Whisky Distilleries

Edradour – The Smallest Traditional Distillery in Scotland

Did you know that the smallest distillery in Scotland – Edradour – is near the original Lindores Abbey? Friar John Corr of Lindores Abbey paid duty for eight bolts of malt to make aqua vitae for King James IV in 1494. That is the oldest record of whisky, or aqua vitae, to date. In 1644, when Scotland increased higher duty on alcohol through the introduction of the Scottish Excise Act, Edradour operated illegally as one of the many of the other illicit stills around Scotland.

History of Edradour

The official records of Edradour started in 1825. Before that, we need to look at the history of whisky in Scotland. By 1823, the government of Scotland introduced the Excise Act which encouraged legal ownership through a reduction of duty paid on spirits. Because of the 1823 Excise Act, many distilleries took out licenses and began their history as official distilleries. Edradour is not different. In 1825, Edradour took its license and became a legal distillery through a local farmer cooperative. Alexander Forbes was the license holder. The farmers named the distillery Glenforres.

Expansion of Edradour

By 1834, the farmer cooperative wrote to the Duke of Atholl to request for new buildings for the distillery. As a result of the request, two of the representatives, James Scott and Duncan Stewart, became the official tenants of the distillery in 1837. They also renamed the distillery, Edradour, which means “the land between two rivers”.

As the distillery progressed, the farmers decided to start a formal cooperative. In 1841, John McGlashan and Co formed with eight members – Alexander Forbes, Duncan Stewart, James Scott, James Robertson, Alexander Stewart and William McIntosh. However, misfortune befell the cooperative and in 1853, James Reid, another local farmer, took over the distillery as James Reid and Company. Edradour struggled under James’ leadership and in 1884, the ownership of the distillery transferred to John McIntosh, the son of William McIntosh.

The McIntosh Legacy

Under John McIntosh’s leadership, the distillery began to grow. He rebuilt the distillery and rebranded the whisky. The rebuilding was a success and the distillery flourished. We can even see a surviving plan of the interior of the still house and the tun room today at Edradour.

As Edradour gained popularity, Alfred Barnard visited the distillery. Alfred Barnard, as you already know, wrote the most important book on whisky – The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom – in 1887. In the book, Barnard waxed lyrical about Edradour and described the distillery as “a few ancient buildings not unlike a farmstead”.

By 1907, the flourishing distillery saw the addition of one more person – Peter McIntosh, the nephew of John. Peter continued the McIntosh lineage at Edradour. However, as the years passed, Edradour needed a new partner to expand yet again. In 1911, Edradour took in John Stewart, a wine and spirit merchant as a partner to increase their scope and distribution. The distillery functioned through the First World War and emerged largely unscattered.

The Mafia Took Over

In 1933, William Whiteley purchased Edradour. Before the purchase, Whiteley bought the Edradour whisky for his flagship blends, “House of Lords” and “King’s Random”. He probably got tired of buying the whisky and decided to buy the distillery instead. Haha…

Whiteley retired in 1938, and his successor was none other than Irving Haim, an agent for Frank Costello. Costello was the feared Godfather of mafia fame in New York and headed one of the five families. While nothing changed the production at the distillery, the association with the mafia appeared to give Edradour a more attractive appeal. Edradour continued to produce whisky blends “House of Lords” and King’s Random” and grew in popularity even after the Second World War.

As the world moved along, modernity appeared in Edradour. In 1947, electricity replaced the water wheel and the distillery received consistent power from then onwards. It continued to produce blends until 1976, where Haim passed on.

The Beginning of Modernity and the Single Malt Era

After Haim’s death, the distillery was sold to an American/Australian business consortium for a brief six years before getting bought over by Pernod Ricard. Nonetheless, it managed to snag the Queen’s Award in 1980. Pernod Ricard expanded the distillery by adding a new visitor centre in Edradour in 1983.

Pernod also introduced a new Edradour Single Malt – the Edradour 10 Years Old. At the same time, the King’s Random blend was discontinued. Pernod used the bulk of the spirit for their house blend (Clan Campbell) and the House of Lords while reserving some for its single malt.

Edradour moved back into Scottish Hands

Signatory Vintage Ltd bought Edradour in 2002, effectively moving it back into Scottish hands after 26 years of foreign ownership. Andrew Symington, the founder of Signatory Vintage Ltd, is also a Keeper of the Quaich. Unfortunately for Symington, a flash flood in August damaged the distillery. It was lucky that the flood narrowly missed the still house!

Rebuilding took some time, but Symington soon had the distillery up and about again.

The New Era Begins

Andrew Symington expanded the whisky portfolio of Edradour. In 2003, he started distillation of a peated version of Edradour, named Ballechin. He also started major refurbishment of the old buildings. One of the first new builds was a new Tasting Bar at the distillery in 2006. He also moved the operations of Signatory Vintage to Edradour. Symington did not want to continue the Edradour’s tradition of bottling offsite, so he built a new bottling facility at the distillery in 2007. Edradour now bottles at the source, creating more appeal to whisky drinkers around the world. The expansion continued with the opening of the Caledonia Hall (for events) and a new dunnage warehouse (to mature Edradour and Ballechin whisky onsite) in 2010.

Edradour Whisky Range

Edradour has both peated and unpeated whiskies. The peated whisky range is Ballechin while the unpeated one is named after the distillery. The core range includes the 10-year-old and the 12-year-old single malt, as well as an 18-year-old single malt. Edradour also experiences with wine casks and released whisky matured in Port, Burgundy, Sauternes and Chardonnay casks.

