Whisky Distilleries

Guest Writer: Hongfu’s take on Glengoyne’s Production

Glengoyne is a beautiful Highland Distillery with a warehouse just across the road in the lowlands. They have a long reputation of using quality casks and produces whiskies that are sweet, unpeated and sherried. It came as no surprise to me when M&S chose to feature a 14-year-old in their range! Glengoyne holds many special memories for me – Jonathan Scott conducted my first proper whisky tasting at The Single Cask @CHIJMES, and I had Glengoyne 21 year old as a gift on my 21stbirthday from a generous friend!

With the help of Zerlina from WhiskyGeeks and Jonathan Scott of Glengoyne Distillery, I got an exclusive tour to learn the production of this delicious golden nectar! As a way of saying thanks, I asked Zerlina if I could write an article for WhiskyGeeks to share my experience at Glengoyne, and so, here it is!

My Glengoyne Experience

Glengoyne is a mid-sized distillery producing approximately 1 million litres per year. Glengoyne has two water sources. It uses the water from Loch Carron for production and Blairgar Burn for heating and cooling. 100% of the malt used is the Concerto variety coming from Simpsons, a malting company just to the right of Edinburgh. That might change in the future as more distilleries start switching to the Laureate variety. Some other distilleries have allegedly had their highest yield in their wash during experiments, so this seems promising for the future of this barley variety!

The Production Process

Mashing

The mill crushes the malted barley to grist to break open the husk of the grain. The rollers of the mill grind barley to a standard ratio of approximately 20% Husk, 10% Flour, and 70% Grist. This ratio is vital to prevent clogs and blockages in the pipes. The grist mixed with water to form a mash, with a porridge consistency, which is similar to adding hot water to a bowl of oatmeal. A traditional rack style mash tun, which has rakes turning continuously, mixes the “porridge” mash. The hot water helps dissolve some of the soluble sugars and to start breaking down the starch in the barley into sweet soluble sugar. This process separates the sugars from most of the solids. Hot water is added three times at Glengoyne to extract almost all the sugars from the mash. Each stream of water is hotter than the previous one.

Glengoyne’s way

At Glengoyne, the first stream of water to mix with the grist is at 64oC, followed by a second stream of water at 78oC. The first and second streams break most of the starch in the grist into sugar.  The third and final water stream comes approximately between 88-90oC to take away any remaining sugar. The process strips almost all the sugar in the grist, much like how hot water dissolves more chocolate and much faster than cold water. The temperatures of the water streams gradually increase so as not to change the natural qualities of the malted barley.

Fermentation

The sugared water from the first and second streams is called wort. The distillery cools the wort to below 20oC before channelling it to the washbacks for fermentation. The temperature is crucial as yeast cannot survive in high heat. The sugary liquid from the third stream of water is called the sparge. Sparge is very hot and have low sugar content. The sparge isn’t wasted though; it is piped away to be used as the first stream for the next mash at 64oC. The remaining barley solids in the mash tun is called the draff, and though it has almost no sugar, it is high in proteins. The draff is sold to farmers as cattle feed. It builds a very strong relationship between Glengoyne and the farmers around the area. Draff also grows healthy cows and produces delicious Scottish beef!

Fermentation at Glengoyne

A 20kg bag of Pinnacle Distillers Dry Yeast (MG+) – Photo by Hongfu Teo

The distillery uses Douglas Fir Wooden Washbacks for fermentation. Douglas Fir trees have fewer branches with lesser weak points, making them strong and lasting as washbacks. Each washback can last a couple of decades.

Each mash pipes into one of six Douglas Fir Wooden Washbacks for a fermentation period of approximately 56 hours. The team adds MG+ Pinnicale Dry Yeast into the washback to start the fermentation process. The yeast will change the dissolved sugars in the wort into low strength alcohol. This fizzy beer-like liquid brewed in the washbacks is called wash, and when the team completes the fermentation, the wash has an alcoholic strength of approximately 8.5% abv.

Distillation

Glengoyne’s Stills (from left) – Wash Still and 2 Spirits Stills (Photo by Hongfu Teo)

This wash is then sent to the wash still, which is the bigger pot still with three windows on the left of the photo. The wash still takes away some of the water and all the solid particles. This is done by heating the liquid until it bubbles. The vapours rise to the top of the pot still and down the lyne arm, to a shell and tube condenser that turns the vapour into liquid. The distillate from the wash still, known as low wine, flows down the lyne arm at approximately 16L/min. This low wine has an abv of 24%. The low wines enter the tank called the low wine receiver.

The stillmen have to ensure that the wash does not boil over the still and go down the lyne arm by monitoring the bubbles constantly. This is to ensure that the low wine does not have solid particles. The window on the still is usually the indicator that this still is a wash still.

A Second Distillation

The stillmen split the low wines between the two small onion-bulb Spirit Stills (in the picture above) to be distilled a second time. The second distillation increases the alcohol percentage of the final product. The pair of spirit stills is on the right of the photo above. The distillate comes out of the Spirit still in three stages: the Foreshots, the New-Make and the Feints (aka the Head, the Heart and the Tail).

The foreshots are cloudy and undesirable as it contains a lot of alcohol and lighter flavors. At approximately 75% abv, the distillate becomes clean and clear and smells sweet. This is the start of the “heart” or new make. The stillmen collect the distillate from this moment as the new make. Heavier flavours appear at approximately 65% and the stillmen direct the distillate to feints. The foreshots and feints are then channelled into the still again as there is still a significant amount of alcohol in them. The figures of 75-65% are approximate because temperature affects the reading. Stillmen usually use charts to ensure that the Glengoyne new make spirit is sweet and clean.

The Slowest Distillation

Glengoyne also has the slowest distillation from the Spirit Still at a volumetric flow rate of 5L/min. This slow distillation allows the liquid to have prolonged contact with the copper stills. This copper contact takes away sulfur compounds, which is another reason why the Glengoyne spirit character is so unique, and clean.

