A historic distillery in Bowling has been officially declared to be the oldest licensed whisky distillery in Scotland.

New documentary evidence unearthed from the archives conclusively proves Littlemill Distillery was the oldest in Scotland.

The new evidence came to light following the discovery of the local Justice of the Peace’s records for Dumbarton, dated November 2, 1773, which state that ‘Robert Muir of Littlemiln’ was granted the first ever licence by the Government of King George III to “retail ale, beer and other excisable Liquors".

Additionally, in 1772 accommodation was built next door to the distillery to house the excise officers who represented the King – and ensured any distillation was duly recorded and the relevant taxes calculated and paid.

This suggests that something was already afoot onsite before 1772 and cements Littlemill’s position as Scotland’s first and oldest licensed whisky distillery.

For over 220 years, a date stone on the gable end of one of the distillery’s warehouses carved with 1772 offered the best suggestion as to the age of the world-renowned distillery, but there has been no documentary or legal proof until now.

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What's more, according to whisky historian and writer Misako Udo, distilling may have taken place there for many centuries before, possibly making it the world’s oldest whisky distillery.

Production at Littlemill continued until the distillery fell silent in 1994 and it was subsequently destroyed by fire in 2004, never to produce a drop again.

Colin Matthews, CEO of the Loch Lomond Group, the independent distiller based in Alexandria, said: “It has often been rumoured that Littlemill was the oldest licensed distillery in Scotland which until now have been only rumours.

"We have now uncovered conclusive documentary evidence to confirm these rumours and claims as reality.

"We are thrilled and excited to have discovered these clear and unambiguous documents dating back to 1773 that confirms that Littlemill was indeed the very first Scottish distillery to obtain a licence to sell ‘excisable liquors’.”

Charles MacLean, whisky historian and author, added: “The wrangle about ‘the oldest distillery’ has been running for ages, so this is a significant find.

"There have been several claims before, based on the fact that illicit distilling took place on the site prior to a license being granted.

"The Dumbarton Justice of the Peace records, referencing Littlemill, does not refer explicitly to distilling, since prior to 1781 private distilling was perfectly legal so long as the spirits were not offered for sale.

"So, this licence to sell excisable liquors amounted to a licence to distil as we understand it today. What a shame Littlemill itself burnt down in 2004, but thankfully some limited stocks remain!”

Whisky from Littlemill is still sought after by connoisseurs prepared to pay highly for the privilege of owning some.

The latest addition to the range, Littlemill 29-year-old, will be released in September at a cool £2,500 for a bottle.