With a proposed distillery popping up almost every week, we get very excited about Irish whiskey. I think that’s mostly down to how low our expectations had sunk. In Scotland where there are already over 100 working distilleries, the newbies have attracted less attention. But the scene here is buzzing.
We started our journey at Strathearn, what do you mean you haven’t read this blog and that blog post. Shame! Anyway within a short drive of Perth is the shiny new Kingsbarn (at £8m+ it and a visitors centre there was no point going), the totally eccentric Daft Mill (you have to click the link) and Arbikie Highland Estate.
After a couple of days at Scotland’s smallest distillery we weren’t quite ready for Arbikie. It’s bloody huge. Set on a 2,000 acre estate Arbikie is how a lottery winner would build a distillery. Hire a Masters student from Herriot Watt (the lovely Kirsky), give her your cheque book and come back in fifteen years when the whisky is ready to bottle. The distillery is set in a barn so large that out the back it houses a container load of bottles, a massive grain silo and two combine harvesters.
On the day we visited Kirsty wasn’t making whiskey, we arrived in the middle of vodka season. The distillery was inspired (and no doubt paid for) by the miles and miles of potatoes grown here, and every year Kirsty sets to work turning spuds into vodka. It’s a long drawn out process. A large sack of spuds will only generate a bottle of spirit, but only after the spuds are boiled, fermented and then distilled in a column still the size of a small block of flats.
Even then it’s not over. Potato spirit contains large volumes of methanol, so after distillation the vodka is distilled again in a special methanol removing yolk. However all that does prove that Irish poteen was never really made from potatoes, that the GI is a crock of shit and that John Ford was right when he said ‘when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’
A quick skip and a hop and we were at Eden Mill, unique on this road trip as it is both a brewery and more recently a distillery. Inspired and helped by Strathearn’s founder Tony Reeman-Clark, Eden Mill produces whisky in three 1,000 litre Hoga stills.
One is used as a wash still, the other two as spirit/gin stills and it’s a process that seems to work well. They systems here are slightly more automated than at Strathearn, in that the mash tun has a plough so less shovelling. Both the peated and unpeated new make is light with malty sweetness, again the grain being pushed to the fore here.
Like just about every place we visited (including Arbikie) the latter end of the process (bottling and labelling) is labour intensive. Basically labelling is a just a major pain in the ass and sorting it is expensive and way down most people’s list of priorities. At Eden Mill however they at least have screen printed bottles. So newbie Irish distillers take note.
One other thing to note is that on a cold day in the middle of January the tourists came to Eden Mill. No fewer than four tours (more in summer) where people met the distillers, smelt the smell, had a tasting and bought a bottle. Of course something we micro’s can’t do here.
On the final day of our road trip we headed west to meet a nuclear physicist turned distiller, and you can read all about that tomorrow.
To be continued…