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Lindores Abbey distillery, as seen from the abbey

2017 Whisky adventures part 6: Fife – Lindores Abbey, Eden Mill, Artisan and more!

Just a few years ago, when I first travelled to Scotland, Fife was pretty much non-existent on modern whisky maps, even the rogue farm distillery at Daftmill was only known to a handful of geeks. These days it could count as a whisky region of its own, with quite a few new distilleries starting up. Amongst them is the first stop of the day for Jo and myself – Lindores Abbey.
Sit back, pour yourself a dram and join us on the journey!

Lindores Abbey

Et per liberacionem factam fratri Johanni Cor per preceptum compotorum rotulatoris, ut asserit, de mandato domini regis ad faciendum aquavite infra hoc compotum, viii bolle brasii.

“To Friar John Cor, 8 bolls of malt, wherewith to make aqua vitae for the King.”

The date was 1st of June, 1494, and this phrase is to be found on a piece of parchment, an Exchequer Roll. It marks the first recorded history of distillation of “aqua vitae” in Scotland, the “water of life”, the unaged equivalent of what we call “new make” today before it goes into casks.
523 years later, to the day, Jo and I are given a very warm welcome by Drew McKenzie Smith, Managing Director and Gary, distillery manager, at the gates of the former Lindores Abbey on Lindores Farm, in the possession of Drew’s family for over 100 years. Distillation is about to be resumed at the time of writing (August 2017), at what they call the “spiritual home of Scotch Whisky”. Now, we’ve seen a lot of new distillery projects these past few years and everybody tries to find a unique story, a unique selling point, some so far-fetched it’s borderline comical, but the same can not be said about this place. Actually, the project has been (on and off) in the making for many years, way before the current distillery boom had started.

Lindores Abbey distillery, as seen from the abbey

Lindores Abbey distillery, as seen from the abbey

The new distillery is being built across the road from the abbey’s remains, where formerly farm buildings – built from Abbey stone – stood. It might not be visible anymore today, but digs carried out when constructing the distillery, revealed the ground where the distillery now stands once was part of the abbey itself, which was founded in 1191 by Benedictine monks from the Order of Tiron. The monks were known for medicinal skills and horticulture and the abbey grounds once were home to an impressive orchard – about 3000 fruit trees can still be found in town, originating from the Abbey’s orchards. Now, why is this important? Every new distillery project needs an income stream before they can sell whisky after a minimum waiting time of three years and a day. Many sell products like gin, vodka or young whisky, or even new make. Drew’s vision for Lindores is slightly different and a clever integration of the site’s heritage: He plans to sell aqua vitae, which once was new make improved with all sorts of herbs (and honey). The visitor’s centre will feature an apothecary where visitors will be able to create their own version of it, with Lindores new make and selected (some even locally grown) herbs. They also plan on selling a commercial aqua vitae. Depending on how their own spirit matures and how well sales of the spirit product are, the first whisky release is planned to occur at about 5 years of age. The sale of aqua vitae is not the only homage to the distillery’s past, there will be a refactorium, used as a dining area, with huge, rustic oak banquet tables, for instance, and more details for visitors to explore during a visit. Continue reading

Auchroisk #whiskyfabric group picture

Speyside trip 2016: Part one – Boortmalt Maltings Buckie – Speyside Cooperage – Auchroisk Distillery

Plane to Aberdeen

Our plane to Aberdeen

Going somewhere for the first time is always filled with anticipation and excitement. In the last week of April 2016 my brother Johannes and I packed our backpacks for our first ever ‘real’ trip to the Speyside in Scotland. While we’ve been to Scotland many times before and even visited Benromach and Glen Moray last year, this was to be our first proper visit to the current heart of Scotch whisky production. Well, our decision to head there might have been triggered by the fact that there was a whisky festival going on at that time – the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival. You might have heard about it. If not – click the link! Part of the festival excitement had to do with us meeting friends old and new as nine of us whisky geeks (that would be Jo, Johanne, Crystal, Viva, Kat, the Spellers and us two boys) shared a house for a week – a bit out of the way in Cullen (home of the famous Cullen Skink fish soup), but it was comfy and cheap – perfect as a base camp! And right next to our base camp – the next town, literally – was the first destination of our first tour on the first day of #dram16, Thursday, the 28th of April.

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

It’s Wednesday morning, the sun is shining (for the most part) and we’re driving our car towards Buckie to take a look at the Boortmalt maltings operation there. What better way to start a whisky festival than looking at how THE main ingredient in malt whisky production, malt, is made? At the door we were greeted by plant manager Gary and led into the board room for tea and cookies. Not a bad way to start the day indeed. The day even got better when we bumped into house mate Crystal for the first time as well as Lora and Rachel – always great to meet fellow malt mates at festivals!

Malting barley is a three-step process. At first you “steep” the dried barley in water to raise water content of the grain, as can be seen in the second picture, which was taken at the time when the steeping vessel was “stirred” by way of introducing compressed air from the bottom. Once a moisture content of approximately 45% is reached, the water is drained and the barley transferred to the germination chamber.

