Littlemill, a closed distillery from the Lowlands region, is yet more proof of the fact that the best thing a distillery can do for its reputation is to shut down. Never beloved by the masses when it was open, the bottles available in the first decade and a half after it closed (in 1994) did little to change anyone’s mind. But every worm turns and in the last couple of years a number of highly regarded Littlemills from the late 1980s and early 1990s have been released by a number of indie bottlers. I have a few of those in the stash, but this is not one of them.
This bottle is from 1984–considered by some to be part of a problematic era at Littlemill. However, the sudden recent uptick in the reputation of the recent releases made me wonder if older ones from earlier in the 1980s might in fact be better than the distillery’s reputation might suggest (whisky geeks, alas, are very prone to herd mentality in confirming the virtues or faults of entire distilleries or eras at distilleries that are supposed to be exceptional one way or the other). And the very low price asked for it by Binny’s as part of their ongoing closeout sale emboldened me. Good idea? Bad idea? Let’s see.
Littlemill 20, 1984-2005 (46%, Hart Brothers; from my own bottle)
Nose: Quite a lot of musky fruit: melon mostly, some over-ripe. But there’s another note behind the fruit that’s a little odd: vaguely chemical: paint-thinner? or is that diesel? Its effect is variable: sometimes it gives the fruit a bit of an edge and sometimes it makes the whole smell like cheap mosquito repellent cream. With time the chemical note recedes somewhat. And water pushes it even further back, turning the cheap mosquito repellent into a more pleasant citronella. With more time there’s also some orange oil.
Palate: The chemical note is not immediately apparent on the palate but there is certainly some astringency (rotten wood?). The fruit talks too, through and over the astringency: over-ripe musk melons, some kiwi, and also a note reminiscent of a watermelon flavoured chewing gum handed out at some restaurants in Koreatown in Los Angeles. Something floral as well, and there’s some pepper too. Water is less good for the palate as it emphasizes woody spiciness while dialing back the fruit. Still, it does reduce the astringency here too.
Finish: The fruit carries on for a bit but then there’s also a vague soapy note.
Comments: Hmmm this is an interesting one; indeed, it divided opinions quite sharply at our local group’s recent tasting: one person gave it an uncharacteristically low score while another gave it a stratospherically high score.. I myself liked it a lot more on my first try than on the second (at the tasting) or the third (tonight). There’s much in this that I like even now, but, on the whole, I could do without that off-note. On the other hand, it’s not so totally off-putting or dominant and water does fix some of the more problematic aspects even as it dilutes some of the better qualities. In some ways it is almost like a borderline Bowmore from the mid-1980s with the peat and lavender completely removed. It is certainly interesting (oh god, I’m turning Minnesotan!) but it’s the kind of interesting that I’m happier to have encountered at $65 than at the original list price. It will be interesting to see how/if it changes with time. If you have tried this whisky I would love to hear your experience.
Rating: 82 points.