We also spotted many independent bottlings of Edradour, so there is plenty to choose if you want to grab a bottle or two from Edradour distillery. We also did a review on an Edradour single cask. You can read it here.

The Distillery Moving Forward

We believe that under Andrew Symington and Signatory Vintage, Edradour can only go from glory to glory. Symington became the Master of the Quaich in 2012 and Des McCagherty, of Signatory Vintage and Edradour, became Keeper of the Quaich in 2013.

Will you drink a Scottish Highland ‘Rye Whisky’?

Picture Credits: Arbikie Distillery

We hardly heard of Arbikie Distillery in this part of the world, but they are doing a lot of fantastic stuff over in Scotland. The Stirling brothers, John, Iain and David, are fourth-generation farmers on the Arbikie Farm. Their forefathers started farming at Arbikie since the 1920s, so their history is long indeed. In 2013, the brothers decided to build a small distillery on the farm after coming up with a farm to bottle process. They aimed to produce the finest malt whisky in Scotland using the barley they farm and the water on their estates. Scotland hails the distillery as one of the most experimental distilleries due to the various projects and experiments that the master distiller does.

What is Arbikie producing?

When Arbikie first ran its stills, they produced a potato vodka using Maris Pipers and King Edwards potatoes. They grew both species on their farm. After that, they created a gin in August 2015. Then the distillery began producing single malt spirits. They determined that these spirits will lay in barrels for a minimum of 14 years before getting bottled as single malt whisky.

Arbikie Scottish Rye Whisky

However, Arbikie released something interesting recently – Arbikie Scottish Rye Whisky. Distilled in December 2015, the Scottish Highland Rye Whisky is two years old when bottled. This is batch one of their experimental pot distilled Scottish Rye spirit. Arbikie Farm grew a variety of rye since 2014 and experimented with both the variations and production techniques. The first release consisted of two versions of Rye Whisky. There is a Scottish Rye, which is in line with the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 and an American version, in line with techniques used in North America.

Picture Credits: Arbikie Distillery

As you can see from the label of the bottle, all the essential information that a discerning drinker would like to know is there. It is exciting to know that more experiments are happening all over Scotland. While the younger distilleries such as Arbikie are leading the way, well-established distilleries like Bruichladdich are not far behind either. As to how these experiments will help the industry as a whole, we will have to wait and see.

 

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Have you heard of Glen Flagler Distillery

The story of Glen Flagler distillery linked closely to that of Inver House Distillers. Glen Flagler was a unique distillery as it sat within a larger complex known as the Moffat complex in Airdrie. The purpose of Glen Flagler was to fill in the gaps for Inver House’s blends, but eventually, the company released some single malt expression. There was also a “Pure Malt” expression of Glen Flagler.

History of Glen Flagler

Inver House Distillers (IHD) formed in 1964, backed by Philadelphia’s Publicker Industries. IHD in turn established Glen Flagler in 1965. The distillery found its home within the Moffat complex in Airdrie, together with Garnheath grain distillery. Within the compound, there was another distillery named Killyloch.

The name, “Glen Flagler” honoured the owner of Publicker Industries, Simon Neuman. Flagler was the name of a road in West Palm Beach, Florida, where Neuman stayed. IHD initially built Glen Flagler for their blends but later on, also released official single malts such as the 5-year-old, 8-year-old and a NAS bottling in the 1970s-1980s. A 30-year-old expression appeared in 2003! Independent bottler Signatory Vintage also bottled a handful of expressions during the 1990s.

Tough Times in the 1970s

Troubles brewed for Publicker Industries in the 1970s, sending waves of unfortunate events to IHD. These events affected Moffat complex. Killyloch closed in the early 1970s, and only Garnheath grain distillery and Glen Flagler continued soldiering on. Alas, it could not last either, and IHD shut Glen Flagler in 1985. Garnheath grain distillery shuttered in 1986.

Current Status of the Site

Sadly, IHD demolished the Moffat site in 1988, bringing Glen Flagler distillery to the dust as well. Currently, only the warehouses, blending and bottling facilities remained and acted as Inver House Distiller’s headquarters.

Glen Flager Whiskies

As mentioned, the whiskies from Glen Flager are hard to find. The official releases appear in auction sites now and then so if you are looking to own a bottle, watch out for them! Otherwise, you can find the Glen Flagler 5 Years Old at The Single Cask as a part of their “Old but not Forgotten” flight.

 

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A Short Story about Saint Magdalene Distillery

Saint Magdalene, also known as Linlithgow, was a Lowland distillery that had its heydays back in the 1800s-1900s. It was a rather large distillery that occupied the coveted position between the Union Canal and the railway line. The distillery had both its railway line and pier, which was something that other distilleries did not have.

History of Saint Magdalene

Saint Magdalene was one of the five distilleries within the town of Linlithgow and outlasted every one of them. Sadly, it followed the paths of the other four distilleries. Sebastian Henderson built Saint Magdalene in the mid-1700s.  He aimed to oppose the Bulzion distillery that opened earlier.  Nothing much was known about the distillery in its early days. The fate of Saint Magdalene changed when distiller Adam Dawson bought the distillery in 1798.

Adam was an experienced distiller who operated the Bonnytoun distillery nearby. He transferred his operations to Saint Magdalene after purchasing the distillery. As the years passed, Dawson’s business grew by leaps and bounds, and he expanded the distillery to absorb the lands of the defunct Bonnytoun distillery. The distillery stretched across 10 acres of land in its most successful years.