The New Make

Casks on display at Glengoyne (Photo by Hongfu Teo)

The new make is usually around 71% abv, and Glengoyne watered it down to 63.5% before filling it into a cask. Glengoyne has a 3-fill cask policy so after the third use; they stop using the cask. This policy ensures that every cask provides adequate maturation to the new make. The distillery shipped Oloroso sherry casks whole from Spain and seasoned them for at least two years. The process also strips the rougher tannins off the wood, giving the casks more Oloroso character! The casks give Glengoyne whiskies notes of raisins, dried fruit, nuttiness, chocolate, cinnamon and Christmas Cake! The sherry casks also provide all of Glengoyne single malt’s colour; the distillery does not use E150a caramel colouring!

An Extremely Educational and Enjoyable Journey

It was a lovely trip to the Glengoyne distillery and a one which I learnt a lot from. Thank you, Jonathan Scott, for the insightful tour! I am sure that I will be back again in future!

All this talk of Glengoyne is making me thirsty. Now, excuse me as I pour myself a dram of my favourite Glengoyne Core Range Bottling; the 21yo aged in 1stfill Oloroso cask… for 21 years!

Slainté!

 

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CameronBridge – A Grain Whisky Distillery in Scotland

The reputation of single grain whiskies is unlike that of single malt whiskies. Many drinkers tend to regard single grain whiskies as inferior, which makes it harder for these distilleries and their parent companies to showcase and bottle them the way that single malt whiskies. Invariantly, distillers used most of the grain whiskies for blended Scotch as they are first and foremost, intended as such.

The Story of Haig and Stein Families

Cameronbridge distillery has intimate links to the Haig and Stein families in its history. The afore-mentioned families were two of the most remarkable distilling families in whisky history. The first record of a Haig distilling whisky was in 1655 when the church confronted Robert Haig, an excellent distiller, for distilling on the Sabbath. The story followed that his great-great-grandson, John Haig, married Margaret Stein in 1751. The Stein family had two distilleries in Kilbagie and Kennetpans.

Four of John and Margaret’s sons became distillers. They opened plants in central Scotland and Ireland. Their eldest son, John, founded Cameronbridge distillery in 1824.

Cameronbridge Distillery

The Cameronbridge distillery is the largest grain distillery in Scotland. It appeared to be the oldest too. Of course, it was not Cameronbridge in its previous life. Under the control of John Haig, it was Haig distillery in 1824 when it opened its doors.

When John built his distillery, there was rapid growth in whisky production as new methods of making whisky became available. The location of Cameronbridge was in between the Lowlands and Eastern Highland, and the limitations of law and technology hampered John for a short period.

When things changed for the better in 1829, John quickly installed patented Stein stills which his cousin, Robert Stein had invented. With the Stein stills, things looked promising for Haig distillery. Shortly after John introduced these stills, Irish engineer Aeneas Coffey improved the Stein stills and invented the patented Coffey still. John quickly jumped onboard, installing one Coffey still.

When Alfred Barnard, the famous whisky author, visited the Haig distillery in the 1880s, he noted that the distillery had two Stein, two Coffey and a pot still. Today, the Coffey design is the main instrument of use at Cameronbridge distillery.

Evolving Haig Distillery into Cameronbridge Distillery

41 years after John Haig opened the distillery, he joined an alliance with five other grain distillers and formed the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1877. The company controlled 75% of Scotland’s grain capacity, which allowed it to dominate and eventually monopolised the supply. They also gain the competitive advantage to fix prices in the industry. As we are all aware, DCL was the predecessor of today’s Diageo. Cameronbridge continued to produce both grain and malt whiskies using their pot and column stills until 1929, before switching to exclusive grain whisky production.

After the switch, Cameronbridge proposed as a grain whisky producer. The distillery constructed a column still house with two new column stills in the 1960s. The third still came from the old Carsebridge distillery in Alloa in 1983, after DCL closed it down.

Cameronbridge expanded a few times between 1989 and 2000. It becomes the sole wholly-owned grain plant of Diageo after the closure of Port Dundas in 2010. The expansion also increased the portfolio of spirits produced at Cameronbridge as it takes on the production of Gordon’s and Tanqueray gin as well as Smirnoff vodka. The latest expansion was in 2007. Finally, in 2014, it also became the provider for Haig Club.

Cameronbridge Single Grain Whisky

Similar to most single grain whisky distilleries, Cameronbridge does not have many bottlings. However, it is the only one of all the grain distilleries to have its brand – Cameron Brig. In Singapore, we also have independent bottlers who offers Cameronbridge grain whisky under their label. Cadenhead is the most notable independent bottler to offer high-aged Cameronbridge single grain whisky to end-consumers.

We heard that HNWS is bottling a 34 years old Cameronbridge single grain whisky for its 13th anniversary. While we do not have many details yet, we are told that it is going to be one hell of a dram! We are eagerly waiting for our sample to arrive in the mail so that we can try it asap. We’ll update once we get it! 🙂

 

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State 38 – Boutique Distillery from Golden, Colorado

Ask me which part of the USA I have been to, and the answer will be none. My globe-trotting adventures stopped in the United Kingdom, and I have yet to visit the USA. Frankly, the one thing that indeed puts me off from the USA is the long flight. Flying 12 hours to London had been an absolute nightmare to me and all the flight attendants onboard the particular A380 I was on, and trust me, flying to the USA was such a daunting thought that I have not yet considered a trip there – even with three connecting flights perhaps?

Nonetheless, I think I might be enticed to do that soon, what with my small victory in loving my first ever bourbon! Yay! If you know me well, I am not a bourbon lover. I cannot accept the sweetness that comes with corn distillation, even though I had come close to liking one from Westland Distillery.

Welcome to Golden

State 38 Distilling stays at one of the western states of the USA – Golden, Colorado. As Colorado is the 38th state to be recognised in the USA, the owner decided to name his distillery State 38 Distilling. Part of being patriotic, the owner also wants to associate his distillery with the land that it sits on.

Golden nestled between Denver and the Rocky Mountains and is well-known to be a gold rush town in the 19th century. Gold once flowed in its river, and the town is filled with rich history. It is also home to the Lookout Mountains and the Red Rocks Park.

