Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Today we visit a place held by whisky lovers from around the world in the highest of echelons.
First, Here is an amazing fact.
When you visit the Edradour distillery you will taste the last single malt whisky produced by hand in the smallest traditional stills in Scotland, the entire operation is still housed in their original farm buildings.
What owner distiller Andrew Symington is doing is a triumph of the traditional art and craft of whisky production over the growing mass production global whisky trade. Unlike larger distilleries, Edradour has no computers attached to any equipment and if you visit you actually see and smell the unique process of bringing together barley, spring water, and yeast all under one roof.
Old School Whisky Making
Edradour distillery is packed with Unique Features. Old small-scale equipment, some of which is the last in Scotland, enables you to see how the whisky is made. Simply exposed and open to the air, visitors see the working of a real Victorian whisky production happening today.
Let's start at The Still House
As you watch the water, wort, wash, and spirit flow around the old still house you will see this transformation taking place that has hardly changed for one hundred and fifty years.
The Mash Tun
Edradours mash tun, What is a mash tun you ask? A mash tun is a vessel made either from metal or plastic that is specially designed for the mashing process in brewing where grain starch is converted into sugar. It is often isothermally designed with a built-in filtering shelf at the bottom as well as a faucet or spigot for draining the wort out.
The Edradour distillery uses a small open mash tun, for mixing the malted barley and spring water, it's made of cast iron that is over one hundred and ten years old and still in almost daily use.
They use a Morton Refrigerator system, so what is it? A Morton Refrigerator is a device used to cool wort drawn from a mash tun using only cold water. Largely abandoned as a technology in favor of modern heat exchangers these used to be prevalent across the whisky industry.
The resulting wort from the Mash Tun is cooled in this Morton Refrigerator using cold water only. This is the last of its kind still working in the whisky industry.
The Wash backs
Wash Backs so what is a washback? The washback is the vessel in which fermentation will take place. Once the wort leaves the mash tun, it’s collected in the worts receiver (also called underback). From there, it will be cooled down, and then find its way into the washbacks.
Washbacks are typically gigantic structures, able to host thousands of liters of liquid.
When the liquids enter the washback, the temperature will typically be around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The yeast would die at temperatures over 95, hence the cooling process.
The washback is filled with wort up to about two-thirds of it’s capacity. The yeast is then added and starts converting the sugars of the wort into alcohol. Never to waste an opportunity, the yeast will convert any remaining starch in the wort into sugar.
A typical wash cycle will last between 2 to 4 days. Any shorter would prevent valuable flavors and alcohol to be generated. If it would be left too long, bacteria that would turn the result acidic could end up being introduced.
As for the washbacks in use at Edradour, they use Oregon Pine Washbacks. they have 2 Washbacks, both over 50 years old.
The all-important stills are something to see, these are the smallest traditional stills in Scotland. Their unique size and shape make a big difference in quality compared to mass-produced whisky.
At Edradour, distilling involves two copper stills and worm tubs. The second distillation takes place in the smallest traditional still in Scotland.
Both the stills and the worm tubs are made of copper and this affects the final flavor. With the small stills, the area of copper exposed to the wash or spirit is high. This is why, with Edradour having the smallest stills, they produce arguably, the best new make spirit in Scotland. Its in the ratio of copper to distillate
Worm Tubs are still being used here, what is a worm tub you may ask? In short, worm tubs are a type of condenser. They are a traditional way of turning spirit vapor back into the liquid and they work like this: The lyne arm at the top of the still is connected to a long, coiled copper pipe (worm) that sits in a huge vat of cold water (tub), which is usually outside. As the vapor travels down the worm, it condenses back into liquid form.
There are only a handful of distilleries that still use this method to condense their spirits, with most now preferring the more modern and efficient ‘shell and tube’ approach.
The Worm Tubs with coiled copper pipes are water cooled from the Edradour Burn and are amongst the handful remaining in Scotland.
Nothing is thrown away
The used barley grains, known as Draff, are shoveled out into an open cart outside the Still House.
The Draff, or used barley, is taken away each day by local farmers where it is fed to his cattle – another old tradition at Edradour.
The middle cut is best
The Spirit Safe is used to get the best of the distillate. Selecting the Heart of the Run in the traditional way without the aid of computers
The resulting spirit from the heart of the Run will then mature in oak casks for many years in the warehouse
The warehouse contains barrels signed by their future recipients. From Robbie Williams to many other celebrities, a cask owned at Edradour is not just status, it shows great taste in whisky and is quite desirable amongst the posh set.
Edradour has been investing substantially in the quality of the oak casks in which their Edradour spirit quietly matures. The highest quality distilled spirit maturing in quality oak wood is the perfect combination.
Edradour Single Malt Whisky is carefully distilled, matured, and bottled on the premises so you can really watch that the quality remains consistently at the very best.
The result is whisky as it used to be, made much the same today as it was 150 years ago. Edradour Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Enjoy the journey...
If you are a whisky snob or a whisky newbie if you have a chance to visit this Distillery it's not to be missed. It's both a place where you will find some of the best whisky in all of Scotland and pretty much a landmark facility. The buildings are well kept and it's located in a hollow that harkens back to whisky making times to avoid the excise man back in the days when secret stills were the only stills.
The Legend himself
Entrepreneur owner Andrew Symington is truly the embodiment of a gentleman whisky maker, so with all that said, keep an eye open for him, he is a hands-on whisky maker, from driving the forklifts to the expansive gift shop Mr. Symington is everywhere. Please call ahead for the tour, it's a bucket list thing to do, even if you don't care for whisky and just want to experience some unique Scottish history. Centrally located just outside the town of Pitlocry down a winding road, you can visit from most of the highlands with ease.
I'm Carl and thank you for reading savor whisky, Please share this post with friends, like and follow, it's also available on your favorite podcast platforms, where you get to hear my lovely voice, and also visit social media.
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