Kitchen Chat and more…
Kitchen Chat and more…
I had the incredible opportunity to continue my journey in part 2 of my trip to Ukraine! The gracious owner, Pavlo Panasuik, of MacLev Distillery in L’viv, invited me to witness and understand their remarkable process.
Before I get into the details of whisky production, I would like to comment on my experience of the city of L’viv. I had certain expectations about a city in an active war zone, but what I encountered was profoundly different. The resilience and unwavering spirit of the people of L’viv left me in awe. Despite the challenges they face, they refuse to let the war that Putin waged upon them define or hinder their lives.
The grocery stores are still lined with food, and the malls in the city are very modern! The Сільпо (Silpo) Supermarket was still lined with cured meats, cheese, fresh veggies and more!
And the craft beer labels have been kept up to date as well!
The malted barley and malted wheat are from Belgium, and the milling and mashing are done onsite.
The wort undergoes a fermentation process with distillers yeast from Lalamend, lasting 4-5 days. The resulting distillation passes through a tall and thin pot still, inspired by Glenmorangie‘s pot still shape. Subsequently, the second distillation continues in a short and low-rectification column still, producing a light style of spirit.
One of the highlights of the visit was observing the ageing process in bespoke casks, expertly handmade by Arpad himself (featured in the post about his coopering in part 1). The dedication to craftsmanship truly shines in every aspect of their whisky-making.
Moreover, MacLev distillery is actively exploring the use of Ukrainian malt and peat. Additionally, I had the opportunity to taste the result of their trial run of malt smoked with Ukrainian peat to 15ppm, showcasing an exceptionally distinct and exciting flavour profile. They have released make an unpeated Popgold whisky as well as a lightly peated Old Copper whisky!
During my enriching experience in Ukraine, I came across the Ukrainian word “ремісник”. The closest translated meaning in English is “artisan craftsman who have honed their skills to the utmost ability”. After spending time with Arpad at the cooperage and Palvo at the distillery, I can confidently say that they epitomize the essence of ремісник! Their dedication to their craft and the level of skill they have honed are genuinely exceptional and awe-inspiring.
It was an eye-opening experience to witness how the pursuit of excellence in whisky-making can transcend challenges, and not even an ongoing war will stop them. I am honoured to have been part of their journey and cannot wait to see what they accomplish next!
I would like to thank Kateryna Panasuik for arranging and making this trip possible for me: the accommodation, the documents needed for the visa and the never-ending translator role!
So I did lose my panda in Ukraine before visiting the distillery. It happened 6 hours after the missiles hit L’viv, killing 6 people. Slept through air alarms. I would like to think that Panda took that for me. But Panda had a glorious end, in L’viv, Ukraine of all the places in the world it’s been to. I will be toasting a dram to my old friend!
Whiskygeeks had the incredible opportunity to witness the craftsmanship of an artisan cooper Mr Arpad Laslo. He specialises in creating barrels from local Ukrainian oak. This one-man cooperage in Zakarpattia Oblast, Ukraine, supplies casks to local wineries and a whisky distillery in L’viv. It was fascinating to learn about the meticulous process involved.
The oak used in the barrels is seasoned in bolts for approximately 1-2 years. This seasoning is vital in stave production as various species of fungi will break down lignin and other flavours. This will subsequently lead to a better flavour profile when maturing spirits.
Almost all the oak used is Ukrainian white oak, but the exact oak species is hard to determine. In Ukraine, the main species of are Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) and European Oak (Quercus robur). The occurrence of hybridisation between the two species further muddies the water regarding the determination of exactly what species it is. That said, folks usually lump Quercus robur and Quercus petraea together as European oak in the world of whisky.
The cooper utilises a collection of traditional tools, some of which are over a century old. These tools include axes, blades and other metal tools, to shape, carve and refine the wood. The old axe below has some Scandinavian origins.
In photo 4, the etched word ‘Wien” can be seen in the middle, giving away its Austrian origins. Coopers use this tool to shave the curved internal edge of the cask body such that the cask head can fit nicely into it. You can see this tool in action in photo 9!
The cooper brings the staves together and uses metal bands to form a “skirt” shape, as seen in the photo below. However, in this state, the cooper cannot shape the staves or risk breaking them.
Toasting or charring is necessary for cask making as this heat treatment leads to the caramelisation of some wood sugars and the creation of desirable flavours like vanillin. These congeners in the wood could contribute desirable flavours to the spirit later using maturation. In the photo below, Arpad is using spare pieces of oak to start a fire that becomes the heat source for the cask toasting process.
During the toasting process, Arpad exposes the internal side of the cask to fire and occasional splashes of water. He usually uses less water for charring compared to toasting, so that the cask can reach higher temperatures in the former process.
This combination of water and heat makes the staves more malleable and easier to bend into shape without breaking. The gradual tightening of the ring around the staves slowly bends them into the desired shape. I had a go at it, where I turn a screw, and this would tighten the metal band on the bottom of the “skirt”.
Once Arpad bends the cask into shape, he flips the cask for even toasting, ensuring optimal flavour development.
Afterwards, the cooper meticulously shaves down the edges to fit the cask head and presents a beautifully crafted exterior. When the staves are in place, the cooper replaces these old placement rings with new shiny hoops.