Steeps at the Maltings

Steeps at the Maltings

Under controlled climatic conditions the barley begins to grow during the modification phase, where enzymes break down the proteins and carbohydrates, essential for fermentation later on in the production of whisky. After germination has arrived at a critical point, the barley is kilned – you could also call it heat-dried, to terminate the germination process, or otherwise a barley plant would grow and we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we? Drying is achieved by introducing hot air through the bottom of a perforated floor. Sometimes peat is used during the first phase of kilning to create smoky flavours, at the Buckie maltings they only produce unpeated malt, from local (Scottish) Concerto barley. They once tried making a peated batch, but after burning 40 tonnes of peat only got them about 10 ppm in the malt, the trials were abandoned. Continue reading

Ardbeg Distillery Courtyard

Scotland trip 2014 – part 4: South of Islay – touring Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg

Day 9: Islay

Even on a small island like Islay you can spend quite some time in your car getting to places – especially when you’re staying on the opposite end. Thus it only made sense for us three brothers to spend an entire  – hot and sunny – day touring all three distilleries in the south, starting early in the morning at Lagavulin.

Lagavulin

Freshly painted Lagavulin Distillery

Freshly painted Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin, like Bunnahabhain, is a less “touristy” distillery. Not as posh and polished as others with a kind of “old-school” feeling to it. Old, simple, painted steel staircases, narrow paths – putting the working environment first and the tourist attraction last. The charming insides speak volumes about the decades and decades of use and the history of the place, as well as a need of investment in some areas. But, on the other hand, why bother, tourists aren’t allowed to take pictures anyway and Scots are known for being stingy 😉
Anyway, out tour guide for the day was a charming young lady named Sophie and we were in luck, it was yet another very small group. The tour certainly felt positively different from all the others, Lagavulin really has a special “feel” to it, probably due to the old-style, unpolished charm of the place and the narrowness full of nooks and crannies. Continue reading

Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting

Tasting: Five Lagavulin. Vertically. From the cask. At the distillery.

Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting with Iain McArthurWhen on Islay one of the must-do tours is the warehouse tasting at Lagavulin, especially if Iain “Pinkie” McArthur is hosting it. This year will mark his 45th year in the whisky industry and during that time he’s probably forgotten more about whisky than some of us will ever learn in a lifetime. He’s fun, engaging and famous for baptising people with Lagavulin when sloshing it around after pouring from the casks. But this article is not about the warehouse experience – it’s about the whisky we (my two brothers and I) got to taste in the summer of 2014. I was the designated driver so I decanted most of what I was served into sample bottles and tasted them later on.

10yo “Baby Lagavulin” from an ex-Sherry cask (Hogshead?)
Colour: red copper
Nose: Young, a bit harsh and spirity, peat smoke, hints of dried fruits in the background. With water: Sweeter, less peaty, still young-ish in style
Palate: Alcoholic, strong, some new make still to be detected? Bonfire smoke. With water: Less intensity, still young and metallic, more sweetness and fruits in the background
Finish: Coating, sweet, phenolic, lingering for some time, not overly complex
Verdict: Very young, really “baby” Lagavulin – too young to “die”.
Score: 79 Continue reading

Kilchoman distillery. The stillhouse in the front and the kiln in the background

Scotland trip 2014 – part 3: Islay (including Caol Ila, Bowmore, Kilchoman)

Day 7: Islay

Leaving Kennacraig on the Hebridean Isles

Leaving Kennacraig on the Hebridean Isles

Leaving the marvellous Isle of Arran behind is never easy, but the prospect of landing on the shores of Islay in a few hours time made it a wee bit easier for the three of us. After making our way over to Claonaig by ferry from Lochranza and a taxi ride with David Bridge, we arrived at Kennacraig to board the good old Calmac vessel “Hebridean Isles”. The 2-hour trip on the boat was very smooth as the sea was really calm so we arrived in Port Askaig right on schedule where our car from D&N MacKenzie was already waiting for us. By the way: Great service from them – when you need to hire a car on Islay, I can recommend them!
What next? A distillery visit, of course!

Video: Arriving at Port Askaig Continue reading

Scotland trip 2014 – part 2: Glasgow, Auchentoshan, Arran

Link to part 1

Day 4: Auchentoshan

Auchentoshan distillery

Panoramic view of Auchentoshan distillery

Day four of our brotherly Scotland trip 2014 would finally see us visit our first (open) distillery, Auchentoshan. A first for Peter the wee one of us. If you’re in Glasgow and you want to visit the distillery, follow the following advice we received from locals (namely Pete and Andy from Inverarity 121): Forget taxis or buses or whatever – take the train! The local train service from Glasgow’s Queen Street station takes you to a station in the middle of nowhere called Kilpatrick. Take a left hand turn at the intersection of the footpath until you reach the motorway and then proceed for a few hundred metres back towards Glasgow. Continue reading

Scotland trip 2014 – part 1: Traveling, London, Glasgow

Introduction

Going backpacking

Going backpacking

I love Scotland. I love the countryside, the culture, nature, the people who are similar to my own folk, and – of course – the whisky. When I was up there last year with one of my two brothers, Johannes, I immediately knew I would be coming back. As it so happened the wee one of us three brothers, Peter, graduated from secondary school this year so we arranged a “little” trip in celebration of the occasion. Well, this “little” trip in July 2014 would in the course of nearly three weeks lead us from London to Inverness and back, visiting 15,5 distilleries along the way – that’s over 10% of all working distilleries in Scotland… By “we” I of course mean us three brothers – the wee one, Peter, the middle one, Johannes and me, Klaus, as the leader of the pack.
It was a backpacking trip, thus we traveled lightly – at least on our way up, filling our luggage with whisky along the way. Obviously. We stayed in hostels (and one b&b), sometimes preparing our own meals and, with the exception of Islay, where we rented a car, relied on trains and buses for the majority of our travel. I prefer public transport whenever I can and Interrail is a great and cheap way to travel all across Europe.

Day 1: All across Europe

Continue reading