History of State 38 Distilling

State 38 Distilling opened its doors in March 2013. The owner, Sean Smiley, hand-built all the distillery equipment by hand and also the old western style tasting room that you can find at the distillery. Sean comes from a long lineage of patriotic and loyal men and women, with roots all the way from Scotland.

Sean’s ancestor first crossed the continents from London to the USA in 1850. D.C. Loveday was a Londoner who went to the USA looking for more than just a job. The allure of entrepreneurship guided him forward as he settled in the small town of East Jordan, MI. Loveday became a legendary and honourable statesman in his life, and his independent character became the cornerstone for his descendant, Sean Smiley, owner of State 38 Distilling.

Sean’s great-grandfather, W.I. McKenzie served as a war crimes prosecutor during World War II and received letters from the FDR for his services. He drew strength from the Scottish blood flowing through his veins and ploughed on even in the face of ultimate challenges.

The man behind State 38 Distilling

Sean Smiley in his warehouse

The man behind State 38 is none other than Sean, the great-grandson of W.I McKenzie. He gained his passion for distilling at a young age. With the encouragement from his family, he built his first home still from various part found at the local hardware stores. After graduation, Sean worked in the oil and gas industry. From Global Sales Managing roles to Director of a small engineering company, Sean sees the world through the lens of the good, old oil and gas industry.

Five years ago, Sean decided to change his fate and his life. After ten years of home distilling, he believes that it is time to do something about it. Hence, Sean built his distillery by hand and opened its door in March 2013. With his roots firmly planted in the USA, he commits himself to use local ingredients to produce tasty spirits using his customised copper pot stills.

State 38’s raw ingredients

As we know, whisky is made from only three ingredients – barley, yeast and water. For bourbons, it is a little more complicated, but the main theory still holds. Producers made bourbons from three main ingredients too – grains, yeast and water. The only difference is that they are allowed to use different grains for their mash.

Sean wanted to create unique spirits when he decided to open a distillery. With his roots in Scotland, he was determined to make spirits that are reminiscent of Scotch but yet, wholly American. Therefore, he embarked on a journey to make his whiskeys special.

State 38 uses different grains for their bourbon. While the main ingredient is still corn, the distillery also uses 5% rye, 5% wheat and 20% heavily malted barley. The different grains help to create a unique flavour profile for the DC Loveday bourbon, differentiating it from the others.

Sean also made a peated whisky in which he imported 100% peat-smoked barley from Scotland. Using the barley from Scotland, he combines yeast and water from the melted snow on the Rocky Mountains to create a new and special whisky – one that is not found anywhere else in the world.

Distillation Methods in State 38

Sean’s handmade copper pot still

Distillation in State 38 follows a strict rule – all raw ingredients are processed onsite. The distillery buys local grains and hand milled them with a small roller mill. Once done, the grains mixed with approximately 500 gallons of fresh Rocky Mountain water in a mash tun. The mash is heated to convert the starch to sugar before turning the heat up to caramelised some of the sugars. The process helps to produce a creamy caramel, chocolatey and coffeey note to the finish spirit. They cool the mash after the caramelisation before transferring it to the fermentation tanks.

The fermentation process is extra long at State 38. They use a specialised, proprietary yeast to convert the sugars to ethyl alcohol. The entire process takes 14 days per tank, which is extremely slow, even by Scottish standards. At the end of the fermentation period, clean, sweet alcohol materialises.

New Make running off the tap from the pot still

The wash then transfers to a 250-gallon copper still hand-built by Sean. They distilled the liquid twice, once to create a low wine and twice to get the heart at around 77.5% abv. Now, here’s where things differ. The completed white whiskey is cut to 62.5% abv using fresh Rocky Mountain water before getting barreled in brand new 52.8-gallon American oak barrels, charred to level 3. These barrels are independently staved, which makes them premium barrels to begin with.

After maturing for two years, the whiskey is cut down to bottling abv at 45% using the same Rocky Mountain fresh water before bottling.

Each small batch made at the distillery is labelled with bottle number clearly shown on the bottles.

Sean’s beliefs in Whiskey Making

Barrels maturing in the warehouse

We wanted to understand Sean’s beliefs in whiskey making, so we asked him how whiskey should be made. “I believe that whiskey should be made with great attention to details in all the processes and with respect for the time in maturation in barrels.” He also shared that he spent time studying and testing for the best methods to create the end products he wanted. The intention to caramelise sugar during the mashing process and the extra-long fermentation period are both results from his study.

Sean also shared that he created the Scottish Peat-Smoke Whisky to honour his roots in Scotland. He aimed to bring about an Islay-style whisky, but not overwhelming in smoke. Thus, he decided to go for a peaty whisky that falls somewhere between a Highland and Islay peated whisky.

With his innovative mind, Sean creates stunning whisk(e)ys expressions to rival the booming American whiskey companies. Being a boutique distillery, the small batches of whiskey made are often sold out quickly too!

State 38 Products

Products line up

State 38 products range from bourbon to rye to peaty whisky. The distillery also makes 100% organic agave tequila, vodka and gin. Each product carries the State 38 logo proudly. Currently, the products are slowly making their way out of Colorado and into other countries.

In Singapore and its South East Asia neighbours, the distillery is starting with the DC Loveday Bourbon and the WI McKenzie Peat-Smoke Whisky. It has plans to import its gin, vodka and tequila to Singapore in future.

Future of State 38

With its 5th anniversary celebration over, State 38 is expanding its production equipment, storage and bottling plant. The 5-year milestone is a testimony to its great-tasting spirits and Sean’s enduring dedication to creating only quality products. Sean is now looking at expansion into the Asian market, with Singapore as its first stop and the rest of South East Asia should follow soon after.

 

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Westland Distillery – Thoughtfully Made in America

I am never a big fan of American whiskey because I find bourbon too sweet and Tennessee whiskey just a little weird for my general tasting profile. However, I had the chance to taste two out of three Westland Distillery’s core range in two separate occasions and their malt-forward flavours and profile made me sit up and take notice.