Saint Magdalene in the early 2oth

The Dawson family owned the distillery until 1912 when the family ran into financial issues. Faced with a decline in the market and the intense competition within the Scottish whisky industry, the Dawson family liquidated their company, A&J Dawson. With the liquidation, Saint Magdalene had to go. Distiller Company Ltd (DCL) bought the distillery and further licensed it to William Greer and Co. By 1914, Saint Magdalene joined four other distilleries to become the Scottish Malt Distillers. The other four distilleries were Glenkinchie, Clydesdale, Rosebank and Grange.

Closed for Good

DCL (now Diageo) continued to operate Saint Magdalene throughout much of the 1900s, but unfortunately, the distillery closed down in 1983. Saint Magdalene was one of the nine distilleries that were closed by the company. Diageo removed the stocks and renovated a part of the distillery into residential flats in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, you can still see the malting barn and kiln at the original site, as they are C grade listed buildings (under protection). The pagoda roof (you can see it in the above picture) is the last reminder that this was once the magnificent Saint Magdalene distillery.

Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) Whiskies

Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) whiskies may not be affordable, but they are mostly good whiskies which you can try at whisky bars that serve old and rare whiskies. For example, we had a pleasant experience at The Swan Song where we got to taste a (Signatory Vintage) Linlithgow 1982 (25 years old). The sweet and fruity experience was not something to forget quickly! If you look to own a bottle, watch out for them in auction sites but do be prepared to pay heavily for a bottle.

 

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A Brief History of Littlemill Distillery

Littlemill Distillery was one of the mysterious distilleries in Scotland in which we do not have a clear idea of its founding year. Rumours have it that George Buchanan of Glasgow founded the distillery after he took over the Auchentorlie Estate in the 1950s. George built Littlemill Distillery together with the houses that he constructed for the excise officers on site. If the dates were right, Littlemill Distillery was the oldest distillery in Scotland.

History of Littlemill Distillery

The history of Littlemill Distillery is long and adventurous. It all started with George Buchanan in 1772 (so it seems). The distillery then went through a period of rapid instability between 1817 to 1857 where it changed hands multiple times. Below is a short timeline of how it happened:

1817 – Matthew Clark & Co. bought Littlemill Distillery

1823 – Jane Macgregor became the licensee of Littlemill after the Custom and Excise Act of 1823

1840 – Hector Henderson took over the distillery (He also founded Caol Ila Distillery)

1875 – William Hay bought the distillery.

Littlemill saw new stability after the Hay family took over the reins. The distillery was rebuilt, expanded and improved by the family. They remained in charge until 1913, when neighbouring grain producer, Yoker Distillery Co. bought Littlemill. With the Hay family gone, the distillery fell into a period of instability again. Blenders, Charles Mackinlay, as well as J&G Thompson, were owners of Littlemill before selling it to the first of its American owners.

The succession of American Ownership

In 1931, Duncan Thomas, the first of Littlemill’s American owners, bought the distillery. Duncan ran the distillery under his company “Littlemill Distillery Co.”. He stopped the triple distillation that was (and still are) popular in the Lowlands and changed the direction of the distillery for a double distillation. He changed malting methods by installing a Saladin box with two ventilation towers and a single kiln. Duncan also introduced innovative hybrid stills with aluminium-coated bodies and rectifying columns to gain better control of his distillation. The changes allowed the distillery to produce three different whiskies – Littlemill (light and unpeated), Dunglas (unpeated full-bodied) and Dumbuck (heavily peated).

Barton Brands (based in Chicago) became a shareholder in Littlemill Distillery in 1959. The injected funds from Barton allowed the building of Loch Lomond Distillery in 1965 and eased the supply problem. By 1971, Barton Brands bought out Duncan Thomas’ share, and Littlemill Distillery went along in the deal.

Mothballed

Littlemill Distillery continued to produce three different whiskies until 1984 when Barton Brands was bought over by Argyll Group. The new owners mothballed the distillery. Argyll then sold the distillery to Gibson International (Barton’s Scottish arm) in 1989. Littlemill reopened and operated until 1992 when Gibson International went bankrupt and mothballed the distillery. In 1994, the banks liquidated Gibson International, and Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd bought Littlemill Distillery. However, they did not reopen Littlemill. As the owners also bought Loch Lomond Distillery in 1986, they removed the stills from Littlemill and moved them to Loch Lomond.

Shutter for life

After the new owners emptied Littlemill Distillery, they briefly contemplated running the distillery as a museum. However, they dropped the idea and shuttered the distillery for life in 1996. The owners sold it to a developer in 2004. Unfortunately, the emptied distillery caught fire shortly afterwards. Nothing was left on site when they finally put out the fire.

A housing development now sits on the site of what was once Littlemill Distillery.

Littlemill Whiskies

The distillery may be gone, but the whiskies are still floating in the market. There are both official bottlings, and independent bottlings for Littlemill and some of these bottles are going at high asking prices. Prevailing prices for an independent bottling of Littlemill can be as high as SGD$500-$600. While it does not cost as much as a Port Ellen, it is still a hefty sum to pay!

It is a pity that Barton Brands discontinued both Dunglas and Dumbuck in 1972, so whatever is left now are the bottlings for Littlemill, the distillery’s namesake. If you ever spot a Dunglas or a Dumbuck bottle in an auction, do check the authenicity before bidding!

Buying a Cask? Check out Lagg Distillery’s Offer

Lagg Distillery is the peated brother of Arran Distillery, located on the Isle of Arran. The new distillery will exclusively distil peated spirits that remind drinkers of Arran, but it is also different from what you will expect from Arran.

