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Issue 146 - Shaping the spirit

Whisky Magazine Issue 146
September 2017


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Shaping the spirit

We assess the line up of stills at various distilleries

The shape and size of a pot still help to determine the new-make spirit character, so it seems logical that each distillery would have pot stills with identical shapes, in order to promote the same characteristics. Some distilleries do have identical, or very similarly shaped pot stills, while others have greater variety. So, what's behind this, and what influence can it have on the resulting spirit?

The line-up of still shapes is typically ‘inherited' from the past, but could result from practicality rather than design. For example, buying ‘second-hand' stills from distilleries that closed was more cost-effective than new stills, though hardly likely to provide a perfect match (whether adding additional stills, or starting a new distillery). The late 19th Century also saw greater experimentation with still shapes, including designs by Charles Doig (renowned for pagoda roofs). Inevitably, distillers learned from experience.

”Even in the early 1900s some distilleries were replacing stills with like for like, in terms of the size and shape. They knew from experience what style of spirit they were getting from a particular still shape, and wanted to continue this,” says Stuart Robertson, manager at Whyte and Mackay's The Dalmore Distillery.

Scientific research into the influence of still shape advanced significantly from the 1980s, and provides a certain (though not complete) understanding. Nevertheless, this enables new distilleries to select still shapes that promot...

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