A closer look at their bottles revealed the reason – Westland Distillery made single malt whiskey. That is to say, they use malt barley as their base for fermentation, not corn or rye or any other grains. It was an exciting discovery for me so I dug deeper into the distillery to find out more.

Lo and behold, there are more surprises! I found out that the Westland Distillery belongs to Remy Cointreau, the French company who also owns Bruichladdich Distillery. Apparently, Remy bought the American distillery in late 2016 after the sales of its whiskey soared in the same year.

So, what is the secret behind Westland? Let me share what I found so far.

The Founding of Westland Distillery

The founders, Matt Hofmann and Emerson Lamb started Westland Distillery in 2010. Bonded over their love for whiskey and their passion to create something different for America, the pair decided to produce American whiskey in a special way. Deciding to follow the Scots in the choice of their grains, Matt Hofmann and Emerson Lamb choose to use malt barley instead of the usual corn or rye.

The distillery moves to the current location in Seattle, Washington in 2012 by refurbishing an old crane factory in 18 months. The first Westland release was a 375ml bottle named “The Deacon Seat”.

The Ingredients in Westland Single Malt Whiskey

As we know, there are only three ingredients in single malt whisky when the Scots made them – barley, yeast and water. Westland Distillery follows this recipe closely, but with one exception. They use more than one type of barley for their mash. The distillery uses five different malted barley for their regular American Oak and Sherry Wood, and six different malted barley for their peated expression.

The five malts are:
– Pale Malt from Washington
– Munich Malt from Washington
– Extra Special Malt from Wisconsin
– Brown Malt from the UK
– Pale Chocolate Malt from the UK

The government and state park in America control much of the peat bogs and wetland in the country and distilleries find it extremely difficult to gain access to peat bogs. Westland is trying to persuade the government to allow them access to a peat bog that is a flavourful, herbaceous mix. For now, Westland is using peated malt from Bairds Maltings in Inverness, Scotland.

The Production Process

The distillery mills the barley on site using a roller mill before placing the milled barley into their stainless steel mash tun. Once the mash is completed, the wort moves along to the washbacks for fermentation. The yeast used is a Belgium brewers yeast that typically produces fruity beers! Fermentation takes four to six days, depending on the whiskey that they are making. Distillation takes place in two copper pot stills – a wash still and a spirit still.

The interesting part of their distillation comes from their copper pot still. It is a combination still where the shape of the still is rounded and yet, there is a column on top of the copper pot. The main idea of the column still is to remove impurities and make a clean spirit for maturation. For Westland Distillery, they remove the plates of the column still in their spirit still, which means there is no rectification or what we called column distillation done over in the spirit still.

Cask Maturation

Westland Distillery does not mature their whiskey on site, but at Hoquiam, Washington. That is roughly a two hours drive south of the distillery location. The location sits right smack on the Pacific Ocean, where the sea breezes create a coastal and humid environment. An environment such as this gives an angel share of about 2% all year around.

Westland only uses standard-sized casks and does not believe in small cask ageing. They have over 40 different cask types in their warehouse as of last year, and they range from sherry to port to ex-bourbon. Besides the regular wood, they also use Garryana oak, an endangered species of oak trees in the United States of America. Scientifically known as Quercus Garryanna, this tree used to grow rampantly from northern California to the British Columbia, but now, the growth area is only 5% of what it used to be. Westland is fighting to use this oak. Due to its endangered status, Westland Distillery is making a lot of efforts to ensure the continuity of the species. You can read more about their quest here.

The Core Range of Westland Distillery

Westland Distillery produces three expressions for their core range. The flagship style of the distillery is of course, the American Oak. It is a reflection of the distillery, where it is from and the values of those who made it. It is an approachable dram that is not only uniquely American, but only special in its choice of ingredients.

The peated malt expression is a varietion of their flagship style with an addition of peated malt imported from Scotland. The addition of the peated malt adds smokey flavours to the whiskey and that makes it flavourful.

The sherry wood expression is an experiment that has gone well for the distillery. Using only the finest PX and Oloroso sherry casks sourced from Tonelería del Sur in Montilla, Spain, Westland creates a beautiful sherry wood expression with their malt-focused spirit.

Should you try whiskey from Westland Distillery?

Well, I tried two of the core range and end up digging deeper into the distillery to find out more. If you are someone who do not fancy bourbons because they are so sweet, perhaps Westland whiskeys will be something to try. It is less cloying on the palate and in general, gives a very well-rounded tasting profile.

If you are a bourbon lover, try this and let me know what you think! I will love to know what a bourbon drinker thinks about the whiskies from Westland!

 

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The Liquid Gold of Wales – Penderyn Distillery

We interview Dr Giancarlo Bianchi, Technical Director of Penderyn Distillery previously, where we spoke briefly about Penderyn Distillery. It is now time for us to formally introduce the Penderyn Distillery to our readers since their products are coming to Singapore shortly.

The Birth of Penderyn

Wales, England had lost the art of distillation for over a century since it stopped in 1894. The people of Wales need to have a distillery to call their own, their pride. In the late 1990s, a group of friends met at a pub in a small Welsh valley town for a catch-up session over drinks. As the night progressed, the talk turned serious, and this group of friends began to conceive the idea of building the first whisky distillery in Wales. It would be a Welsh distillery that creates “a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold” and one which the people of Wales will be proud of.

The group of friends already have a location in mind – the historic village of Penderyn on the southern tip of the Brecon Beacons. The site is perfect because it has its supply of fresh, natural spring water. They knew that it is the ideal place for a distillery. What’s more, this resourceful group of friends also have access to a unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr David Faraday. He is a relative of the famous 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday.

With the resources and plans ready in hand, the group of friends began the construction of Penderyn Distillery and established the home of the Welsh’s liquid gold on 1 March 2004 in the presence of HRH Prince Charles.

Penderyn’s Unique Copper Still

How is Welsh’s liquid gold made? Well, remember we spoke about Penderyn’s unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr David Faraday? It is this very still that makes gold for Penderyn.