Location of Lagg Distillery

The new distillery sits near the village of Lagg, in the Parish of Kilmory. It is at the southern tip of the Isle of Arran, so it is right at the other end of the island from Arran distillery. This area was famous for both legal and illegal whisky distillation in the past so building a new distillery here seemed like a perfect plan.

Cask Sales

Lagg Distillery is offering a once-in-a-lifetime cask ownership for all whisky lovers at the moment. The distillery commits 700 casks for sales from its first run of peated spirits when the distillery opens in late 2018. Each of these ex-bourbon casks is going at a price of £6,000 and will be filled with the new, heavily peated single malt spirit. The cost includes a maturation period of 10 years. After ten years, owners can choose to bottle their casks or continue the maturation period with additional fees. An expected outturn after ten years yields about 280 bottles (70cl) of 46% abv.

What do you get when you purchase a cask?

When you purchase a cask, you do not just own a barrel! Lagg distillery also offers the following benefits:

  • Membership to the Lagg Cask Society (an exclusive group of cask owners)
  • A bottle of whisky from Lagg Cask No. 1
  • Have your name displayed on the Lagg “Wall of Fame.”
  • A free stay at the Lagg Hotel
  • A piece of history that you will be proud of

Lagg distillery also pledged not to sell additional casks (other than the 700 cask committed) for the next ten years, ensuring that you will be a part of the exclusive group of owners to own a cask.

Buying a Cask? Consider Lagg Distillery

If you are thinking to buy a cask or are in the market to source for a cask, why not consider Lagg Distillery? The peated expressions from Arran, Machie Moor, are fantastic and we believe that Lagg will continue the good works that Arran has done so far.

 

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Bruichladdich – Progressive Hebridean Distillers

Bruichladdich – one of the most famous distilleries on Islay – happens to be one of WhiskyGeeks’ favourite distillery as well. While we have yet to visit this top-notched distillery, we just have to pen something about this progressive, Hebridean, distiller.

History of Bruichladdich Distillery

The history of Bruichladdich is comparable to a roller coaster ride. The Harvey brothers – William, John and Robert – established Bruichladdich in 1881 on the shores of Loch Indaal, on the Rinns of Islay. They built Bruichladdich stone by stone and designed the building with an efficient layout.

They installed uniquely tall and narrow-necked stills and other state-of-the-art equipment that was unheard of in those days. Bruichladdich was one of the top notched distilleries in Islay. Sadly, the Harvey brothers were better distillers and engineers than they were businessmen. The distillery struggled against the bigger players, and soon, it fell into trouble. A fire broke out in 1934, and shortly afterwards, William Harvey passed away. The distillery was sold several times after 1936 before getting mothballed in 1994. The reason for mothballing was “surplus to requirement”.

The Rise of the Modern Bruichladdich Distillery

Bruichladdich distillery saw a gleam of hope when it was purchased by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid with the funds from a group of private investors in December 2000. Official records said that he brought the distillery for £6.5 million, but in fact, he brought the 8,000 casks maturing inside the distillery for that amount! The buildings were practically free. Right after the purchase, Mark hired Jim McEwan, the whisky legend who was, at that time, working with Bowmore Distillery, as the master distiller and production director.

The next few months saw Bruichladdich risen from the grave as Mark and Jim dismantled and renovated the entire distillery. While most of the exterior of the building was dismantled and renovated, they refurbished the old, Victorian equipment and restored them for usage. Mark was determined to retain as many of the Harvey equipment as possible, and they managed to do just that! Today, these old pieces of machinery stood proudly in the distillery as the hallmark of the history of Bruichladdich.

In 2012, Rémy Cointreau bought Bruichladdich Distillery and remained as the owner today.

Philosophy at Bruichladdich Distillery

Production at Bruichladdich with Graham Hayes (Picture Credits)

Bruichladdich is a non-conformist distillery, rejecting many of the “whisky production theories” of the day. Believing that industrialisation and self-interest have strangled the whisky industry, Bruichladdich strives to be different.  Instead of following the “rules” of the days, the people behind the distillery set their mind to be innovative and creative distillers.

The people at the distillery believe that whisky needs a character to convey authenticity. They believe in variety, innovation and progress. Bruichladdich is not after a title of homogeneity; it is after a change. The distillers think that the world needs a challenger, one that will stand in the face of blandness and denounced it as such. Hence the distillery often surprises their fans with exceptional, new creations.

Bruichladdich also produces a gin – The Botanist. Similar to what they do for their whiskies, they make sure that The Botanist is different from gins presented by other companies. If you have yet to try a Botanist, it is time for you to try!

The Land, The Water and The Ingredients

Bruichladdich works closely with the people living in Islay as well as the land that forms Islay. Islay farmers planted barley in response to Bruichladdich’s call for an Islay Barley, and others built sheds to dry the barley for the distillery. The land yields the barley; the mountains and lochs produce the water source for mashing, distilling and bottling. Most importantly, the people of the island come together to create whiskies that speak of its origins. It is also the largest, independent employer in Islay.

Bruichladdich believes passionately in terroir – authenticity, place and provenance. That is a heritage that they are proud of.

Bruichladdich Range of Whiskies

Some of the whiskies made in Bruichladdich Distillery (Picture Credits)

Bruichladdich produces three different brands of whiskies in the distillery. They have the Bruichladdich brand, serving up unpeated whisky. Then, there is Port Charlotte, a heavily-peated whisky at 40ppm. For the peatheads, there is Octomore, the most-heavily peated whisky in the world.

