...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Edradour Distillery Tour

Pitlochry is home to Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company Limited.  And wouldn't you know, our drive from Edinburgh to Drumnadrochit was going to take us through Pitlochry -- or at least I was going to make sure it did.  Heh heh heh hehhhhhh.

Er, since my lovely wife Kristen is one of three people who will see this post, may I clarify that the quickest and most direct route between Edinburgh and Drumnadrochit does in fact run through Pitlochry.  :o)

Signatory Vintage isn't just my favorite independent bottler, it's also the owner of Edradour distillery, producers of Edradour (unpeated) and Ballechin (peated) single malt.  Getting to the distillery is a little more exciting than Google Maps or a car's crappy GPS will lead one to believe.  Rather than just scooting into Pitlochry from the A924, one must take a tiny one lane (WATCH OUT!) winding country road north.  I've been told it's a beautiful drive, but I didn't notice since I was behind the wheel, watching every turn for four-legged or four-wheeled creatures.

Just as Edradour brags, their distillery is in fact tiny and cute, with a number of small white house-like structures containing most of its facilities, like this:

But due to the popularity of the peated Ballechin, the distillery has to expand.  So they're building an identical (or as identical as possible) second stillhouse in order to double their production.

That morning, our tour group of about a dozen folks had the awesome Helen as our guide.  Helen grew up on a farm next to the distillery, so this was her territory, she knew all the things.  Like some of us, she rightly prefers the Ballechin to their unpeated stuff.

Our first stop was at a little tour/party room where we were given two 25mL drams while we watched an official Edradour video.  Honestly, if Helen's your tour guide then then video is redundant.  She'll tell you everything in the video and more.  What's more important are the two whiskies: one unpeated and one peated:

Edradour 10 year old, 40%abv (unpeated) -- It's like a yeasty eau de vie, full of porridge notes, and maybe a little bit of toffee.  Its thin mouthfeel doesn't help it one bit as it comes across as a watered-down minor-league barely-legal Tobermory.  While I'm not the biggest fan of all the wine cask versions of Edradour, perhaps those casks do give the whisky a boost.

Ballechin Bourbon Cask, 46%abv (peated) -- Dark, mossy, herbal peat meets coffee, mint leaves, and berry candy.  It's hard to believe this comes from the same distillery as the other whisky.  At first I thought this was the Ballechin 10yo; if so then it was much better than I'd remembered.  Turns out, it was their Discovery Series #6 release: Ballechin Bourbon Cask.  And, yeah, it's better than the 10, and it's likely three or four years younger.  Because it was released 5 years ago, good luck finding it for less than $99.99 today.

It was nice to have drinks before a tour started, for a change.  It sort of oils the gears for the distillery experience.

Allegedly, Edradour ("Land between two waters" in Gaelic) distillery doesn't use computers.  Everything is done by hand, and (paper!) notebooks are filled with data.  They stopped using their malting floors in 1973 and now source both their peated and unpeated malt from Inverness.  That peated (50-55ppm after drying) malted barley is destined to become Ballechin, properly pronounced "bah-LAY-hin".

One of the distillery's interesting quirks is this:

It is a Morton's Refrigerator.  When the wort (malted barley grist that has been steeped in water in order to get the starches turned into sugars) comes out of the mash tun, it must be cooled so that yeast can then be added for the fermentation process.  If the wort is too hot, the yeast will die.  Today most distilleries (and many breweries) use a counter-flow chiller which utilizes cold water -- the cold water is warmed while the wort is cooled.  In 1934 the Morton's was installed at Edradour to cool their wort.  After Andrew Symington (Mr. Signatory) bought the distillery, he elected to have a replica Morton's built and installed, rather than going with a counter-flow chiller.  So they're technically using old school technology with a recent build to cool their wort.

That cooled wort goes into one of their two Oregon pine washbacks, where it ferments for 48 hours.

Here's some wash a-percolatin':

That beer then goes to the one 4200L wash still and one 2000+L spirit still for distillation.

Both of these stills are connected to a 100+ year old worm tub system, yet another bit of old school tech, which condenses alcohol vapor back into liquid.

I know the photo sucks, but it's difficult to get a proper photo of copper tubes
since they're submerged in dark brown water.  It looks like earl grey tea with
a disappearing metal snake inside.
Once the spirit is barreled-up, it enters the warehouse.

And this was 'round about the time I started to geek out on this tour, because this warehouse not only serves Edradour distillery, but also Signatory.  And now, some cask photos.

I'm fascinated by the popularity of Edradour distillery, since many sources claim it has 100,000+ visitors per year.  Unpeated Edradour can be a difficult, unfriendly drink even for those of us with many whisky years hanging over our belts.  Aside from the older technology, the tour itself doesn't provide much more education that one cannot get at many other scotch distillery tours (though having a good guide, like Helen, is essential anywhere).  It is a quaint place when compared to the many massive mechanized whisky production facilities around Scotland.  But my guess is folks tend to stop off there because it's on the way from the cities to Speyside and the Northern Highlands.

Yet, why would the same guy who just wrote that heavily qualified praise ever be seen doing this at Edradour distillery?

Tomorrow, The Signatory Tasting Bar.