Whisky Focus - Littlemill 45 Year Old The Vanguards Collection Chapter One

Littlemill 45 Year Old The Vanguards Collection Chapter One

15th September 2023
Scotland’s oldest licensed distillery, Littlemill has unveiled the first release in what will be a series of four annual releases which they have named, The Vanguard Collection.

Littlemill 45 Year Old The Vanguards Collection Chapter One

Scotland’s oldest licensed distillery, Littlemill, which was established in 1772 has unveiled the first release in what will be a series of four annual releases which they have named, The Vanguard Collection. The Collection launches with Littlemill 45 Year Old The Vanguards Collection Chapter One. The whisky has been drawn from the oldest and rarest reserves of the Lowland distillery, which fell silent almost 30 years ago now, back in 1994.

The Vanguards Collection Chapter One was distilled on October 11, 1977, at the original Bowling site in West Dunbartonshire, using Littlemill's pioneering straight-neck copper pot hybrid stills, a groundbreaking innovation introduced in the early 1900s.

The spirit was aged in refill American Oak casks before receiving a final five-year maturation in a first-fill Oloroso Sherry Hogshead. The outcome is described as an exquisite single malt featuring enticing notes of honey, elderflower, and nutmeg on the nose. Its palate boasts a silky texture akin to melted brown sugar, intertwined with flavors of vanilla and fresh fruits, culminating in a lingering finish replete with citrus notes and caramelized sugars.

Master Blender Michael Henry personally chose this traditional wood finish, meticulously documented in the distillery's records, as it harmonizes perfectly with the delicate floral character of this Lowland malt.

Bottled at its natural cask strength of 50.5% ABV and retaining its unaltered colour, a mere 250 individually numbered bottles of this rare whisky are available worldwide, and as you can imagine you will need deep pockets if you want to taste it, it has a price tag of £12,500.

Vanguard Chapter One is the inaugural expression in The Vanguard Collection, a series of four releases planned annually. Each release will collaborate with a global artist to pay homage to those who, like Littlemill, challenged conventions, pioneered innovative technologies and processes, and left an indelible legacy.

The first expression in this series pays tribute to Robert Muir, who received the first-ever license to "retail beer, ale, and excisable liquors" from King George III in 1773. This momentous event potentially marked the formal beginnings of whisky distillation and undeniably set the stage for a remarkable chapter in the world of whisky.

This historic moment is celebrated through a partnership with British artist, illustrator, and wordsmith Vic Lee, renowned for his distinctive and intricate approach to penmanship. Vic has collaborated with some of the UK's most beloved and forward-thinking brands, including McLaren Automotive, Nike, Atkin Guitars, Brompton Bikes, and The Tate Modern.

Using traditional screen printing techniques, Vic has crafted 250 cotton paper artworks that reimagine the original license through contemporary illustrations. These artworks include depictions of Littlemill's original stills, warehousing, and the trade ships on the River Clyde in Scotland, nodding to the bustling international trade of the time.

Printed on exquisite off-white cotton paper, each bespoke artwork is meticulously hand-finished in Indian grey ink for a unique touch. These artworks are encased in meticulously crafted handmade ash display cabinets, crafted by Littlemill's most skilled carpenters and woodworkers.

Within each cabinet, an exquisite handblown Glencairn crystal decanter, featuring delicate cuts in the glass inspired by a traditional writing quill, awaits. This pays homage to Robert Muir, who would have used such a quill to sign the original license. A glass portal in the cabinet door offers a glimpse into Vic Lee's hand-finished artwork, with each piece individually signed and numbered by Vic and Master Blender Michael Henry.

Each cabinet also houses a branded 50ml miniature bottle and a hardbound book recounting the captivating story of Littlemill. These additions allow the fortunate few who possess this exceptional single malt to delve into and savour Scotland's most enthralling whisky tale while enjoying an exquisite dram.

Established in 1772 in Bowling, West Dunbartonshire, Littlemill was a pioneer of its time in terms of innovation. Unfortunately, it was lost to a fire in 2004. Since then, Master Blender Michael Henry has been the custodian of the last remaining rare casks, drawing upon these limited reserves for the inaugural release of The Vanguard Collection.

Michael Henry, Master Blender of Loch Lomond Group, said: "Littlemill’s was Scotland’s first licensed distillery, but the journey thereafter is what makes it remarkable. It’s legacy is defined by unsung heroes and quiet trailblazers at its helm.

"These vanguards of their time were overturning traditions in production, innovating with still designs and craftsmanship, and quietly leaving their fingerprints on Littlemill and the wider whisky industry. Much like Littlemill itself, these individuals passed into history before their contribution could ever be applauded, but their influence lives on in these last precious casks, which I am lucky enough to have under my personal care and custodianship.

"This creation of the first in The Vanguard Collection has been a fascinating process, as we have gone back to explore again the wonderful history of this intriguing whisky distillery. Robert Muir is a pioneer of his time, and this latest release is a celebration of that.

"Quite unlike anything else, Littlemill is a beautiful summer whisky, with characteristics of gentle vanilla and floral notes on the nose, with the sweetness of honey and creamy fudge, accompanied on the palate by classic Lowland fresh fruits. It’s a unique and special character, which we work hard to preserve without compromise."

Vic Lee, artist, said: "Working closely with Michael and the team, we sought to create something bespoke and unique that could accompany each exclusive bottle. The artwork had to respect the original license from 1773, and through a detailed and time-consuming approach, I drew upon historic penmanship and printing methods, while applying my own contemporary feel.

"There is so much beauty in works and letters; they can incite so much emotion and understanding of a period of time, which was exactly what was required for this remarkable Littlemill launch."

Vanguard Chapter One will be available for purchase via enquiry through the Littlemill website and other
specialist online whisky shops such as The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt

Littlemill The Vanguards Collection Chapter One Review

Bottled at 50.5% ABV.

Producer's Tasting Notes:

Nose: Honey, elderflower, pineapple, kiwi, roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Taste: Silk like mouthfeel, melted brown sugar, vanilla, crème brûlée, crisp apple, ripe pear, freshly squeezed lime juice, dried fruit – sultana and citrus peel.

Finish: Long with notes of grilled grapefruit and sweet caramelised sugars, all balanced with sharp citrus.


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