Scotch Watch

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June, 1998
Volume Five
Number Three

Feint Praise and Low Wines - Part Two

In the last issue we focused on the first three distilleries visited by the ScotchWatch Tasting Tour, Glenturret, Fettercairn and Royal Lochnagar. One item that was immediately recognized by our group was the beauty of the countryside and the villages we passed through. We constantly saw daffodils, sheep and turnips throughout the areas we visited.


After visiting Royal Lochagar we arrived in Craigellachie, in the heart of Speyside. In fact, we had dinner that evening at The Taste of Speyside a wonderful restaurant in Dufftown about eight miles from Craigellachie. The next morning our first stop was Glenfarclas. Stan greeted us at the door bright and early. I think were an initial shock since he was expecting us about two hours later, but in true Scottish form he gave us a wonderful tour.

Glenfarclas remains one of the few distilleries still privately owned. The current managing director is John L.S. Grant, a direct descendent of John Grant who founded the distillery in 1865 when it started as a farm. It uses very soft water and other than a very course filter nothing is done with the water during the distillation process. Floor maltings were ended in 1972 but the Pagoda at the top of the old kiln is 102 years old and remains as a landmark at the distillery. Glenfarclas processes 33 tons of barley a week using 11 grist hoppers. In fact, the malt mill can process up to eight tons in one hour. It uses an old belt and bucket system to move the barley from the malt dresser through a de-stoner.

There are two Mash Tuns at Glenfarclas each 10 meters across. Stan referred to these as Lauter Tuns based on their German origin. Three waters are infused into the Tun equaling a total of 90,000 litres - It takes approximately 11 to 12 hours to empty the Tuns. Glenfarclas has 12 washbacks and use 2 for each production of worts by a Lauter Tun. The fermintation process here takes about 50 hours. Glenfarclas has 6 stills and its middle cut has quite a wide range of proof, anywhere from 67 to 72 depending on the time of year and the stillman's judgement.

The Macallan

One of the highlights of our trip had to be the trip to Macallan. The distillery sits on a hill overlooking Craigellachie and the river Spey. We were greeted by Russell Anderson, the production manager of Macallan who had been on the job less than 3 weeks. He had recently come from Highland Park where he had served in a similar capacity. Highland Distilleries owns both Highland Park and Macallan - not a bad two distilleries to have in your collection!! Unlike any other distillery we were to visit, Macallan has a campus atmosphere with over 15 houses on site.

Macallan produces about 200,000 cases for single malt while the remainder go for blends such as Famous Grouse (I knew I liked that blend). Russell noted that Macallan is very particular about the barley and yeast it uses. Currently about 30 percent of the barley is golden promise and 70% is chariot. Both of these strains of barley are high demand. Golden Promise is quite hard to get. According to Russell it is not as popular with farmers since it produces lower yields that a strain such as Chariot, however, it does produce a superior sugar compound he referred to as ester notes. While Macallan does not have floor maltings, it does provide very clear specifications to its malters about the purchase and malting of the barley. This becomes quite complex but is key to distilleries such as Macallan. For example, they may specify the amount of nitrogen that is used on the fields since nitrogen may increase yield but may lower sugar production for the maltings.

Macallan uses 300 to 310 tons of malt per week. There is low storage capacity on site so the malt is delivered weekly. They carefully monitor moisture content because higher moisture content can lead to less yield of sugar. The ground barley or mash contains 20 percent husks, 70 percent grist and 10 percent flour. This is fairly standard across this distilling industry.

Macallan's mash tun is 6.8 tons and produces 6 million liters of worts per year. After the last infusion of water at approximately 90 degrees centigrate the worts flow into the washbacks. They have 16 washbacks at Macallan and they use 4 kinds of yeast which they mix in a yeast mixing vessel. The only other distillery we saw with such a mixer was at Glenkinchie. Macallan uses brewers and distillers yeast in a complex mixture that includes 50 percent cultured yeast. In fact, Macallan is in the minority in using brewers yeast which other distillers have stopped using for fear of bacterial growth.

Interestingly, Macallan switched to stainless steel washbacks about 5 or 6 years ago. Much of the debate about wood versus stainless steel has to do with useful life of the wood, bacterial overgrowth that wood washbacks might develop and so forth. We heard many different opinions during our trip but with no clear view as to which approach is the best. That's what makes the process so interesting.

