Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Ardnamurchan Distillery - 18 Months On

The last time I was at the Ardnamurchan Distillery was in July 2014 at its formal opening by Princess Anne, so it was good to go back after it has been working for some 18 months to see how it's getting on.

Outwardly, little has changed. After two winters and a busy production schedule, it's immediately obvious from the look of the place that management and staff are intensely proud of their distillery.

We were shown round by Sophie Yorke, one of the five guides. They welcomed 7,000 visitors in the first year and expect that number to jump as the distillery's friendly and informative tours earn a reputation - so they're aiming for a 50% increase this year to 10,000.

The tour starts in the bonded warehouse at the back of the site, where....

....the ground floor is already filling up with casks varying in capacity from 190 to 500 litres. Some of the whisky may start to go away to be used in blending when it's three years and a day old, the bottom limit for it to be called a 'scotch', but most will stay in the warehouse until the first bottling, in 2022, of the distillery's Ardnamurchan 8 Year Old.

All the casks are oak, all pre-used. Some are from the US, where they've held whiskies like Jack Daniels, some from Spain where their earlier use was for sherries. While the Ardnamurchan Whisky will be a pure malt, it'll be blended from different casks produced in the same year.

The raw materials for whisky are beautifully simple: barley, grown in Fife and malted in Inverness, yeast, water from the burn that runs past the distillery, and the application of heat. The only variation is that some of the barley is peated, and some unpeated, the distillery running each type in turn for some months.

The Ardnamurchan distillery prides itself in being as 'green' as possible. So the heat comes from a biomass boiler burning wood chip from Ardnamurchan Estate, electricity comes from solar panels, and there are plans for a hydro scheme and wind power. And little goes to waste: most of the byproducts, the draff and pot ale, go to the Estate farm to feed the cattle and deer, or onto the fields as fertilizer.

The tour takes visitors right through the heart of the distilling process, so one can peer into the great mash tuns and washbacks and smell the rich odours of the fermenting process. In this room distillations take place in the two copper pot stills, first in the left-hand still, then in the right. The copper coils, in which the vapour is condensed, lie outside the building, the cooling, again, being by the local burn water.

While the main processes in many distilleries are now computer-controlled, here everything is controlled manually by Nicky Docherty on the left and Gordon MacKenzie on the right, under the supervision of a manager. Both men live locally and have been trained by the distillery. One of the pleasures of walking round the distillery is the feeling amongst the staff of cheerful hard work and pride in the quality of the whisky they're producing.

The tour ends with a tasting in a pleasant lounge area - not yet of the Ardnamurchan, but of one of owner Adelphi Distillery's other excellent whiskies. However, anyone wishing to join in the excitement of participating in the production of the new whisky can buy one of the barrels lying in the bonded warehouse. Full details of how to purchase, and more about the distillery itself, are at the Ardnamurchan Distillery website, here.

As can be seen from the pictures, we took our two teenage grand-daughetrs with us who, since they don't (yet) drink whisky and so have little interest in the product, were liable to be fairly stern critics of the tour. Their verdict? They enjoyed it, except we talked too much when we were savouring our dram.

Many thanks to Sophie and the team at Ardnamurchan Distillery for making our visit so enjoyable.
Tours are Monday-Friday, 10am to 6pm, and Sunday 11am to 5pm; closed Saturday.
Tour prices start at £7pp, with a maximum of 8 people in each group.

1 comment:

  1. First bottling in 2022 eh? Just in time for celebrating my 90th birthday!
    Interesting article Jon. Thanks.