Lastly, the cooper makes the final touch by stamping his signature on the cask with a heated metal stamp.
This talented individual not only runs a one-man cooperage but also grows, ferments and bottles their own homemade wine. After walking us through his coopering process, he treated us to a lovely traditional meal and wine.
I am grateful for the opportunity to witness the artistry and passion that goes into creating these exceptional barrels. It was a true privilege to experience firsthand the skill and dedication of this artisan cooper.
Photo Credits for the first and eighth photos go to Kateryna Panasiuk, my friend, translator and host!
Conner, J. (2022) ‘Chapter 16 – Maturation’, in Whisky and Other Spirits. Third Edition. Elsevier Ltd, pp. 291–311. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-822076-4.00013-9
Prida, A. and Puech, J.-L. (2006) ‘Influence of Geographical Origin and Botanical Species on the Content of Extractives in American, French, and East European Oak Woods’, Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 54(21), pp. 8115–8126. doi:10.1021/jf0616098.
Whiskygeeks headed down to Glen Scotia to have an in-depth conversation with Master Distiller and Distillery Manager Iain McAlister about production and his thoughts about whisky! This time, I will skip past the history and process details that can be easily found on their website to talk about information that is not readily available! Glen Scotia has been in the Loch Lomond group since 2014, and Hillhouse Capital Group, which is based in China, later bought the parent company in 2019.
After the pandemic, distilleries are starting to move away from the Concerto barley variety. As of writing, Glen Scotia is currently using the Diablo barley variety in 2022 and deals with various peating levels; 0ppm, 15ppm, 23ppm, and 55ppm. However, some of these ppm values are just an average and may change depending on what they want to achieve. For instance, this festival bottling is made from barley peated at 30ppm.
Water at 66°C first hit the milled barley, or grist, followed by a second stream at 76°C. Following that, there will be 2 more streams at 85°C that serve as the sparge. Only the first two streams are used for fermentation and the 2 sparge streams are reused for the next mashing. Two valves serve as the “(open-loop) process control” of the sparge, and the temperature control is very much like adjusting the hot and cold tap in a shower. Iain did not want the distillery to lose the human touch in whisky-making and highlights just how manual some processes are. These days with distilleries on Islay, like Caol Ila, that can operate with a press of a button, Glen Scotia stands out!
The mashtun is a rake and plough model from the Victorian Era, with a castiron exterior, much like Bruichladdich! This is a rare sight these days as more distilleries are moving towards lauters or semi-lauters.
Glen Scotia is only running 5 days a week as of September 2022, and some wash might ferment over the weekend. Consequently, Iain decided on two strains of pressed yeasts for fermentation; namely Kerry’s M and MX strains. The faster MX strain finishes the fermentation in 70 hours. But for fermentation over the weekend, Glen Scotia uses the slower M strain at approximately 144 hours. Lochranza distillery on the Isle of Arran uses the same system with M and MX yeast! Peated and unpeated wort undergoes similar fermentation times. Glen Scotia has 9 stainless steel washbacks, 6 inside the distillery, and 3 outdoors.
Despite this arrangement, Iain told me there is no temperature control during fermentation. Iain stresses the importance of letting nature take its course during this stage of whisky production.
At the time of writing, the distillery’s capacity is sitting at 0.5 MLPA (Million Litres of Pure Alcohol) per annum. While there are only a pair of copper pot stills, there are plans to increase the distillery’s capacity by 40% by adding another pair of stills! If you get the chance to try Glen Scotia’s new make spirit, you should!
Master Distiller and Distillery Manager Iain McAlister used to work as an operations engineer at Scottish waters handling mechanical and process aspects before he joined Glen Scotia in 2008 as a distillery manager.
Iain mentioned that the older age statements are selling really well, especially with the connections from the owners.
The mechanical and electrical repairing, whenever something goes awry in the distillery.
“The Campbeltown renaissance is upon us, and the region is regaining its confidence.”
With the news of 2 confirmed distilleries that will begin construction, I share Iain’s hope that Campbeltown will grow and expand.
“We nearly did a few years back, but Iain says that it requires careful planning and scheduling.”
Local barley maybe of a different grain size and have different properties to the mass malted barley from Maltsters. The mill needs to be adjusted. Iain later added that this idea may be considered again in the future.
“Really the dramatic rise of Glen Scotia has drawn a lot of attention to GS, this has always been very positive and as we are a small distillery in Campbeltown, it always has a sense of romanticism, but importantly we are now producing some of the best whiskies to come out of the distillery in recent times, so really the full package has drawn a lot of positive media attention on to us which is very humbling”
“Never judge a whisky by its age. It is always how it was originally made, a badly made 25-year-old, will always be poor, but a well made 6 year old is always going to be good. Certainly things can be done to improve, but that’s not the best way to do things.”
During the whisky tasting portion, we have many younger Glen Scotia that had an incredible calibre of maturation. And I agree with Iain’s thoughts, that sometimes, the age of the whisky is not as important as everyone makes it out to be!
Many thanks to Iain McAlister for the wonderful tour, and his time for answering my questions!