Production has started at new Speyside distillery Dunphail, which has pledged to make whisky “the way it used to be made”.
Following the sign off of all the approvals required to commence operations, the first cut of Dunphail’s newly distilled “fat and fruity” spirit took place at 10:15am on 6 October.
The distillery was founded by Dariusz Plazewski, a self-confessed third-generation moonshiner and founder of the highly regarded Bimber Distillery in London, who is promising to bring traditional distillation methods back to the forefront.
An architect and engineer by trade, Plazewski is descended from a line of moonshiners, a heritage that has significantly influenced his approach to whisky making. His journey into the world of whisky began with his move to the UK, where he fell in love with Scotland, its culture, and, of course, its whisky. Inspired by his many trips to Scotland, Plazewski decided to bring his traditional distillation methods to the UK, founding the London-based Bimber Distillery. However, despite its quick success he felt something was missing: the ability to floor malt, a process integral to traditional whisky making but impractical in London.
Enter Dunphail Distillery, a project that would not have been possible without the success of Bimber. “We needed to establish our distillery, we needed for people to say, ‘Okay, these guys know what they're doing. They're making great whisky. They're sticking to heritage methods’,” explains Matt McKay,Dunphail’s director of whisky creation and outreach. Dunphail is in a way an extension of Bimber, building on its work around traditional production methods, increasing capacity, and adding in 100 per cent floor malting.
Dunphail will produce both unpeated and peated spirit (the latter will be kilned on-site with Highland peat). There are 12 5,000-litre Douglas Fir washbacks in place which will accommodate six-day (144-hour) fermentations, including a secondary malolactic fermentation. Its three stills – two wash, one spirit – are all direct fired. Starting production capacity will be about 100,000lpa, with the potential to increase to 200,000 in the coming years. A broad range of casks will be used for maturation, from hogsheads and butts to quarter casks.
McKay, who joined Bimber five years ago, has been instrumental in shaping the distillery's wood policy. At Bimber, the focus was primarily on first-fill bourbon, but at Dunphail, the team are changing up the recipe. “We are looking primarily at refill casks. So, there's going to be a bit of first fill in there to bump things up a bit, but the wood policy at Dunphail is going to be very, very different,” says McKay.
The primary reason for Dunphail's existence, according to Plazewski, is the ability to “manipulate the barley”. He and the team aim to go back to a time when distilleries did all of the process and all of the preparation on-site. They believe that this commitment to traditional methods and hands-on approach sets Dunphail apart in the whisky industry. The distillery is a testament to the founder’s passion for whisky and his commitment to preserving the art of traditional distillation – including the use of direct fire to heat the stills instead of steam.
“We know what it is on paper – we want to produce a rich, textural, fruity, long ferment, but we don't want it to be identical to Bimber,’ McKay explains. One element of difference comes in the wood policy. Another will be time; unlike Bimber, where it was necessary to get the product to market more quickly, Dunphail will take a slower approach. ‘It's ready when it’s ready,” McKay states, acknowledging that the maturation process will be slower in Scotland due to the climate and the use of refill wood.
In terms of environmental sustainability, Dunphail is making strides. The distillery is powered by solar panels and plans to introduce micro wind turbines. Its water usage has been cut by about 70 per cent through a closed-loop cooling system. While it currently uses gas for direct fire, it plans to switch to steam in the future when the technology becomes available. “We prepare for this,” Plazewski says, acknowledging that the change will likely affect the flavour of Dunphail’s whisky.
Plazewski also emphasises the importance of local community involvement. The distillery employs local people to reduce travel and is working to cut plastic completely from its packaging.
For those interested in getting involved, Dunphail offers a Founders Club, which is open while the distillery is still under construction. It also plans to run visitor experiences, including full tours of the facilities and tastings of peated and unpeated spirit. “We absolutely want people to come to the distillery. We want it to be part of the community,” McKay adds.
When asked about Dunphail's potential influence on the whisky industry, Plazewski says, “We want to create the flavour that whisky distilleries have not created for a long, long time. We want to control the full process even as a small traditional distillery - we're trying to add something special and unique.”
You can visit Dunphail at Wester Greens, Dunphail, Forres, Moray, IV36 2QR and find out more information at dunphaildistillery.com.