Bruichladdich

Classic Bruichladdich is unpeated, floral and sophisticated. It is a natural whisky which is non-chill filtered and colouring free. The whisky is made purely from Scottish barley, although there are some expressions distilled from Islay Barley and Bere Barley.

This range of whisky is living proof that Bruichladdich rejects traditional labelling of the whisky-producing regions in Scotland. Produced in an area where peat is the norm, the Classic Laddie challenges the label of what constitutes an Islay whisky.

Port Charlotte

The range of Port Charlotte is a tribute to the men who once worked in Lochindaal distillery from 1829 to 1929. It is peated to 40ppm and still retains the classic floral complexity of the typical Bruichladdich. The most exciting nibbles about Port Charlotte is that the original stone warehouse of Lochindaal distillery in Port Charlotte still stores the maturing spirits now.

Octomore

Octomore is famous; or in the distillery’s own words, it has taken the world by storm. It was a “what if” idea that turned into a reality. Named after the Octomore farm on the hill above Port Charlotte, the whisky is a legacy to the farm that used to be a distillery. In 1816, Octomore farm was a self-sufficient distillery. It grew its barley, cut its peat and distil its whisky on the farm. While the spark burned only for a few years, Bruichladdich Distillery carried the legend till today through the Octomore range of whisky.

Octomore is known as the world’s most heavily peated whisky. One of the latest expression, the Octomore 8.3, is peated to 309ppm! Contrast to expectation, the whisky is aromatic, floral and sophisticated. You will never expect something so delicious!

Looking to the Future

It is no secret that Bruichladdich continues to be a progressive distillery in today’s whisky world. We trust that Bruichladdich is striving harder than ever before to produce authentic, good-quality whiskies for the world.

We look forward to new releases from Bruichladdich.  As always.

 

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Switzerland Whisky – Säntis Malt

View of the Distillery from the Mountains

When it comes to whisky production, most people immediately link their thoughts to Scotland and Japan. These two countries are possibly the most popular whisky-producing regions in the world. However, do you know that there is whisky produced in Switzerland?

If you have not heard, let WhiskyGeeks show you Säntis Malt – the Swiss Alpine Whisky!

Säntis Malt

History of Locher Family and Brauerei Locher AG

The legend of the Locher family and their beer-crafting skills began in 1886. The family took over a brewery in Appenzell, Oberegg in that year, and started a family-operated brewery named Brauerei Locher AG (BLAG), producing good-quality beer for the region. Years passed, and BLAG grew in production. As their fame soared, people from far and wide began sourcing for the Appenzeller beer produced by BLAG in their local bars and taverns.

The brewery began transporting their beer in casks that sealed with pitch. As popularity grew further, these casks became a vital transportation tool for the precious ale. As a result, some of these casks did not have the chance to get repaired regularly, and the pitch used in the casks cracked over time. Beer soaked the barrel staves. Due to the high demand, the brewery did not replace these casks immediately, but instead, reapplied the pitch to the staves.  The casks continued to transport Appenzeller beer all over the country. Thus, the beer extract and flavour was locked efficiently into the staves for years.

History of Säntis Malt

Old Beer Casks

Säntis Malt was the brainchild of Master Brewer, Mr Karl Locher, the fifth generation of the Locher family to manage the brewery. In 1999, the authorities lifted the ban on the distillation of spirits from grains in Europe, and Mr Locher began to think how he could make use of this newly amended law to create new products for his brewery.

The old beer casks used for beer transportation before the 1970s were still around, and Mr Locher began to think if he could make use of these matured aromas and beer extracts to make whisky. With creativity and innovation in mind, Mr Locher started to repair the casks. The BLAG team expertly removed the pitch, and experts examined the casks for their suitability as whisky casks. Upon investigation, it became apparent that the beer-soaked casks were perfect for whisky maturation!

Mr Locher began to distil barley in his brewery using spring water from the Alpstein and poured the new-make spirit into the old beer casks for maturation. That is the birth of Säntis Malt – the unique beer-aged whisky from the Swiss Alpine.

The coming-0f-age for Säntis Malt

In Scottish laws, spirits need to mature in a cask for at least three years before it is “whisky”. The BLAG Distillery followed this rule and released the first Säntis Malt in 2002. Säntis Malt, therefore, entered the history books as the first Swiss whisky ever produced.

Locally-Grown Barley

Barley field and Plough

BLAG further strengthens its whisky production procedures by growing barley locally at high altitude. The barley is subjected to harsh weather conditions in the Alps and emerged with vitality and strength. These qualities help to make excellent new-make for Säntis Malt whisky production.

Säntis Malt Range of Whisky

Over the years, BLAG produced a range of Säntis Malt that is available in selected parts of the world. Each whisky is unique on its own. Currently, there are a few whiskies which are in the core range and many others which are limited releases by the distillery. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Dreifaltigkeit

 

Alpstein

 

Sigel

 

Himmelberg

The four whiskies that we have above are all award-winning whiskies from Säntis Malt. Each of these beautiful expressions is given recognition at IWSC, and some are praised and awarded by Jim Murray as well.

Dreifaltigkeit

The Dreifaltigkeit is a slightly peated whisky. BLAG distillery used peat taken from the Appenzell high moor to dry the barley during the whisky production. The gentle peat translates into a smoky, earthly mixture that is slightly oily on the palate. Fruitness is coupled with mild spices to tingle the tongue and leaves you wanting more.

