There are so many small details from Scotland that I can’t put into words but I’m going to try my best. As powerful as olfactory senses are, we haven’t figured out a way to transmit them over the internet so you’ll have to settle for descriptive words based on my experiences that might not match the same words you’d use based on your own experiences. Thanks to pictures and your imagination though, hopefully you’ll feel like you’re at the distillery having the time of your life. But in case these aren’t enough… just go to Scotland. It’ll be amazing, I promise. 🙂
The drive to Old Pulteney involved a two and a half hour drive up the coast to a city called Wick. The coastal landscape is littered with “Whin” [link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulex%5D bushes so you get this gorgeous yellow landscape contrasting with the gorgeous blue waters of the ocean against a white cloud sky. The ocean was dappled with random sunlight that made a magical ocean surface where you were sure scotch would rise from the depths and call to you. I’m not sure we have any coastal areas like this in the states considering how quickly people flock to waterfront property. You could see sporadic houses in the middle of nowhere on this drive. Many of them with roofs that had vegetation growing on top of them. The water in the air and the ground seemed to be on heck of a catalyst for plant growth.
Hopefully you have all of that pictured in your mind because I couldn’t take pictures while driving on the left side of the road. 🙂
We arrived in Wick and headed to the Distillery to meet up with Malcolm Waring, the distillery manager. Malcolm welcomed us and dove right into what would become information overload. There are so many aspects of crafting whisky that are the same at every distillery but there are so many details that make each distillery unique.
Walking out behind the visitor center, we can enter the actual distillery.
The first thing you’ll meet in the distillery is a Porteus mill. You’ll meet malt mills like this at every distillery and many are in fact, specifically, Porteus made. The company made a name for itself by building mills so well that it put itself out of business. Very few parts in the mill ever need to be serviced and upgraded which is amazing but it makes you wonder about the amount of engineer obsolescence we live with today.
Once we’ve milled the grain to retrieve the starch, it’s time to mash it! Generally three temperatures of water are applied to the grain to convert the starch to sugar.
Now that we have our sugar, it’s time to ferment it!
Old Pulteney uses stainless steel washbacks. (Some welder out there is pretty good at walking the cup!)
Let’s try a little wort!
Tons of draff (all of the leftover parts of the grain that aren’t used) can be mixed with pot ale (we’ll get to that later) to create feed for animals or biofuel for some larger distilleries looking to go greener. Nothing is wasted!
These stills aren’t small. One will accept the wort to create low wines (wash still, first distillation) and the other will accept low wines (spirit still, second distillation) and create new make spirit!
The wash still at Old Pulteney has a flat top O.O . The shape of the copper plays a large part in the flavor and viscosity of the spirit. We also learned here that the stills are originally created with 5mm thick copper but as the boiling spirits rage inside and the copper chains clean the pot ale, eventually the copper wears down. Still can actually collapse on themselves after a few decades of use so many times they’re repaired in sections.
Some distilleries still use worm tubs to condense the vapors of the spirit and many now use dedicated condensers to cool the vapors.
Ahhhh. spirit safes. This is where the spirit is rockin around 70% ABV depending on the distillery. This is also where the distiller picks out the head, heart, and tail or foreshots, heart, and feints. Malcolm also explained how the locks worked when each distillery had a tax man on site.
Malcolm’s retirement barrel! It might be a 2007 Cask #444 with Alligator char in an exMadeira cask 😉
A little tasting that included their new whisky liquer Stroma.
On a fun side note, Malcolm is a big fan of Whistle Pig and Stranahans!
Oh the day isn’t over?? You mean we saw a second distillery on the same day?
Ladies and Gentlemen, Balblair.
John MacDonald is the distillery manager at Balblair and he’s another wealth of knowledge. He was the best part about Balblair. He’s full of stories and history and he’s lived a life that many would envy BEFORE he ever became a distillery manager. That’s the richest part of this trip and the richest part of whisky, without a doubt. The people.
John showing us how a peat cutter works! He’s got a lot of horrible memories tied to them as a kid so let’s not linger!
Wooden washback being filled at Balblair.
Traditional dunnage. Notice the exposed ground 🙂
So there you go! Two gorgeous distilleries in Scotland and that was just day two!