Penderyn distillery has a pair of copper single-pot stills called the Faraday Stills. The stills are designed by Dr David Faraday, who is a relative of the famous Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The single-pot still produces a clean and flavourful spirit of extraordinary strength that becomes Penderyn’s signature style of whisky.

The Distillation Process

The distillery charges malted barley wash into their copper stills every morning. The still is heated with hot steam. As the liquid reaches boiling point, the vapour rises into a copper column above the still. The column has seven perforated plates, and the vapour condenses on the first plate before falling back into the still. The process continues, with the vapour that condenses on the first plate becoming purer and rising to the second plate before condensing. This delicate process continues until the vapour reaches the 7th plate, where it condenses and is collected into a glass spirit safe, drop by drop.

The entire process helps to purify the final spirit and imbues it with great complexity, depth, and body. The copper still also removes many undesirable chemical compounds. The magical process creates a clean spirit of extraordinary strength. The new make at Penderyn arrives at the spirits safe at a staggering strength of 92% abv, one of the industry highest.

Wood and Cask

The new make from Penderyn needs a home after they are born. Penderyn takes great care to ensure every drop of liquid has a quality home to rest in. The distillery’s house style comes from the use of two kinds of casks. The primary residence of the new make is an excellent hand-selected bourbon barrel that comes from either Buffalo Trace or Evan Williams Distillery. Both of them make some of the finest bourbons in the world. That makes their ex-bourbon casks perfect as the first home for Penderyn’s whisky.

Penderyn uses Portuguese barriques that held a rich Madeira wine to finish their house-style whisky. The rich Madeira casks imparted subtlety and complexity to the whisky. They also use other types of casks to create a range of products to suit everyone’s palate. The distillery uses Scottish peated casks, Portugal port wood barrels and Spanish dry oloroso sherry casks.

Penderyn’s Range of Whisky

Penderyn has a large range of whisky available for every whisky drinker. At a glance, there are three ranges of whisky on offer as well as other spirits such as gin and vodka.

First up, there is the Dragon range. It showcases the pride of Wales as the red dragon is the national flag. Under the Dragon range, you can find Legend, Myth and Celt. Legend mirrors the house-style of Penderyn’s signature malt, with ex-bourbon and Madeira finish. Myth is matured in ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks. Celt is the lightly peated version of Penderyn’s single malt.

There is also the Gold range, which is made up of Maderia, Port wood, Sherry wood and Peat. Every expression is matured in ex-bourbon cask before getting a finish in their respective casks.

Besides the above seven expressions, Penderyn also has limited edition releases named Icons of Wales which showcase either a person, milestone or event from Welsh history with international significance. So far, the distillery launched five expressions with number six coming along in the near future.

What will be Available in Singapore?

We understand that Penderyn whisky will be launched in Singapore in October 2018 with seven expressions from the Dragon and Gold range. The dates are not confirmed, but we will be releasing them as soon as we know. Stay tuned for more!

 

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Nordic Passion: Box, The High Coast Distillery

Many of us have not heard of Box Distillery in Singapore. Hailing from Northern Sweden, it is a distillery that showcases the Nordic passion for whisky like no others. The distillery changed its name from Box to High Coast Distillery on 30 June 2018. The decision came about as a practical solution to a complaint filed by Scottish brand Compass Box.

“The name changes links our distillery more closely with the High Coast region and the fabulous place that we live and work in.” Said High Coast distillery CEO Thomas Larsson, in an interview with ScotchWhisky.com. It makes sense for the distillery to create a stronger tie to the land with its name.

Early History of High Coast Distillery

If you wonder why the owners christened the distillery as Box initially, you need to go back to its roots. The site of the High Coast distillery is sitting beside the Ångerman River in Ådalen. It is about 100km north of Sundsvall in Northern Sweden. This area was the heart of the Nordic forestry industry in the past, with sawmills and other timber-related businesses lining the banks of the river. One of these buildings was Box AB, a wooden box production company.

A terrible fire broke out in 1890 and burnt the factory, warehouse and workers’ accommodation to the ground. Unfortunately, the owners could not rebuild Box factory, and by 1912, the building became a wood-fired power station. The power station provided electricity to a nearby timber floating station until 1924. The owners then turned the building into a storage area until timber floating operation ceased in the early 1980s.

The Building of a Dream

The building fell into ruin after the early 1980s. A new lease of life began for the building in 1991, when current distillery owner, Mats de Vahl, took over the old power station. He renovated and transformed the station into an art gallery. The building changes its course again when Mat and his brother Per, visited Scotland. Impressed with the distilleries that they saw, Mat and Per decided to build their passion for whisky into a distillery. After several years of intense planning, the distillery opened in December 2010, and the first barrels were filled before Christmas Eve.

What is Special about High Coast Distillery?

The environment is a unique part about High Coast distillery. Nestled in a remote, rugged landscape with icy-cold water, the dense forest, open areas and clean air contribute to the production of the whisky. The distillery experiments high variation in temperature due to its geographical location and it helps the maturing spirits to attain its flavours through the active interaction with the cask faster. In such an ideal situation, whisky from the High Coast distillery does not need an extended maturation period.

The water that the distillery uses is also a point in contention. High Coast uses water from Bålsjön, a spring-fed lake as it is clean and soft – a perfect combination. Additionally, the distillery filters the water through sand and carbon filters to remove any last bits of impurity.

High Coast’s Production Methods

Mats and Per de Vahl know what they want to achieve right from the start. They want a full-bodied and malty new make, so they make use of pilsner malt. They also take careful consideration to ensure that the wort is clear during the mashing process. A clear wort brings a fruity flavour and hence, they are particular about it. During fermentation, they use only French distillery yeast to bring forth more fruitiness. The fermentation period is also longer to allow production of acids, aldehydes and alcohol sugars for a beautiful, fruity and well-balanced whisky.

Distillation is the most vital part of the production. Careful to take in the fruitiest esters that come off early from distillation, the first cut of their unpeated distillate is around 13 minutes. The second cut of 67% is also earlier than other distilleries to ensure a clean and light whisky. For their peated version, they take the first and second cut 30 minutes longer than the unpeated version.

What is Available at the Distillery?