Alpstein

Alpstein is a series of single cask, limited whisky by Säntis Malt. While it is not a discontinued product, each batch of Alpstein is different as each series matured in a different cask finish. The finish can be in a port cask, wine cask (red/white), bourbon or sherry cask. Other special casks are also possible. The Alpstein is an ever-changing series and one which promises to surprise whisky lovers around the world with each limited release.

Sigel

Edition Sigel is a light and sweet whisky which promotes the purity of the barley used in Säntis Malt. The distillery simply matured the whisky in old beer casks before bottling. The pure malty taste, sweet vanilla, and juicy fruitiness make the Sigel as a popular choice for the ladies.

Himmelberg

The Himmelberg is matured in beer casks before being finished in various unknown wine barrels. The result is a light and fruity whisky that opens into woody spice on the tongue. The aromas from the Himmelberg is unique and different from the Sigel as the spiciness of the liquid lends a high complexity to the whisky.

Säntis Malt Special Winter Release

Santis Malt – Snow White No. 5

We mentioned Säntis Malt Winter Edition – Snow White briefly in our article on WhiskyFair TAKAO. Snow White is Säntis Malt’s best expression in our option, as each edition matures in old beer casks before finishing in different fruit brandy casks. Launched for the first time in 2013, Snow White has received such overwhelming fame that the distillery is releasing an edition every year.

The Snow White No. 5 Marille is the latest edition and one which we fell in love with immediately. That sweet apricot taste is heavenly indeed!

Säntis Malt Non-Whisky Products

Sántis Cream

 

Apricot Malt Liqueur

 

Plum Malt Liqueur

The distillery also produced some non-whisky products using the Säntis Malt brand. Three of these prominent products are the Säntis Cream (or Edition Marwees), Apricot Malt Liqueur and Plum Malt Liqueur. All three products are well received by the market as well and form part of the Säntis Malt range of products today.

Distillery Visit and WhiskyTrek

Lastly, let us talk a little about visiting the distillery in Appenzell if you are keen to do so. The actual brewery and distillery are closed to the public but there is a huge visitor centre at Appenzell that you have to visit if you are keen to learn more about Säntis Malt. You will have an experienced guide to share in-depth knowledge with you and after that, a chance to taste both the beer and Säntis Malt whisky. Find out more about the distillery here.

The WhiskyTrek is another interesting activity that you can do. Trek to 27 mountain inns deep in the mountains of the Alpstein and collect 27 different Säntis Malt expression in a beautiful collector’s box. The whisky must be purchased with vouchers so make sure you buy at least one booklet at the distillery or the Appenzellerland Tourist Office. If you forget, you can still purchase these booklets at the mountain inns.

WhiskyTrek Collector’s Box

Such an experience is only available at Appenzell, so if you are visiting, be sure to contact the distillery to find out more about the trek!

 

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Taiwanese Whisky: Nantou Winery

The entrance of Omar Single Malt Distillery

Nantou Winery makes Omar Single Malt Whisky in Nantou, Taiwan. It is a combined facility in which they make whisky, Gao Liang Jiu (which is a type of “bai jiu”) and Taiwan oak-aged umeshu. For the sake of easy references, we will call Nantou Winery as Omar distillery whenever we are speaking of whisky-making in this article.

History of Nantou Winery

The history of Nantou Winery started in 1978 where the winery focuses on making wine, blended whisky (Scotch + Taiwanese), brandy, umeshu and other fruits liqueurs. They did not have single malt whisky at all. The winery was owned by the government of Taiwan and operated as a public company.

History of Omar Single Malt

Omar Single Malt was born in 2007. The reason for Omar Single Malt was a humanitarian one – in 2007, the farmers in Taiwan experienced a massive harvest in barley which they have nowhere to sell to. In those days, Taiwan was facing exportation issues, and the farmers found it difficult to sell their harvest overseas. In an attempt to help the farmers, the government started Omar Single Malt as a brand and bought up all the barley from the farmers. At the same time, the government also started buying equipment for single malt whisky distillation. One of the newly-hired distillers was also sent to Scotland to learn the art of distillation necessary for Taiwanese single malt whisky.

By 2008, the distillery started distilling whisky new-make for the Omar brand. The graduated distiller who went to Scotland came back to Taiwan and taught his fellow distillers the art of making whisky. The distillers placed the new-make into both sherry and bourbon casks of varying shapes and sizes.

From left to right: Bourbon Barrel, Hogshead and Sherry Butt

Omar Whisky

Due to the climate of Taiwan, Omar has a high angel share of 6-7% during the maturation period. The typical maturation period is 4 to 5 years. Omar strictly compelled to the Scottish rules of a minimum three years before the liquid becomes whisky. While the whisky did not mature in the barrels for very long, the higher temperature encourages the liquid to interact with the oak in higher intensity, making the liquid aged faster. As a rule of thumb, the distillery counts a year in Taiwan as equivalent to 3 years in Scotland where the temperature is consistently lower.

Omar whisky did not have an aged statement as yet. Their core range includes the regular bourbon and sherry NAS whiskies. The newest single malt whisky in the Omar core range is a peated whisky. The peat is taken from Taiwan and is pleasantly aromatic. Besides that, Omar also has single cask, cask strength whiskies

The birth of the first Omar Cask Strength Whisky

In 2013, two cask strength whiskies matured in a bourbon barrel and a sherry butt respectively were born. Both whiskies received high acclaim from the local market. Omar distillery sent these whiskies for competition in the following year, and both of them did well in those contests. They received gold and silver in ISC and two silvers in IWSC in 2014 amongst others.

