Party time

Party time

News | 24 Jul 2009 | Issue 81 | By Rob Allanson

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Everyone likes a birthday party. All your friends come round, there's food, and, if you're a distillery, plenty of whisky.

Glengyle Distillery celebrated its fifth birthday with a global launch and christening on the same day. The Kilkerran Single Malt - Work In Progress enjoyed its party in bright sunshine and with visitors from across the globe. There were fans from Scotland, England, mainland Europe and the United States, all there to witness the rebirth of Scotland's newest 'old' distillery.

Glengyle closed in 1925, victim along with many of the famous Campbeltown distilleries of the economic downturn following the end of the first world war, and prohibition in the US. The distillery had a variety of uses until a new company, Mitchell's Glengyle Limited, was formed under the chairmanship of Hedley Wright, great great nephew of William Mitchell, the original builder of Glengyle, who is also head of J & A Mitchell, the owners of nearby Springbank Distillery.

The story of how Glengyle came back to life is one told with relish by Frank McHardy, director of production at J & A Mitchell. "The site became available in 1999 and Mr Wright bought it immediately. Our ethos has always been to purchase property or land next to us. Six months later, he said to me: 'I think we will start a distillery'."

What followed was a journey across the length and breadth of Scotland, sourcing equipment. McHardy had worked at Invergordon grain distillery between 1963 and '66. In 1965 the Ben Wyvis malt distillery was built inside the complex, closing in 1977. McHardy remembered the stills and arranged to buy them along with the spirit receiver and spirit safe.

"The stills were all the wrong angles for what we had in mind," he recalls, "but we hired Forsyths of Rothes to soften the lines and change the angle of the lyne arms. We also brought the malt still from Craigellachie. Everything else is new."

There was a period of frantic, but careful activity as work went on transforming the 'B' listed building. Eventually, in April 2004, the first spirit was distilled.

Now, the five year old is ready for a whisky public thirsty with anticipation. On the launch day, a special bottling was available for one day only. Collectors crowded round the malt barns to fill their own from a port or bourbon cask.Many buy both, for this a never to be repeated bottling.

The Five Years Old Work in Progress is lightly peated, double distilled, and unlike the old Campbeltown style, heavy and oily. The whisky is matured in a combination of fresh bourbon and sherry along with refills and some specialisations. McHardy describes it as 'very spicy' and adds: "It's very perfumed, leading to sweet fruit and spicy aromas. On the palate there are cloves, fruit, zest. It's lively (as you would expect from a young whisky) and full of flavour. The finish has lots of vanilla. We're very pleased with it."

For a five year old it has depth and character, which bodes well for a whisky that will be released every year until the desired 12 Years Old arrives in 2016.

Kilkerran has a very long fermentation period of 120 hours. "It gives us a much fruitier, estery spirit" says McHardy, who adds: "We've got plenty of time!" In an average year Glengyle will be worked for nine weeks, producing 50,000 litres of alcohol. "We're not going to be working it flat out," McHardy says. "We will tailor our production to our sales," he adds, concerned that the industry is already starting to reduce production. "I think there will be a very severe cutback in the next couple of years and I can see the return of the whisky lakes. Our plan is to make sure that doesn't affect us. After all, you can sell old whisky as young whisky, not the other way about.


Scientists at the University of Strathclyde are aiming to help unlock the secrets of what gives malt whiskies their distinctive flavour.

The team, from the University's Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, is working with drinks firm Diageo on its continuing quest to unravel fully the questions about what components make up the whiskies' characteristic taste.

They are seeking to develop further their understanding of the processes which form flavours, so distillers can more easily control and maintain the qualities of a very traditional product.

The research will focus on the role which oak casks play in determining the flavour of the final product. The scientists are experts in the way materials degrade over time and are aiming to find out more about the heat treatment of casks, which happens during their manufacture.

Dr Jim Lewicki, who is leading the research, said: "A lot of the taste from whisky comes from the oak barrels themselves, very little of the taste comes from the distillation of spirit

"Newly distilled whisky is essentially colourless when it goes into the cask, but when it comes out after several years, it has become golden brown and has collected a number of different flavours. We're looking to characterise and replicate, under controlled conditions, aspects of the cask flavouring processes that go on in traditional manufacture of casks and so develop further our knowledge about them.

"This is about sustaining good quality and making it better. If you have a famous brand, connoisseurs expect this."
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