There are many different activities that you can do at the High Coast Distillery. If you want to know more about the distillery and what they do, take the distillery guided tour for a chance to see it for yourself. The distillery also host a whisky festival on the last Saturday of June every year, where visitors get to sample their products and other liquids from the nearby regions.

There is also the Box Whisky Academy, where visitors stay one week at the distillery and works together with the team. You can learn the craft and knowledge of whisky-making through the different processes and of course, get to taste the whisky from the warehouse!

Finally, you can also become a cask owner by buying a cask from the High Coast Distillery. Known as 39.25 Box Ankare, visitors are welcome to choose a barrel and to buy it as their own. The cask will continue to mature in the warehouse, and you can visit the distillery anytime to try the liquid. To find out more about cask ownership, email the distillery at caskownerservice@boxwhisky.se.

Private Bottling of Box Whisky

To finish up the article, we would like to share that HNWS Taiwan brought a cask of Box Whisky. Bottled at 62% abv, this 5.5 years old whisky is from a 40 litres cask. Fruity and feisty, the liquid is perfect for almost any occasions. 😀

 

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The Rise and Fall of Rosebank Distillery

Rosebank is as mystical as a unicorn for some of us, perhaps a holy grail of sorts. It nestled along the banks of Forth and Clyde canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the town of Camelon. As a closed distillery, its reputation grew as whisky lovers recognised the excellent liquid that the distillery once produced. There was, therefore, a lot of rejoicing, when Ian McLeod Distillers announced the intention of reopening Rosebank Distillery in October 2017. The esteemed company purchased the site from the Scottish Canals and the trademarks from Diageo with the full intention of rebuilding this once majestic Lowland distillery.

The Humble Beginnings of Rosebank Distillery

Historical records pointed to a distillery in Falkirk that existed as far back as 1798. Founded by the Stark brothers, this first distillery was the forefather to the currently mothballed Rosebank distillery. In 1817, a man named James Robertson opened another distillery nearby and called it Rosebank. The exact location was unclear, but it could be the same site as the current one. Unfortunately, the early Rosebank distillery closed permanently in 1819.

In 1827, John Stark (one of the Stark brothers) opened a distillery on the west bank of the Forth and Clyde canal and named it Camelon Distillery (after the town). He took charge of the distillery until his death in 1836. The distillery then passed to Thomas Gunn and his father. After four years, in 1840, a man named James Rankine approached the Gunns to lease or purchase the Camelon distillery malting grounds (on the east side of the canal). The deal went through, and Rankine set up a new distillery under the Rosebank name.

The Rise of Rosebank

The new Rosebank proliferated and expanded in 1845. Rankine also brought out the Gunns when Camelon distillery went bankrupt in 1861. He demolished the old distillery and left only the malting floors on the west side of the canal. By 1864, Rankine rebuilt the distillery, creating Rosebank as a distillery set across two sites on each side of the Forth and Clyde canal with a swing bridge to link them.

In 1886, Alfred Barnard visited the distillery, describing it as a distillery “set across two sites”. The former Camelon distillery’s malting floors on the west side of the canal produced the malt before transferring it to the distillery on the east side with the help of the swing bridge. Barnard also noted that Rosebank distillery had storage of 500,000 gallons of whisky in their warehouse.

By 1894, the Rosebank Distillery Ltd came into existence as further evidence of its success. It was also one of the many companies that amalgamated to form the Scottish Malt Distillers. The group later became part of DCL.

The Steady Fall of Rosebank

Rosebank was a premier Lowland whisky, but United Distillers decided to mothball the distillery in 1993. The company said that the distillery was no longer commercially viable as it needed a £2m upgrade to comply with the European standards of the time. Hence, the distillery closed with many historical features of whisky production within.

United Distillers sold off the warehouses on the west banks of the canals, and the new owners redeveloped it by 1988. In 2002, Diageo sold the distillery buildings and contents to British Waterways while the malting floors become a housing development. 2008 saw some hope for Rosebank’s revival as the new owners made plans to reopen Rosebank in Falkirk with its original equipment. Unfortunately, during the Christmas and New Year period of 2008/2009, metal thieves stole the original Rosebank stills, together with all the other material. Efforts of recovery were in vain.

The Planned Revival of Rosebank

The plans of revival continued despite the stolen equipment, culminating in the approval of the Scottish Government. News of setting the new building near the early distillery of 1798, near Laurieston, abound. Rumours float around with the hopes of the new distillery releasing its whisky under the Rosebank name, but Diageo, who owns the trademark denied it. In the meanwhile, it continued to release limited bottles of the original Rosebank whisky.

Finally, in October 2017, Lan MacLeod Distillers bought the Rosebank trademark from Diageo, purchase the land from the Scottish Canals and confirms the re-building of the Rosebank Distillery. The new distillery will produce the whisky in its old style, with equipment modelling after its original stills.

The Rosebank Whisky

Flora and Choc do not profess to drink many of the Rosebank whisky, but we have tried a few. Geek Choc loves Rosebank, and he believes that the new distillery will do well if it models the old style. Geek Flora agrees that Rosebank is a premium malt on its own, but she doesn’t like it as much as she loves Littlemill.

We did a couple of reviews of Rosebank earlier this week. The first one is an official bottling by Diageo – a 21-year-old whisky under the Roses series. The second is an independent bottling by Blackadder – a 14 years old cask strength Rosebank. Both have their merits, with Geek Flora liking the official bottling better and Geek Choc liking the independent bottling more.

The Future of Rosebank

We hope that the new Rosebank will be as successful as the old. With Ian MacLeod Distillers, we expect the distillery to flourish and grow under their able hands.

 

Speyside Distillery – A History with Al Capone

Everyone knows that Speyside is part of the Highlands in Scotland. The region boasts of many beautiful distilleries and whiskies that many would pay an arm and a leg (or maybe a kidney) to buy them. However, there is one distillery, which despite its name, is often overlooked.

The Speyside Distillery is an underrated distillery located at Speyside, cuddling the magnificent Cairngorm Mountains. For those who know the land, it is probably one of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland. The site that the distillery stands on today was once a barley mill and croft in the 1700s. It closed in 1965.