In 2015 and 2016, Omar received more awards. Most of them are from the Malt Manics Association (MMA) where Omar won the Best Sherried Whisky and Best Bourbon Natural Casks Whisky for both years. MMA  also named Omar distillery as the Supreme Winner in 2015 and 2016.

Omar Bourbon Cask Strength Whisky

Omar was indeed encouraged by these awards and the distillery strives to create consistent whiskies that everyone will love.

The Distillery Tour

This decorative signage was a gift from the Government in 2008

The tour was fascinating in the sense that they brought us to see the warehouse before the rest of the processes. A large part of the reason was that our tour was a private tour, so the head distiller opens the warehouse just for our visit. To make things easier for him, we were brought to the warehouse first.

Entrance to Warehouse No 1, the only warehouse opened to visitors

Upon entering the warehouse, we felt the immediate drop in temperature. We understood from our guide that the warehouse is opened only on specific days when they conduct distillery tours to large groups of pre-booked visitors.

The warehouse is cleaner and brighter than the ones that we visited in Yamazaki and Hakushu. Perhaps it was due to our impromptu visit, or maybe it was because they are repairing the air-conditioning in the warehouse. It is a small warehouse, and we suspect that much of the stocks here are likely for their blended whiskies instead of their single malt whiskies.

Casks Repairing Work

Interestingly, Omar does cask repairs on its own. Our guide shared that the distillery tries to be as self-sufficient as possible due to the lack of facilities outside the distillery to support the whisky industry in Taiwan. He brought us to the back of the warehouse where we saw a few rows of broken casks.

We found the broken casks rather fascinating. Our guide told us that the casks left out in the sun are those classified as “beyond repair” and these would be re-fashioned into decorative tables for the home and whisky bars in Taiwan. We had the chance to look at an open cask, and to our surprise, we can still smell the vanilla fragrance from the charred insides! Geek Flora was so excited that she took so many pictures of that blackened inside.  ><

Grinding, Mashing and Fermentation

Next, our guide brought us to the barley storage and grinder. We understood from him that Omar only uses Scottish or English malted barley for their fermentation. The malted barley is imported and left in a large storage area. When the distillery wants to make a new batch of new make whisky, an automated transporter belt transports the malted barley to the grinder which grinds them and then fed them to tubes that lead to the only mash tun in the distillery. Fermentation takes 72 hours, and they use whisky yeast from France. 250,000kg of barley yields about 100,000 litres of new make in one cycle. The water source is the underground water from the nearby mountains.

It was an eye-opener to look at how Omar mimic its fermentation process after Scotland even when they have structural challenges in their existing building. In the name of innovation and creativity, Omar fashioned a new method of delivering the wort to the fermentation washbacks that they own. While the delivery is different, it is technically mimicking the Scottish way. That is impressive!

Distillation

Omar has four pot stills that were shipped from Scotland back in 2007. ≈ Their double distillation process makes use of these pot stills. Pot stills 1 and 2 are in-charge of the first distillation process while still 3 and 4 are in-charge of the second distillation. The first distillation yields a new make with 30% abv and the second distillation increase the alcohol content to a range of 60 to 75%. After distillation, the new make goes into the spirit safe where the heart of the distillate is separated. The rest of the rejected liquid goes back to pot stills 1 and 2. The process of using only the spirit-centre of the distillate ensures the quality of the new make. This quality control is vital to keep Omar whiskies consistent.

Omar Whisky Tasting Session

The distillery tour ended with the new make, and our guide ushered us back into the main hall where whiskies were already waiting for us at the bar. We had a total of seven whiskies. Yes, it was scary considering that we were drinking at 10.30 am in the morning, but it was worth the risk of getting drunk with a full day ahead of us!

First up, we had 4 whiskies that were part of our distillery tour package. They are the two regular Omar Single Malt Bourbon and Sherry Cask as well as two Cask Strength Omar Bourbon and Sherry Cask. The distillery also allows visitors to purchase other bottles for tasting at just 100 NTD per 20ml! That converts to less than SGD$4. Our guide treated us to their most popular Omar Single Malt Lychee Liqueur-Finished Whisky, and we purchased two other drams – the Taiwan Red Wine Finished and the Plum Wine-Finished whiskies.

The Omar Whiskies

We had an incredible journey with Omar single malt whiskies. While we had tasted their regular single malt before, the rest of the range was new to us. The bourbon and sherry single cask Cask Strength whiskies are fast becoming a regular feature in their distillery bar. It is a pity that they are only selling the single cask whiskies in their distillery and nowhere else. Nonetheless, it was great to have a taste.

The bottle that is worth a special mention is the Omar Cask Strength Lychee Liqueur-Finished Whisky. This whisky spent most of its time maturing in a bourbon cask and then finished in a lychee liqueur cask. The finish created a sweet lychee nose and palate and lengthed the finish beautifully. It was a limited release of 700 bottles and a one-off experiment from the distillery.

The nose boasts of strong honey notes with some vanilla and lychee notes. The nose continues into the palate, with lychee, vanilla and warm spice in the mouth and throat. Sweet honey lingers at the back of the throat after swallowing. The long finish holds honey sweetness with hints of lychee in the background.

The End of the Visit

Omar is indeed a hidden gem in Taiwan and one which we should pay more attention to. If you are heading to Taiwan and wants to visit the distillery, be sure to call ahead and ask them for their schedule of distillery tours. As they are unlikely to host impromptu tours as they did for us (we were lucky!), it is safer to call ahead if you want to see their facilities. We hope this has been an exciting read for you and thank you for staying with us in this long post!

Until next time folks! We will be back with more!