Fermentation at Macallan takes approximately 44 hours. The pipes going into the washbacks have flexible elements attached to them because the rapid fermentation process can cause the washbacks to shake violently at times as the worts interact with the yeast.

Macallan has a beautiful still room which was completed only eight years ago.. It contains five wash stills, each 10,600 liters in size and 10 spirit or low wine stills of 4,000 liters each. Foreshots run only about 5 minutes and Macallan takes a very small portion of the middle cut or sprit cut approximately 16 percent of the total run (about one hour). That leave about 69 percent of the total run to be discarded and recycled back into the spirit still or to be totally discarded at the end of the run.

At the end of our Macallan tour, Russell took all of us to the tasting room where we not only sampled the 12 YO but many of us were lucky enough to purchase a limited edition Macallan single malt that had less than 50 remaining. We guarded them carefully for the rest of the trip! Russell also presented Bret Himes of the Dundee Dell with the end of a butt dating back to the 1940s. It will find its way on the the wall of the Dundee Dell in the near future.


Strathisla is a beautiful distillery in Keith in the highlands. The visitor's center is quite nice and is organized for groups to get self-guided tours. Even so, we ran into Charlie Murray, a veteran of the distillery for over 30 years who gave us a semi-guided tour and was a great addition to our visit.

Strathisla uses spring water from the river isla. Over 130 tons of barley is used each week in the mashing process. As with almost every distillery we visited, Strathisla uses a Porteus Malt Mill. This one was produced in Hull, England. Strathisla has not done its own floor maltings for over 40 years where many others abandoned the process only 20 or 30 years ago.

The mash tun is stainless steel with a copper dome and holds up to 5 tons of grist (4.8 tons of grist used for most mash tun applications). Strathisla is the only distillery we visited that uses four infusions of water rather than three and they provided the most detail on this process:

1st = 20,800 liters at 65 degrees Celsius
2nd = 7,000 liters at 78 degrees Celsius
3rd = 15,300 liters at 85 degrees Celsius
4th = 9,500 liters at 93 degrees Celsius

Strathisla has 11 washbacks, each with a capacity of 24,500 liters. They use 8 of the 11 at any one point in time. Another unusual feature was that the distillery dumps the yeast directly into the washbacks. They use 63 kilos per 24,500 liters of worts and the mix at a temperature of 21 degrees celsius. The distillery completes 26 washbacks per week.

The distillation process uses two relatively small stills. The wash still is 12,000 liters and its steam heated. The basic parts of the wash still are almost 30 years old. The spirit still is 8,000 liters. Foreshots take approximately 20 minutes, the middle cut is 2 hours and the feints are almost 5 hours

Strathisla uses bourbon casks and as with every other distillery, it brings the proof down to 63.5 before filling the casks. They produce 2 million casks per year, most of which goes into the blend Chivas Regal. They produce approximately 51,000 liters of spirit a week, quite a production considering the size and number of stills used.


What a wonderful visit this was. Kathleen Thomson greeted us warmly and apologized for having to share the tour with a group of French who could not speak English. It made for a crazy but fun event. We learned from Kathleen that her son was recently relocated to Ardbeg as the manager of their facility. This made our compatriot Jules quite happy since, at the time, Ardbeg was closed and this provided an opportunity to get us into see the facility. As luck would have it, that's exactly what happened!! But, more about that in a later newsletter.

Glenmorangie gets its water from the Tarlogie springs which, unlike most distilleries, is quite hard. and produces 9 tons of grist for every mash tun. They produce grist 18 times per week. They do not do their own floor maltings but have the maltings done by Murray Firth in Inverness. They had stopped their own floor maltings in 1977. Glenmorangie uses Derkado barley and use three different companies for their yeast. They are chosen on a yearly basis.

The Mash Tun itself is almost 12 tons but each production uses about 9 tons. Glenmorangie used three infusions of water at 65, 85 and 100 degrees celsius. As with many distilleries we visited, Glenmorangie uses the remains after the sparge (e.g. third infusion of water) to create chicken pellets which are sold to local farmers. These remains are referred to as draff.

Glenmorangie has six washbacks, each 48,000 liters in capacity. They use 5 distillers yeasts and 2 brewers yeast (7 bags at 25 kg each). As with Strathisla, the yeast is dumped into the washbacks rather than infused as it is in distilleries such as Macallan.