The beginning of the Speyside Distillery

The story began in 1770 when John and Robert Harvey founded Yorker Distillery. After which, they also built Dundashill and Bruichladdich Distillery over the years. Their experiences over the years led to the birth of the Harvey’s Codex in 1856. It was a family-only secret which detailed the art of malting and distilling, as well as the methods in choosing the source of Highland water and the type of casks. The family called their whisky “Harvey’s”.

Lord Byron was a supporter of the Harvey brothers, and in 1815, he gifted a cask of Harvey’s single malt whisky to King George III when he married the daughter of Seaham Hall’s owner, Lady Annabelle Milbanke. A recent tracing of this cask to Kew Palace puts new evidence that Speyside Distillery had a royal connection in the past under its old brand name.

The glorious history, however, came to a sad ending. The Harvey brothers were forced to relinquish their distillery in 1906 and focused on trading whisky made by their friends using the Harvey’s Codex. The industrial brothers did not give up. Instead, the focus on trading whisky helped them to control the quality of their whisky as well as creating a luxurious packaging. The whisky became well-known as Spey. These paid off during the Prohibition Years.

The Harvey Brothers during the Prohibition Years

Spey as a brand was sought after in the US black market during the Prohibition Years. Famous underground names approached the Harveys to export their whiskies from Seaham Hall (where they stored the whisky) into the US black market. Alec Harvey (son of John Harvey), worked with criminal minds such as Al Capone and George Remus during those dark years and reaped a lot of rewards financially. Belle Livingstone of Country Club and Owey Madden of Cotton Club were their esteemed customers too.

The Spey brand became the illegal secret that could not be named. Cotton Club and Country Club both ran membership-only clubs offering luxurious evenings of pleasure that included Spey.

When Prohibition ended, whisky became legal. The legend of Spey lost its illegal secret status but continued to be popular among the rich and powerful. However, the whisky supply dwindled and eventually ran out.

The Turning Wheels of the Modern Era

Alec Harvey’s daughter, Doreen, married John McDonough in 1955. Their first child, also named John, was born in 1956. As a child, John learned about his grandfather’s entrepreneurial journey and took an interest in both business and whisky trading. John Jnr. began a long career with Grand Metropolitan-International Distillers and Vintners and even relocated to Taiwan.

He worked hard to restore his family legacy as a distiller and brand master of Spey. His work in Taiwan inspired many industry players within the country, and they rallied behind him when he sought to relaunch the Spey brand.

The Relaunching of Spey and the Beginning of the Speyside Distillery

John Jnr. relaunched the Spey brand in Taiwan in 1990, with the support and help of his Taiwanese friends and colleagues. The group build the brand successfully into the No. three malt brand in Taiwan within a few short years. Finally, in 2012, John Jnr. revived his family legacy as distillers with his purchase of the Speyside Distillery Company Limited (SDCL) to operate the Speyside Distillery. The acquisition allows Spey whisky to go home finally and also helps to safeguard the supply of Spey for generations to come.

The Spey Whisky Range

The Spey is known as one of the smoothest and most approachable malts amongst the Speyside region due to its light and delicate character. The variety within the range offers drinkers a choice between ages and styles. You can find the range of whiskies from the Speyside Distillery here.

 

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Lagavulin – The Runaway Success

Lagavulin Distillery is one of the three distilleries on Islay that made up the Kildalton trio together with Ardbeg and Laphroaig. It is a picturesque distillery situated at Lagavulin Bay enjoyed by many who visited. Saddled with a relatively dull history, Lagavulin produced one of the most widely-enjoyed whiskies on Islay.

Brief History of Lagavulin

Legal distilling started at Lagavulin in 1816 when founder John Johnston built the distillery. A second distillery, named Ardmore, originally shared the same site but the Johnston family bought it in 1825. However, by 1835, Johnston ceased production at Ardmore.

In 1836, Johnston passed away, and the family sold the distilleries to Glasgow spirit merchant, Alexander Graham. He absorbed the production of Ardmore into Lagavulin in 1837. In 1852, John Crawford Graham took over the Lagavulin distillery, but his era lasted only a brief ten years.

By 1862, James Logan Mackie & Co. bought the distillery and refurbished it. With blender James helming the distillery, the public awareness of the distillery grew. However, it was his nephew, Peter J. Mackie who took Lagavulin to greater heights.

The Story behind Peter J. Mackie

Peter J Mackie first learned his art of whisky blending at Lagavulin at a tender age of 23. It was 1878 and his first trip to Islay to learn whisky at Lagavulin gave his invaluable experience of the production of whisky. His success with learning the secrets of distilling eventually led to his taking over of the distillery after his uncle, James Logan Mackie, died in 1889.

Peter J Mackie (later becoming Sir Peter Mackie) was an important figure in whisky history. The Mackies started to blend whisky in the mid-1880s, with Lagavulin at the core, and Peter Mackie registered the “White Horse” brand in 1891, one year after the company changed its name to Mackie & Co. Peter Mackie also co-founded Craigellachie distillery and recognised as a great innovator of his time.

The “Fight” for Laphroaig

Peter Mackie leased Laphroaig distillery in the 19th century and tried to copy its style. Several legal battles ensured between the two distilleries and in 1908, Peter Mackie officially lost the battle. In his irritation, he built a second distillery on the site of Lagavulin, named Malt Hill. It tried to reproduce the same characters of Laphroaig, but it failed. It closed in 1962.

The Beginning of the Modern Era

Sir Peter Mackie passed away in 1924, and the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers Limited. During this period, they produced various expressions that are vastly different from the modern bottlings that we enjoyed now. One of them was a Lagavulin 16 Years. Bottled in the same style as the contemporary version, it had only one difference – the label held the name “White Horse Distillers”.

 

Sadly, White Horse Distillers Limited did not hold on to Lagavulin for very long. In 1927, the distillery went into the hands of DCL (present-day Diageo). When the war started, Lagavulin closed and only reopen after the war. However, tragedy struck again when a fire destroyed much of the distillery in 1951. Diageo rebuilt it.

