote location, near to the current site of Caol Ila and was the biggest producer of whisky on Islay in the industry’s formative years. The whisky was highly regarded but its remote location worked against it. In 1863 Caol Ila was built and gave the Lossit distillery owners the opportunity to acquire a modern distillery with far superior transport links. Lossit was limited, small and secluded in comparison, the qualities that made it perfect for illegal distilling now a hindrance, and production ceased in 1867.
Nose: Peat is very noticeable, light fruit and vanilla, toastiness.
Taste: A little one-dimensional with peat and spice to the fore.
Finish: More smoke and spice, with the smoke eventually overpowering the spice
We enjoyed all of the whiskies from the Lost Distillery company, but it was generally felt that they didn’t compete at the price point.
The Jericho stood out as the best of the whiskies we tasted with a complex and satisfying taste, but there is some tough competition in the £50-£60 price range and this will struggle against some of the better-known competitors. Coming in second was the Lossit, considered by some as a little bit one-dimensional. At £40 a bottle this will also have difficulty competing with peated offerings from the majors. In third place was the Towiemore and trailing in last position was the Stratheden.
It is very subjective how close these whiskies are to the originals – there is no way of checking and it is probably best considered as a nice marketing ploy. In their defence, LDC does not claim to produce accurate recreations, merely approximations based on research and expertise. (If anyone has any of the originals they want to share with me, I would more than happily update this blog!).