Three years before Queen Victoria bought Balmoral in 1848, the New Lochnagar Distillery was set up on the south side of the River Dee at Craithie. The owner was John Begg and he had added the prefix ‘New’ as there was already a Lochnagar distillery on the north banks of the River Dee. Begg took a chance and invited his new royal neighbors to visit his plant which was half a mile away from Balmoral Castle.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert did drop by to look around and were impressed with the process and product. They even awarded him the first Royal warrant for his whisky, ‘Distiller to Her Majesty’. Subsequently he was allowed to call his distillery Royal Lochnagar. This Royal visit put the distillery on the map and Mr. Begg never lacked for celebrity visitors like several Prime Ministers.
The distillery was built on Abergeldie Estates and the landlord refused to sell the land which had been given to Begg on long lease. The distillery prospered over the years and expanded between 1850 and 1879. New offices and warehouses were acquired in Aberdeen. Begg was a pioneer in blended Scotch whisky. On his death and that of his son, who lacked his interest and acumen, the distillery was left in Trust for Begg’s grandchildren.
It subsequently converted into a limited company, John Begg Ltd when it was too much for the trust to handle. Lochnagar was completely rebuilt in1906. It was sold to John Dewar & Sons in 1916. When Dewar joined Distillers Company Limited in1925 Royal Lochnagar was acquired too.
The distillery was rebuilt extensively once again in 1963 and the only structures remaining from the earlier days were the malting barns and kiln, in disuse since 1966. The original distillery has some unusual equipment. Its cast iron steeping vessels are rectangular, unlike the usual cylindrical. The single pair of stills has unusual lyne arms that dip downwards. Most stills have this conical extension at the upper end running horizontal. Each has its own cast iron worm tub; unlike the usual wooden ones. Malting of barley for Lochnagar is conducted at Roseisle near Elgin.
Despite expansions Lochnagar is a small distillery and only 500,000 liters of Royal Lochnagar are produced each year. A large part of this is used in the Johnnie Walker ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ label blends. The whisky is one of the blends of Vat 69. The distillery bottlings are Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old and the Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve. Independent bottlers Hart brothers also sell this popular whisky. The visitors centre at Lochnagar displays the full range of products. The Royal Lochnagar distillery is currently owned by Diageo Scotland Ltd, one of the largest producers of spirits in the world.