So we will be conducting a series of progress reports about Lindores Distillery in Fife, a place which the late, great writer Michael Jackson once declared should be a place of pilgrimage for every lover of Scotch whisky.
This is because Lindores is regarded as the 'spiritual home' of Scotch whisky, thanks to Friar John Cor, who paid duty on malt in 1494 in order to make 'aqua vitae' for the king, an act that was recorded in the Exchequer roll and is the earliest written evidence of whisky distillation in Scotland. Drew Mackenzie Smith and his wife Helen have been toying with the idea of creating a distillery at Lindores for some years, but with private funding now in place the project is physically underway.
Planning permission has been obtained for the work to convert the old steading which stands opposite the ruins of the 12th Century abbey, built by the Tironesian Monks who originated from France, into a distillery and visitor centre.
The steading is over 200 years old and was built with stone from the abbey, so it was necessary to conduct a professional archaeological assessment of the site in order to ensure that there was nothing that should be examined or remain undisturbed, and in particular any signs that burials may have taken place there.
Happily, for the Mackenzie Smiths and their backers nothing of the sort was discovered. It then remained for the obligatory 'bird check' to be conducted to ensure that none of the swallows that inhabit the area were actually nesting in the old farm steading.
With the all clear for bones and birds having been given, the bulldozers and contractors moved in. The distillery once completed will be equipped with one wash and two spirit stills, and renowned distillery consultant Dr Jim Swan is overseeing the technical side of the development.
According to Drew Mackenzie Smith, who plans to make and sell an aqua vitae spirit while the whisky matures, "My cousin farms the neighbouring land and he will grow malting barley for us. He's also in the process of installing a microbrewery, and we know the monks brewed ale, so that will fit nicely with the rest of the project."
Follow the fortunes of Lindores Distillery in future issues of Whisky Magazine.
Lagavulin hits 200
The Islay distillery of Lagavulin is celebrating its bi-centenary in style this year, releasing two new expressions at opposite ends of the age spectrum. Lagavulin 8 Years Old commemorates the visit of journalist and author Alfred Barnard to the distillery during the 1880s. Rarely did Barnard comment on the quality or character of the whisky made at the distilleries he toured, but he described Lagavulin as 'exceptionally fine' in his 1887 tome The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. He added that "There are only a few of the Scotch distillers that turn out spirit for use as single whiskies, and that made at Lagavulin can claim to be one of the most prominent."
According to Dr Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach for Lagavulin's owners Diageo, "This is a special year for a much-loved single malt Scotch whisky revered around the world as the definitive Islay whisky. The style of the commemorative bottling is aimed at trying to get back as far as possible to Alfred Barnard's day… We're trying to do it as an homage, a tribute if you like."
Distillery Manager Georgie Crawford adds that, "We wanted it at a price point (just over £50) where people would buy it and actually drink it to celebrate the anniversary. We wanted to tick some boxes with this anniversary bottling. The Barnard story is one of the earliest references to the product, and at that time an eight years old was quite an old whisky. A lot would be drunk at three or five. The staff who work here have all been here at least eight years, so they all had a hand in this whisky."
The eight years old bottling was followed by a 25 years old expression, the first aged exclusively in ex-sherry casks and limited to 8,000 bottles, each selling for £799. Lagavulin 25 Years Old 200th Anniversary Edition pays homage to the distillery's 21 managers who have run the distillery since its establishment in 1816.
The name of each distillery manager and the dates of their tenures have been etched onto each bottle, with founders John Johnston and Archibald Campbell located prominently above their 19 successors.
Georgie Crawford says, "Lagavulin has been crafted through the hands of hard-working Islay residents; from peat cutters to warehousemen; the characters that make Lagavulin what it is today share a passion for producing an award-winning Islay dram."
SMWS re-opens after £300,000 refurbishment
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) brings unique single cask whiskies, events and other exclusive benefits to members around the world through its network of international branches and partner bars in 19 countries. Its venue in Edinburgh has just re-opened after extensive works.
The plans for these started back in 2015 and the design process took four months to complete. It was initially proposed that the building process would take place over eight weeks whilst the venue remained open but this was changed to a five week period with the venue closed. The plan was always that it should re-open in time for the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.
The plans have incorporated a new dining room which has moved to the first floor doubling the original capacity, the member's rooms have been moved to the second floor which are exclusive to SMWS members and their guests.
The ground floor has been converted to The Kaleidescope whisky bar and shop with the bar being open to the public and a large range of SWMS whiskies available along with draught and bottled beers. A proprietary whisky list has been chosen by Charlie Maclean, along with 30 bottlings showcasing whisky distilling through the last five decades.
In the dining room Sylvere Thouret will take on the role of sommelier who has created a completely new wine list. Focus is more on matching the right wines to the food with a range of 18 wines by the glass. The Charles Heidsieck Champagne Table matches five courses with five champagnes and is unique to Edinburgh.
Oliver Hughes, the larger than life owner of Dingle Distillery, and bastion of the Irish whiskey and beer scene, passed away suddenly on 31 July 2016. The former barrister was a pioneer of the Irish drinks industry, working for legislative reform and striving for co-operation within the industry. Hughes' Porterhouse empire stretches from Dublin to London and New York and his Dingle Distillery is on the cusp of releasing its second whiskey this coming October. A celebration of Oliver's life was held on 4 August at Royal Kilmainham in Dublin and was attended by in excess of 1,000 people. The tone was set by the full band assembled and the arrival of the casket to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. Affectionate and humorous tributes were led by friends, family and colleagues during the 90 minute service, which at times took on the tone of Oliver's beloved music gigs. His wife Helen described Oliver as not only seeing the glass as half full but that "he was going to the bar to get another glass." His casket left the service to the roar of Queen's The Show Must Go On. Our condolences go to all of Oliver's family and friends.
Scotch whisky lost a dedicated friend and colleague in August. Evan Cattanach filled 80 years with energy, hard work, and good friends. Evan was known to most of us as a pioneering global brand ambassador. He knew whisky inside and out, and was an embodiment of Scots pride and culture. However before he set the standard for brand ambassadors, he made whisky for 33 years, starting at the age of 25 learning his trade in at least 15 different distilleries, beginning at the now-closed Linlithgow. He was the distillery manager for Cragganmore for three years in the early 80s, then took over Cardhu for a further ten years. He was also associated with Oban, Lagavulin and Caol Ila. He then moved to the United States and spent 20 years as a roving ambassador for Diageo. That's when his personality - and singing voice! - led him to become the global representative of Johnnie Walker, then single malts, and eventually the whole range of Scotch whisky. He was one of the great characters of the business, and will be sorely missed. Evan was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2011.