Tuesday, 15 May 2012

My Journey To The Glenrothes, Day Four

Today is the fourth day of my journey to The Glenrothes Distillery in the wonderful Speyside district of northern Scotland to celebrate my Vintage Moment and help the distiller create a new vintage single malt whisky. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

Today was a day that, for me, was all about aromas. Scents. The smell of whisky making, because today was the first day I and my three new friends from Taiwan, Belgium, and The Netherlands saw the inside of the distillery.

As we walked up the drive toward the main buildings, as you see on the left above, I could smell in the brisk Speyside wind the distinctive scent of whisky. It was a sign that I was about to see and smell some very remarkable things. The Glenrothes Distillery is a highly-professional operation that normally does not allow tours, and it was clear our presence was an exception to the rule. Mr. Alistair Anderson, the manager, made us feel quite welcome, and if he had misgivings about having four unknown factors loose in his place of business, he kept it well hidden. We promised to behave ourselves, and we did. Each one of us understood the importance of the occasion, I think. Treating the premises with respect was a natural instinct.

We were then guided through the steps involved in producing the spirit that will become another Glenrothes vintage. Mr. Craig McGregor, good-humoured and confident, walked us through the process beginning with the first step, as malted barley is milled to a very specific consistency, as you can see in the photo on the right. In this room I could smell the odour of the barley. It smelled as though I'd walked into a barn. It was a very fresh, rural, uplifting scent.

The malt is then soaked in soft spring water that has essentially no traces of peat in it. This soaking process takes place in a large 5-tonne vessel known as a mash tun, and the objective is to extract the sugars from the barley, because it is the sugars that will become the spirit.

The resulting liquid is called the wort. When the wort cools down it is piped into the next room into large vessels known as washbacks. These washbacks in some cases are like enormous barrels, as some are made of oregon pine, or kettles, as others are made of stainless steel. It is in the washbacks that the sugar begins its transformation process, as it is combined with yeast in order to cause fermentation.

Here in this room I caught the unmistakeable smell of yeast as it liberated carbon dioxide from the wort. Can't say that I found this noseful as pleasant as the others, though. It can be quite pungent!

While we were here Craig cleaned out one of the pine washbacks. As steam filled the room, I couldn't resist taking this photograph, above. Perhaps, if you take single malt whisky seriously, it could reflect the mysticism some feel accompanies the transformation of sugar into spirit! Mystical. Almost, as it were, spiritual.

Others might say it looks like a typical morning outdoors in Scotland. But I wouldn't say that. Not at all.

We were then passed over into the capable hands of Graham, whose domain is the high-ceilinged stillroom where the distillation of the liquid produced in the washbacks, now referred to as the wash, takes place. Coming in to the still room, the wash is almost like a beer: cloudy, and about 8 per cent alcohol. It then undergoes a double distillation process where it is heated in stills. The vapour rising in the still is condensed back into liquid, piped across the room and heated again in another set of stills with a somewhat different shape, and the rising vapour is again cooled and condensed into liquid. This process essentially separates the beery wash into layers, and the gentle distillation process extracts the best layer of the liquid: the spirit.  

In this room I could smell the first hint of what lies around the corner for this liquid butterfly: a slightly fruity, clean scent of whisky-in-the-making.

Tomorrow we will follow the spirit through the overhead pipe across to the other side of the distillery to learn how it becomes The Glenrothes.

Now, since it's well past midnight local time, I've got to get a few hours sleep! Stay tuned for tomorrow night's post. Goodnight, all.

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