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Issue 102 - Progressive Distilling

Whisky Magazine Issue 102
March 2012


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Progressive Distilling

Lisa Weisstuch discovers an acoustic side to whisky making

There are hisses, squeaks and endless whirring; clanks, bangs and thuds.

It all harmonises marvellously. There is something that quickly becomes evident when you spend time in a distillery. It's the thing that rarely, if ever, comes up in conversations over a dram: the sounds of whisky. We continuously talk of the complexities and nuances of a single malt's aroma and flavours.

We comment on its hue and mouthfeel. A dram is, by all appearances, a quiet beast. But looks, as common wisdom goes, can be deceiving.

There's the weighty swoosh of fine grist flowing into the surge of hot water and hurtling into the mash tun. There's the whirr of the old, dependable machinery driving the massive claw that turns over the mash like some kind of Brobdingnagian bakery dough mixer. There are the powerful hisses of the steam being let out when the stillman modulates the still. These are the sounds of craftsmanship. They're discordant, harsh and repetitive, but they're also lovely; and acoustic. Plugged in, enhanced or manipulated sounds do not happen here.

In fact, all of Islay could be described as acoustic. Roads curve and twist for distances lit only by the light of an oncoming car and the moon. Cows cross the road oblivious of the fact that they might be tying up traffic. Walking your dog can be an entire afternoon's activity.

The loudest noise at night is the sound of water splashing against anchored boats. I spent a few weeks on Islay in June getting schooled in the ancient craft ...

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