Construction has begun on multi-million pound Lindores Abbey distillery in Fife following a lengthy excavation of the site, with production due to commence in September 2017.
Planning permission for the distillery was granted in 2013, but one of the conditions required founder and managing director Drew McKenzie Smith to dig trenches around the site, which he said had never been properly excavated.
The first trench uncovered an 18-metre abbey wall just five inches below the earth’s surface, though the following 17 trenches revealed no further artefacts.
‘This was a hugely important find that had been sitting there undiscovered,’ McKenzie Smith said. ‘We are hoping to leave this particular trench uncovered so visitors will be able to see it when they come to the distillery.
‘We hope visitors will be enthused by the abbey as much as they are by the distillery.’
Lindores Abbey distillery is located opposite the derelict Lindores Abbey, which is often referred to as the ‘spiritual home of Scotch whisky’.
According to the Exchequer Rolls, Friar John Cor, who is believed to have resided at the abbey, was ordered by King James IV to ‘make aqua vitae eight bolls of malt’ in 1494 – the first written evidence of whisky distillation in Scotland.
Building of the distillery commenced two weeks ago and is expected to last for 14 months. It will feature three copper pot stills, including one wash still and two spirit stills.
Barley will be grown on the farm land surrounding the distillery, which boasts approximately 60 acres, though McKenzie-Smith has not ruled out sourcing additional barley supplies from other farms if needed.
An onsite warehouse will have room to house up to 1,000 casks with partly heated sections to allow Dr Jim Swan – who is working with McKenzie Smith as a whisky consultant – to experiment with maturation.
McKenzie Smith and Dr Swan are currently in the process of sourcing casks, with McKenzie Smith recently travelling to Louisville to explore the possibility of using Bourbon barrels from Woodford Reserve. The team is also looking to source Sherry casks from Spain.
‘I believe our warehouse will be the first of its kind in Scotland,’ added McKenzie-Smith. ‘Experimenting with speed and spirit maturation is the world we live in, but we promised Jim we won’t release the whisky until it’s ready.
‘If it can be done in five years rather than 10, then that’s no bad thing. But we don’t want to do anything to harm the spirit; we’re not about rushing or making anything gimmicky.
‘Personally, I feel that sort of thing undermines a brand, big or small. I don’t see the point in rushing to get something out if it’s not ready.’
If building and production goes according to plan, McKenzie Smith said the first Lindores Abbey single malt Scotch whisky could be ready for release by 2023.
He also hinted at the possibility of bringing out a peated expression in a nod to when monks were given permission to bring 200 carts of peat to the abbey 600 years ago.
In addition, a special bottling may also be created using a specific yeast strain that has been researched at Heriot-Watt University, and could have been used by Friar John.
While he waits for the whisky to mature, McKenzie Smith plans on launching an unaged ‘aqua vitae’ in September 2017.
Lindores Abbey distillery is set to begin its first distillation today (13 December), at what has become known as the ‘spiritual home of Scotch whisky’.
Day one: Lindores Abbey distillery will lay down its first casks of whisky today (13 December)
The Fife distillery began its first mash earlier this week, and will later today perform its first spirit cut in a live-streamed event on Facebook (at 2pm GMT).
While the bulk of its lightly-peated spirit will be laid down to mature in ex-Bourbon American oak casks to become whisky in three years’ time, Lindores Abbey will bottle a proportion as aqua vitae – a spirit flavoured with herbs and spices.
Initially available exclusively at the distillery, Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae will feature botanicals that would have grown on the historic site in the late 15th century, and will eventually include fruit and honey produced at the distillery’s beehives and orchards.
Lindores Abbey is often associated with the first written reference to distillation in Scotland, a note in the 1494 Exchequer Rolls that by order of King James IV, ‘eight bols malt’ be supplied to Friar John Cor to produce ‘aqua vitae’ – the water of life.
As Cor resided for a time at Lindores Abbey, the Newburgh ruin has become regarded as a significant landmark in Scotch whisky history.
Gary Haggart, distillery manager at Lindores Abbey, who previously ran Cragganmore distillery in Speyside, said: ‘Distilling the first spirit at Lindores Abbey in more than 500 years is such an honour, and with this innovative and world-class distillery behind me, it’s now the task of the team here to produce a Scotch whisky worthy of its spiritual home.’
The distillery, which opened to the public in October, features a visitor centre and café, as well as ‘apothecary room’ where visitors have the opportunity to create their own aqua vitae.
Following the first distillation, owners Drew and Helen McKenzie Smith will offer a select number of single malt casks for private ownership, while membership to the Lindores Abbey Distillery Preservation Society is also available.
LINDORES’ THABILL HONOURS CHESS TOURNAMENT
Lindores Abbey is commemorating an ‘all-star’ chess tournament taking place at its distillery with a limited edition bottling of its Aqua Vitae malt-based spirit.
Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae Thabill spirit chess tournament limited edition release
Whisky game: Lindores Abbey’s Thabill release highlights the distillery’s association with chess
The Lindores Abbey Chess Stars tournament will take place on 25-26 May at the Lowland distillery, with world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, former world chess champion Viswanathan ‘Vishy’ Anand, and three-time Chinese chess champion Ding Liren confirmed to play.
Thabill combines Lindores’ Aqua Vitae botanical spirit with 18-month-old malt spirit that has been maturing in oak casks from Thiron-Gardais in France, which is also home to Lindores’ sister abbey, Tiron.
The name ‘Thabill’ refers to a 1480s inventory of the abbey which mentioned ‘twa pairs of thabills wt thair men’ – translating into today’s English as ‘two chessboards with their pieces’.
According to Lindores Abbey distillery, the record showed that ‘chess has been a part of the abbey’s history for more than 500 years, and this spirit is a fitting tribute to the game of kings’.
A total of 500 bottles will be sold online on the Lindores Abbey website and in the distillery’s shop for £150 a bottle.
A proportion of the proceeds from Thabill’s sales will be donated to the distillery’s chosen charity, STAR, which offers centres for siblings separated in foster care to be reunited.
Tickets for game-side seats are invitation-only, but the tournament will be streamed on screens throughout the distillery’s visitor centre for the public to watch.
Lindores Abbey started production in December 2017.
Considering its historical importance, Lindores Abbey distillery has been built as an aesthetically sympathetic monument to the 800-year-old Tironensian structure, using local wood from Denmylne and stone from Clatchard Quarry.
Lindores’ one wash still and two spirit stills will produce a lightly peated Lowland malt (the site lies just on the border with the Highlands) using barley grown on neighbouring farms and around Fife, and malted at Muntons. Maturation will be conducted on-site in a purpose-built dunnage warehouse, 25% of which will be heated to increase the rate of maturation.
The heated warehouse won’t be the only curiosity at Lindores: a special strain of yeast that may have existed in the 15th century is being replicated in partnership with Heriot-Watt University, and will be used to produce a limited edition single malt. In addition, instead of producing a gin, a percentage of Lindores’ new make spirit will be put aside to produce ‘aqua vitae’ – a malt spirit macerated with local herbs like sweet cicely, which grows abundantly on the banks of the River Tay. Eventually, fruit from the Abbey’s newly-planted orchard will also be incorporated.
Above all, the Mackenzie Smiths have plans to create a ‘world class visitor attraction’ with Lindores, educating guests on the Tironensian monks’ crafts and way of life, the Abbey’s history as well as the whisky production process.
Built as a daughter house of Kelso Abbey, Lindores Abbey was founded on the edge of Newburgh, Fife, in the late 12th century by the Earl of Huntingdon. Once visited by Kings and Queens, the Tironensian Abbey is now little more than an overgrown ruin. In 1912 the Abbey and a neighbouring farm was sold to John Howison, a farmer in the Carse of Gowrie, Perth and Kinross. The lands were passed down through the generations and are now owned by Howison’s great-grandson and current ‘custodian of Lindores’, Drew Mackenzie Smith and his wife, Helen.
It’s claimed that the first written reference to whisky being produced in Scotland relates to Lindores Abbey. The Exchequer Rolls of 1494 lists that, by order of King James IV, ‘eight bols malt’ be presented to Tironensian monk Friar John Cor to produce ‘aqua vitae’ – the water of life. It’s thought that Friar Cor resided at Lindores, and the Abbey has become known as the ‘spiritual home of Scotch whisky’.
Mackenzie Smith had long considered building a distillery at Lindores, and finally embarked on a £10 million project in 2013, with backing from three European investors. An excavation of the land adjacent to the Abbey – a former farm steading used as a dairy – revealed an ancient 18-metre wall just five inches below the earth’s surface.
The excavation and subsequent archaeological investigations delayed construction until July 2016. Lindores Abbey’s ‘world class’ visitor centre eventually opened to the public in October 2017, with distillation due to begin imminently.
According to Mackenzie Smith, despite Lindores’ historical roots the company has faced at least one trademark challenge from consumer brands over the use of the Abbey’s name. As such the distillery will never produce a chocolate liqueur to avoid a battle with Lindt, producer of Lindor chocolate.
LINDORES ABBEY FACTS
CAPACITY (MLPA) i
CONDENSER TYPE i
Shell and tube
FERMENTATION TIME i
Two washbacks at 72 hours; two washbacks at 96 hours
FILLING STRENGTH i
GRIST WEIGHT (T) i
HEAT SOURCE i
Kerosene-fired Cochran steam boiler to Internal Stainless-steel radiator