A Lowland Distillery

Following on from the fun on Islay over Easter I decided to visit a completely different distillery (albeit still Diageo-owned) the East Lothian based Glenkinchie. Being Diageo I was again able to get free entry with my "Friends of Classic Malts" passport and again "Health & Safety" disallowed the taking of photographs in production areas.

There is however a fantastic exhibition with scale model of the distillery; so can do a "virtual tour". The exhibition is housed in the old maltings. Like the majority of distilleries, malt is shipped in a few times a week, where it is crushed in a mill to give a grist of 20/70/10 husk/grit/flour. The husk creates a filter bed, too high a flour proportion and you end up with a stuck mash. This is a similar principle to milling barley for beer production (which is in essence the first step of whisky production). The old grain elevator is still in place, though its now piped into the mill.

Next we see the mash tun. Mashed in at 63, with a second mash at 72 then sparged at 84, which becomes the first mashing water for the next brew. 6 wash-backs (fermenters) 4 of Oregon pine and 2 Canadian larch IIRC, chosen not for their aromatic attributes, but because their tall trunks have no branches--> no knots to form leaks. Fermentation is 60 hours, the distillery runs on a 12-hour cycle. The yeast is stored live on site and is a specific species suited for whisky distillation that gives high alcohol content and little in the way of esters that ale brewers look for.
Another feature from pre-H&S-conscious days is the "dramming bell" so called because when rung all workers would assemble for their measure of new-make spirit at 70%ABV.

Through into the distillation room and only two stills, though the wash still is the biggest in Scotland with a filled capacity in excess of 30,000 litres. With each fermenter taking up 20,000 litres, there's a good third of the space inside available for reflux and this contact with the copper helps to produce a lighter more grassy spirit.
The wash still is a bit smaller at ~20,000 litres but still plenty of space as a good percentage of the liquid is "pot ale" which goes to farmers as cattle feed along with the spent grain in the mash tun. In between the two distilling steps the spirit travels through the spirit safe into two receiver below. The cut for spirit is 73 to 69%, the remaining heads and tails are combined with the ext batch of low wines and redistilled.

Before the spirit safe is another, less often seen step. The whisky must be cooled from gas to liquid phase, and this is done by the means of two condensing "worms" - copper spirals in large tanks of water. The water is held on site for cooling in 3 lagoons before being discharged back into the local burn.

After distillation is the filling of the casks, done next door. There's a four storey warehouse on site but very little of the whisky is actually stored here, just the oldest stock. Most is housed in purpose built racked warehouses elsewhere in Scotland. Only ~8% of the production makes it into single malt bottles, the rest ends up in a variety of blends.

After the tour...the tasting! I've recently written about the Glenkinchie 12 y/o but there's a wide selection of single malts available for trying. If you're not driving I recommend paying the slight bit extra for a "flavour of Scotland" tour as you can choose which whiskys to sample and there's some tasty drams. I sampled the distillers edition (cask strength) finished in brandy pipes. Completely different to the regular 12 y/o with some fruity notes and much darker in colour. I prefer it.


The exhibition also has a working spirit (water) safe, which gives you a chance to play about with the cuts which is interesting, an illicit still from the distillery's past and a selection of cooperage tools. Its more interesting than the marketing displays at a lot of other distilleries and free entry if you haven't time for a tour. The shop is also well stocked with various special edition whiskys if you're looking for anything unique in Diageo's range and a number of books including a whisky and food cook book, with a few cheese and whisky pairings which caught my eye...watch this space!

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