The distillery floor malting closed in 1974 and turned into a visitor’s centre and admin offices.

The Modern Era

As Lagavulin heads into the modern era, the Lagavulin 16 Years becomes one of the six Classic Malts. Selected in 1988, it becomes Lagavulin’s pride. Today, Lagavulin holds the fort by operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with the ever-growing demand. The core range is the 16 Years Old and the distillery also released a limited edition cask strength 12 Years Old every year. One of the most popular at the moment is the 12 Years Old released in 2016 for the 200th anniversary of the distillery.

 

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A Visit to King Car Kavalan Distillery in Yilan, Taiwan

Kavalan Distillery from afar

We visited Kavalan Distillery in Yilan during our trip to Taiwan in May. It was a rather long journey from Taipei as we needed to take a local commuter train from Taipei to Yilan. After that, we took a cab from the station to the distillery. The drive took 22 minutes! Thankfully, we started our day early and arrived at the distillery 10 minutes before 11 am.

The cab driver dropped us at the main entrance, and we walked into a building that looked like a colonial house from the past. What greeted us when we went in was this.

It was a crisp, clean look with an impressive, awe-inspiring feel to it. Behind the two doors that you could see in the back of the picture was an auditorium.

I love this auditorium because the glass behind the stage allow everyone to look outside and enjoy the view of the lush greenery.

Searching for the Distillery Tour

After a short exploration, we approached the staff at the main building and asked about the tour. She told us that it would start at every hour, and adviced us to wait for the tour. As we planned to take the 1 pm tour, we decided to go for a meal at the Mr Brown’s Cafe first, which was at the far end of the distillery grounds. When we returned from lunch, we waited for the tour to start. They ushered us into another big room where we spent 10 minutes watching a film about King Car Group, the parent company of Kavalan Distillery. The Group is enormous, with businesses in all kinds of beverages and insecticides (they started the group with pesticides).

After the film, all of us waited with anticipation for the tour guide – who never came! The staff informed us that it was a self-guided tour and we could walk around by ourselves! We were bummed! To be honest, we were a little annoyed at the lady as she did not tell us in advance. We could have started the self-guided tour without going back to the main entrance! So, we tracked our way back to the distillery again.

The Distillery “Tour”

It was disappointing that there wasn’t a tour guide but the state of the distillery tour made it worse. To be fair, there was a lot of information available, but all of them were general, and there was nobody stationed there for visitors to ask questions. Furthermore, there wasn’t any information about their production process. Here are some of the pictures from the distillery.

The awards that Kavalan won

 

Entrance to the distillery

 

Barley Storage

 

Peaty Malt

 

Regular Malt

 

A half completed cask

 

Different casks used in Kavalan

We understood that Kavalan makes their casks in a cooperage within the distillery. We also managed to see a machine that appears to be charring the barrels. However, we did not manage to explore further as we did not have enough time after wasting time waiting for the film at the main entrance. Moving on to the production line, these were what we found.

Mash Tun at Work

 

These bottles showed the fermentation process

 

Here’s the yeast that Kavalan used

 

Half of all the stills that we saw

 

More Stills

 

The Spirits Safe

 

Warehouse

As you can see from the pictures, the whole “tour” was nothing more than just a stroll through a park. It was very different from Nantou Distillery, which we visited last year. The whole process took us less than 30 minutes and bringing our disappointment along with us; we headed to the tasting area. We got a free dram when we entered, but we quickly moved on to the paid tasting.

The Tasting Room

Kavalan has a Tasting Room on the second floor of the building that houses their shop and cafe. It hides in a corner, so you need to do some walking to find it. We paid NTD$400 at their shop and headed upstairs for the tasting. We were given a choice of 4 drams out of the 16 expressions they have, and of course, we went for the single casks.

Paid Tasting

Geek Flora chose the following:

  1. Ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength
  2. Manzanilla Sherry Single Cask Strength
  3. Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength
  4. Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength

Geek Choc chose the following:

  1. Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength
  2. Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength
  3. PX Sherry Single Cask Strength
  4. Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peat Cask Single Cask Strength

The expressions were a mixture of delicious stuff and those which were lacking. Our favourite turned out to be the Ex-Bourbon, the Manzanilla, the Vinho Barrique and the PX Sherry.

The DIY Blending

After the tasting, we went to the DIY Blending Room where we had previously booked a slot to do our blends. Our job here was to become a master blender and create our special blend. The DIY Blending Experience cost NTD$1,500.

We had three different casks with different flavours. We guess that two of them are ex-bourbon matured and one is an ex-sherry matured. They were labelled A, B and C. A (ex-bourbon) was 40% abv, B (ex-sherry) was 40% abv and C (ex-bourbon) was 46% abv.

The three casks

The lady manning the room gave us the below setup. Our job was to blend the three liquids given into something that was uniquely our own.

The setup

When we started work, we forgot to take pictures along the way once we got engrossed in the blending. It was a fun and insightful experience where we took a peep into the world of all master blenders. The experience also “helped” us to forget the time! It was later than we thought when we finally finished!

Flora’s Blend

 

Choc’s Blend

The Rush for the Train

The last part of our journey to Kavalan Distillery was the most stressful one! Due to us forgetting the time, we only managed to get the shop staff to call a cab for us at 5 pm. She dropped us a bomb after that – the cab could only come in 20 minutes! Our train was due at the station at 5.35 pm, so we thought we were going to miss the train. We lamented about paying extra for new tickets but due to the efficiency of the staff at Kavalan, and the experience of the cab driver, we arrived at the station at 5.34pm. With one minute to go, we rushed into the station, and found that our train was late for 3 minutes! We were so glad! We finally boarded the train at 5.37 pm before it went off a minute later. It was such an adventure!

Therefore, if you are heading to Kavalan, we would suggest you go early, and complete the tasting and DIY blending (if you want to do it) before going to the self-guided tour. It would help you to determine the time and of course, call the cab earlier! 😀 Of course, the other option is to stay at Yilan for a couple of days and explore the town.

 

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