There is a lot happening in the Whisky Industry in the last little while. One thing I have been noticing is that independent bottlers have been purchasing distilleries. Now isn’t that an oxymoron? You can’t be independant and own a distillery! Well the thing is this: Many producers are not selling casks anymore since demand for their own Whisky is high. So independent bottlers are having a hard time finding a good selection of Whisky to bottle and, more importantly, sell to customers. By having their own distillery they can now also sell their own distillate to the consumer and keep bottling other Whiskies as well. Economists call that diversification. This is all nice and well, but how will this effect the whisky market? One thing I (and many other malt lovers) have noticed is that the protectors of the traditional distillery character seem to be the independent bottlers. And that is also the artisan approach they take while producing their own spirit. They try to recreate the “destillate of old” that used to flow through the spirit-receiver decades ago. Most of them do this quite successfully. So far I have been positively surprised by Benromach (Gordon & McPhail) and Edradour (Signatory). Ian Macleod owns Glengoyne and Tamdhu which seems to have inprooved lately. Adelphi has started up Ardnamurchan and Wemyss is well on the way with their Kingsbarns Distillery. I am looking forward to tasting their Single Malts once they have “come of age”. Lets hope that in turn, the big players will give the traditional approach to destilling some more thought again…
With our 200L of wort that had fermented nicely, we made our way to a local farm distillery. He had never distilled whisky before but seemed quite exited to try. Obviously he had no clue to where to make the cuts and at what temperature the still had to be set at. Also, he had never heard of the concept of double distilling. I had jotted down all the information I got at the destilleries we visited and some info I collected from the web. The first run went exactly as planned with the spirit having an acohol content of ~25 % vol. It wasn’t until the second run when things got a little odd. Usually the forshots come in at the highest strengh (~80% vol.) and then there is a gradual drop until you cut off the faints at around 50% vol. The first bit coming out of the still was just a little over 58% vol. and the final output was around 51% vol. Even the destiller had never seen that happen before and could not make any sense of it. So in the end we filled the barrel with newmake of 53% vol. We had purchased a 10L barrel rebuilt from an ex-bourbon cask. The cooper did an amazing job, the only problem is that we can not age it any longer than a year in the baby-barrel. There is just to much contact with the wood and the whisky would taste gross. So after all, we will not hold our own Whisky in hands but merely a Spirit, since it will not have aged the necessary three years in an oak cask. Not really a big deal, since the goal was to go through the process of making Whisky and that we did. Our cask is now resting in my cellar and we have sampled it twice now. The color has darkened significantly but the destillate is very young (obviously;) As soon as we decide to bottle the spirit I will publish some tasting notes. If I’m lucky I will find something to compare it to (possibly it would be better not to find something too similar…if you know what I mean).
I highly recommend trying this at home! You will be rewarded with insight that very few people have been able to experience. Make sure to check legal recuirements in your country of residence. Have fun!
Yeah, yeah I know, sounds like one of those “add any random wood chips to your Whisky” posts. I sometimes wonder, how terrible does Whisky taste for someone to do such a thing! And do they seriously expect the flavour to get more favourable? Now, I can understand the concept of exploring the effect of wood on the destillate but then just compare a younger and an older Whisky from the same distillery. Bang, now you’ve got some useful information!
Anyway! I got a little off track here. After returning from Scotland, loaded with lots of usefull destillery insight, I asked myself: How hard can it be to make our own Whisky, since the process is really quite basic. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of variables in creating a good dram (yeast, water, cask, cuts etc.) But it was never the idea to distill and age a superb Whisky. It was simply the challenge of going through the process. After reading some books on distilling and finding suppliers for brewing eqquippment and such, I proposed the endevour to The Whisky Agents.
They where all-in!
We set a date and orderd all the things we needed. On an April weekend we where ready to go. The first step is to create a basic beer without hops. We used two 40L pots fueld by a woodfire to brew roughly 200L of wort (the correct term in regards to whisky). It took us litteraly all day to fill our fermantation barrels. After cooling the wort we added the yeast and waited for five days until we reached the desired alcohol content of ~7% vol. Next up: Distilling!
As you know, I haven’t been enjoying Whisky that long yet. Most of the ones I have tasted are considerably young and recent bottlings. Now, reading reviews and tasting notes from around the web, I have found many experienced “Malt-heads” writing about the drop in quality and NAS (No Age Statement) versions. Personally I would love to have started tasting Whiskies earlier, but such is life. No reason to cry over spilled Whisky (…It depends;). Many amazing drams are for ever gone and I am sure some people will not find anything quite comparable these days. I believe we are experiencing the “Electric-Guitar-Effect”, as I like to call it. When guitars became electric and rock bands started using their potential there was an outcry by the previous generation. A tradition was broken for the sake of progress. Many rock bands are now considered “Classic” and music history would not be complete without them. But as time progresses things change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. Fact of the matter is, my reference point is different. Given my age, I am more likely to enjoy a “New Style” Whisky than “Old School” afficinados because I am not aware of the difference! I think the taste for Whisky is very much an acquired one, and therefore will change with experience. I encourage you to take a plunge and taste it for yourself. Nothing is more valuable than your own measure.