As many may know, Glenmorangie has the tallest stills in Scotland, 16 feet 10 inches. There are 8 stills, 4 wash and four low/wine spirit stills. They expanded from four to eight stills in 1977 at the same point they stopped floor maltings. The wash still have a capacity of 11, 400 liters while the spirit stills have a capacity of 8,200 liters. The fermentation process takes 45 hours from start to finish. The foreshots are about 20 minutes, and the feints about 2 to 2 hours. About 1/3 of the run reflects the middle cut (3 hours). The stills last, on average, 15 to 20 years although parts are replaced at different times. They are heated by oil and electric steam coils.

Distilleries close for a certain period of time each year for maintenance. This is referred to as the silent season and for Glenmorangie this occurs in July. They use American Oak Casks and still use earthen floor warehouses. Casks are reused up to three times and are color coded so as they are refilled and bottled the distillery can keep a record of reuse. If the cask is used 3 times it top is green, if its used 2 times its black and if its used only one time its maroon. To create the 10 year old Glenmorangie they will mix casks and reuse casks together to get a similar product.

Glenmorangie is one of the most innovative distillers in trying different finishes. Also, unlike most distilleries, most of Glenmorangie goes for single malts rather than for blends. They fill 100 casks per day and 500 casks per week producing 104,000 casks a year.


We were greeted at Dalmore by Drew Sinclair who proved to be one of our best hosts. Drew is technically the assistant manager but in reality he runs the place. He has been at Dalmore for 32 years. Dalmore is located next to the deepest inland sea port in all of Scotland, a truly beautiful setting.

Dalmore stopped doing its own floor maltings in 1981 and use a grain malting firm in Invergorden to handle their maltings. They use a combination of different barley strains including chariot, durkardo and merasac. They put the malted barley in 14 twenty-five ton bins. Dalmore uses a Porteus Mill as do most distilleries we visited to make the grist used in Mash Tun. They do 22 mash's a week, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. While Glenmorangie's silent season is in July, at Dalmore its June. The Mash Tun operates as do others we have visited but Drew also showed us the wet draff hopper which actually drys at the remains from the Mast Tun and blows it into a pipe where it is made available to farmers to use as cheap feed. It a really unique twist, Dalmore blows a football through the pipe at the end of each mash process to make sure the pipe is clear!!

They mash about 9.2 tons in each production process. The Mash Tun is made of stainless steele Like many distilleries, the water is untreated except for a very coarse filter that is used to take out any hazardous material. The water is from the river Ulnus and is very soft, the exact opposite of Glenmorangie. As is the standard, three infusions of water occur in the Mash Tun which holds 42,000 liters of grist. Unlike most distilleries, the water infused does not go up in temperature between the 2nd and 3rd infusions. Dalmore keeps the heat and 75 degrees for each of the last two after starting the first infusion at 64 degrees. The total process takes approximately 7 hours.

At Dalmore approximately 49,500 liters of worts go into the 8 washbacks along with 150 kg of distillers yeast. The yeast is put in by hand. Brewers yeast is not used because of concern about bacterial overgrowth. The washbacks are made of oregon pine and are about 45 years old. This process takes about 48 hours for fermentation to be completed. Drew not only let us stick our head into the washbacks and get a whiff of the CO2 gas (a lot of heads snapped back on that one), he also let us taste the beer like result of the process right out of the washback!! It was truly a thrill for all of us.

There are eight stills at Dalmore with a unique water jacket on the head of the still to help condense the alcohol vapors. Only Fettercairn had a similar water jacket on its stills and Drew says they got the idea from Dalmore!!!

Three wash stills are 13, 411 liters while three low wine/spirit stills are 8,865. Dalmore also has a one large wash still that contains 30,004 liters and a spirit still that holds 19,548. The foreshots run about hour, the middle cut can range from 2 to 5 hours and the feints run about 2 hours. This whole process takes from 6 to 7 hours resulting in an average proof of 76 or 77.

Drew completed our tour with a wonderful dram, or two, or three of the 12 year old known to many of us since the Dundee Dell uses this as their house single malt. He left us with the statement that nothing is for sale at Dalmore and that was true because unlike every place we visited, their was no visitors shop where items were for sale. We will long remember Drew and Dalmore with fondness for the hospitality and kindness that he showed to us during our visit.

Our next newsletter will highlight the ScotchWatch group's experiences in Islay.

The Scotch Watch is a joint venture of Bill Wakefield and B.J. Reed. Anyone with comments or suggestions may contact Bill at 553-3097 or B.J. at 556-5509. E-mail for B.J. is