In his latest column, Brian Townsend delves into the history of Royal Lochnagar distillery and the success of its latest cask release.
The early history of Royal Lochnagar distillery is obscure, with three reliable sources giving different versions. It seems the first Lochnagar distillery was built in 1825 by former smuggler John Robertson north of the Dee, only to burn down twice, in 1834 and 1841, and close.
A new distillery was built south of the Dee in 1845 by John Begg, unaware that within three years he would have some pretty illustrious neighbours. In 1848, Prince Albert leased nearby Balmoral Castle, bought it outright in 1852, then spent four years and a fortune building a new castle fit for Queen Victoria.
John Begg promptly invited his new neighbours to drop in. Normally, organising such a royal visit would take weeks, but Albert rolled up the next day, with the royal couple, plus three of their children, visiting the day after that.
Evidently, they liked the house nectar. When the great Alfred Barnard called in 1886, the distillery had been supplying the royal households for 36 years. It also became one of three distilleries, with Brackla and now-lost Glenury, to have “Royal” attached to its name.
The distillery passed through many hands, including DCL, Scottish Malt Distillers and John Dewar.
Now in the Diageo portfolio, it is still leased from the royal estates. Both distillery and its delightful single malt are among my favourites and Royal Lochnagar is widely available and a key ingredient of Johnny Walker Black and Blue Labels.
The latest Royal Lochnagar, one of Diageo’s Casks of Distinction, is all too (or rather tutu) special – a single cask, The Sleeping Beauty, with 473 bottles recently auctioned and proceeds going to the Scottish Ballet Endowment Fund.
Casked in November 1994, bottled this April, it is 56.3% abv, natural colour and non-chill-filtered.
The auction was a great success. Bottle No. 1 came with a painting on the cask lid by Norman Edgar of Scottish Ballet’s then principal dancer Nicci Theis, as Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty – and raised £22,500.
The 473 bottles fetched a remarkable £210,296, with Whisky Auctioneer, of Perth, generously donating their buyers’ premium of £21,030.
And I imagine some happy bidders will be doing a pirouette or two.