 

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Isle of Arran Distillery – The One and Only

The Isle of Arran Distillery sits in the foothills of the village of Lochranza on the north-west tip of the Isle of Arran. The owner of the distillery chose this location because of its vicinity to Loch na Davie. Loch na Davie holds the purest water in all of Scotland because granite and peat cleansed and softened the water in its slow meandering down from the mountaintops.

Short History of the Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran used to house about fifty distilleries on the island. However, most of them were illegal, and smuggling activities went on for a period. Similar to Campbeltown, the proximity to water made producing and selling moonshine easy. However, as time passed, these illegal distilleries either obtained licenses to operate officially or close down. The last legal distillery on the Isle of Arran, called Lagg, was closed in 1837.

History of Arran Distillery

Harold Currie, a former director of Chivas, founded Arran Distillers in 1994 with the intention of building a distillery on Arran. Construction started in 1994 but halted after a pair of endangered golden eagles built their nests on a cliff near the distillery. As a result of the interruption, the distillery opened only in 1995. Arran distillery also took on the silhouette of two golden eagles as part of their logo.

The first spirit ran from the stills at the Arran distillery on 29th June 1995 at precisely 14.29 hours. It is the moment of glory for the Isle of Arran as it is the first legal distillation after more than 150 years of non-activity. The distillery was forced to store some casks in the warehouse of Springbank distillery due to their small capacity. However, in a recent revolutionary upgrade, the Arran distillery is now capable of storing and maintaining its production efficiency.

An interesting note about the founder, Harold Currie, is the fact that he was 70 years old when he decided to build Arran. He lived to a ripe, old age of 91 years old and left the distillery in capable hands when he passed on.

Production Methods at Arran Distillery

Arran distillery continues to use the traditional methods of producing whisky. The only drawback for the distillery is its lack of space for a traditional malting floor. Nonetheless, they buy their barley from the best source in Scotland to ensure high quality.

Arran distillery used barley and water from Loch na Davie to make their whisky. First, the barley and water are mixed in a mash tun to make wort, which then goes into wooden washbacks. The workers then add yeast to the wort for fermentation. To ensure a fruity new make, fermentation at Arran runs between 52 hours to 72 hours. The result is a liquid called “wash”, which is what we know as beer.

The workers double distilled the wash in copper pot stills and the final new make is a liquid that is about 68% alcohol strength. The distillation team placed this colourless liquid into oak casks that previously held sherry or bourbon. The wood gives the colour and character of the whisky, so the choice of the cask is one of the crucial influence for the final product.

Most of the Arran whiskies are bottled at either 46% abv or cask strength, so the flavours and aromas are retained for enjoyment. There are some of them which are bottled at 40% and 43% abv.

The Range of Arran Whiskies

Some bottles from the range of Arran’s exceptional whiskies

Arran has an impressive range of whiskies despite its young age as a distillery. All of the single malt whiskies at Arran are non-peated except for one. While most of their single malts are non-age statements, they do have age statement whiskies in their core range. We highlight some of them below:

Arran Lochranza Reserve

This is a non-age statement whisky bottled at 43% abv. It was released to celebrate the location of the distillery and named after the village. It is made up of 7 to 8-year-old whiskies mostly matured in bourbon oak casks.

Arran 10-year-old single malt

The Arran 10-year-old single malt is their flagship single malt. It is the backbone of Arran distillery, and one of the most enjoyed Arran whiskies in the world.

Arran 14-year-old single malt

The Arran 14-year-old single malt is one which is exceedingly popular among whisky drinkers. Slightly more complex than the 10-year-old, it is the go-to Arran whisky if you are looking for more complexity and richer flavours.

Arran 18-year-old single malt

The Arran 18-year-old single malt is the premium league of the Arran range of whiskies. The complexity is heightened at 18 years old, and the whisky displays rich and matured notes of Arran’s signature – orchard fruits and vanilla.

Arran Machrie Moor and Machrie Moor Cask Strength

Arran Machrie Moor and its cask strength version are released yearly since 2010 in small batches. Every batch is slightly different, but the core flavours are mostly the same. The difference is more prominent in the cask strength version as the abv usually differs from the previous year batch.

In addition to the above, Arran also experimented with wine cask finishes. Currently, they have three different wine cask finished whiskies labelled as cask finishes.

Arran Port Cask Finish

The Arran Port Cask Finish is the first experiment of wine cask finish. Using barrels from Portugal, the port wine cask give a sweeter finish to the typical Arran Malt.

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

The Arran Sauternes Cask Finish is a sweeter version of the Port Cask Finish due to the influence of the delicious white wine that is Sauternes. The whisky is highly complex with notes of the white Sauternes shining through.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish

The Arran Amarone Cask Finish is a marriage of the Arran malt with the cask of Amarone wine from the north-east of Italy. The Amarone cask imparts a bright reddish tinge to the whisky and gives higher complexity to the drink.

There are other Arran whiskies such as the Smugglers Series, The Bothy Quarter Cask, the Robert Burns Single Malt and the latest release of the Arran Malt Distiller’s Edition. The newest release celebrates the 10th anniversary of Arran’s master distiller, James MacTaggart working with Arran Distillery.

Arran In the Future

Arran distillery has much to offer to the world of whisky, and we look forward to more exceptional whiskies from them. There is new of a 21-year-old Scotch coming in 2018 so do stay tuned for more! Arran is also building a second distillery in the southern tip of the Isle of Arran, in the village of Lagg. The new distillery will take over the making of the peated Machrie Moor series. Estimated to complete only in 2019, the future of Arran is looking brighter with each passing moment.

 

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