Royal Lochnagar was awarded its royal prefix in 1848 – following a visit and tasting by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The event came about after the distillery manager John Begg (somewhat cheekily) dropped a note to their Royal Highnesses directly inviting them to pay a visit and sample the delights of the distillery and rather impudently, he mentioned that if they didn’t arrive by 6pm they would miss the distillery in operation. To him, there was no question that he would extend the routine to accommodate his royal guests. What happened next was quite extraordinary – without fanfare, Victoria and Albert paid an impromptu call and were suitably impressed. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The Royal connection has meant that the distillery has played host to a string of famous visitors, many of them British prime ministers taking an hour or so off between meetings with the monarch of the day at Balmoral.
The history of the distillery nearly ran a very different course. The first licensed Lochnagar distillery was established in 1826, on the north side of the river by a former illicit distiller. Soon after fellow smugglers burnt it down – apparently nonplussed that one of their own was ‘going legit’. It was later rebuilt in 1845 by Begg on the south bank of the river; he renamed it New Lochnagar. The north-bank distillery closed by 1860 and Lochnagar continued to prosper – although the Abergeldie Estates refused to sell the distillery the grounds it occupied, seeing the value increase as the distillery flourished and expanded.
Royal Lochnagar is one of the smallest distilleries in The Classic Malts Selection™, and has been rebuilt three times. However, it still retains the traditional distillery appearance, with its two pagoda kiln heads, and techniques (including an open mash tun) and also has a visitor centre and a ‘learning centre’ for the appreciation of malt whisky.