Tonight sees the anticipated Lindores Abbey tasting for the Sussex Whisky Appreciation Group [S.W.A.G.]. The event is led by Cask Custodian Elliot Wynn-Higgins and Distillery Manager Gary Haggart [ex-Cragganmore come electrician], who are joined by Tim Foster [Export Sales Manager] and Murray Stevenson [Sales Ambassador for Lindores’ Aqua Vitae]. Whilst Lindores presented an Instagram tasting in May, we as a club are honoured to receive their first-ever private/club [online] tasting.
This evening, we are due to try alternative samples that won’t make up the current core recipe, a [Jim Swan-influenced] cask-led composition that currently shapes up like this:
- [Old Forester] bourbon casks [65%]
- STR red wine cask [25%]
- [12yo] ex-oloroso-aged casks [10%]
Instead, we get to try these four cask samples:
- Cask #289 Ex-Heaven Hill Bourbon Hogshead, laid down 26/04/2018 ABV 61.6%
- Cask #293 EX-PX Sherry Butt, laid down 26/04/2018 ABV 62.8%
- Cask #508 Ex-Red wine re-charred Quarter cask, laid down 04/07/2018 ABV 61.2%
- Cask #290 Ex-Ardbeg peated finish, also laid down 26/04/2018 ABV 63.2%
All four samples are around 2 years old, drawn from their respective casks a couple of weeks ago. The bourbon, oloroso and peated casks were filled on the same day, so tonight is a great opportunity to understand cask influence on the Lindores spirit. It’s just a shame that we didn’t have the newmake alongside, a common theme.
Unlike Raasay [WLP], Lindores haven’t yet decided on the character profile of their whisky for the longer term. Post-Jim Swan, Lindores found their dumpy stills weren’t conducive to the pre-prescribed light floral Lowland style [the heavy components finding their way into the condensers – waxy oily build-ups – the low-wine & feints tank smelling more favourable than in the receiver,…]. As a result, the profile is [currently] evolving towards more of a Speyside style. We are invited to try the samples, pick up on related characters/themes and give feedback. But first, let’s get some background and perspective on Lindores Abbey itself.
- Lindores website says ‘Lindores Abbey, or the ‘Church by the Water’, was founded in 1191 by David Earl of Huntingdon, on land overlooking the Estuary of the River Tay, given to him by his brother King William I’. The position for the Abbey would have been chosen because of its plentiful supply of timber and stone, and for the swift running waters of the Pow of Lindores running over the land down to the Tay‘.
- Frequently cited is the first written reference to whisky-making in Scotland found in the 1494 Exchequer Rolls that reads ‘by order of King James IV, ‘eight bols of malt’ be supplied to Friar John Cor to produce ‘aqua vitae’ – the water of life.
- Scotchwhisky.com says ‘It’s thought that Friar Cor resided at Lindores, and the Abbey has become known as the ‘spiritual home of Scotch whisky’.
- Lindores website again, says ‘Lindores Abbey was once a very important and wealthy place, visited by Kings and Queens (including Edward I of England, John Balliol, David II, James III and IV), warriors and statesmen’. ‘William Wallace even took refuge with 300 of his men after their victory over the English at the nearby Battle of Black Earnside‘.
- According to wiki, ‘The Abbey ceased operation in 1559’. Today, the abbey is no more than a ruin [see pic below].
- The great-grandfather of Lindores Abbey Distillery founder Drew Mackenzie Smith bought the Lindores Abbey farm in 1913, but the family we unaware that they were living upon the ‘spiritual home of Scotch whisky‘. Having the abbey as a playground whilst growing up, Drew Mackenzie’s adult life centred around hospitality which saw him train as a chef. Surfing the web one day [20 years ago], Drew inadvertently came across a page that mentioned Lindores Abbey and Friar John Cor. With no previous knowledge of the connection, Drew considered setting up a small visitor’s experience to honour the historical importance of the abbey, early distillation and Scotch whisky. With no thoughts of building a distillery at this time, the more encouragement he received [from a Canadian whisky society in particular], the more he came round to the idea. [Further reading: SW]
In 2013, Drew, along with three other investors put in £10 million towards building a new distillery where the original abbey farm steading lay. During the conversion, an excavation project unearthed what is believed to be the remains of one of the oldest whisky stills ever discovered [see pic below]. This, however, delayed construction for three years. [Further reading: website].
Established in 2017, Lindores Abbey Distillery is situated on the Lowland/Highland border on the south side of the River Tay in Fife. It forms the top of a new-distilleries [single-estate] triangle between Aberargie [SW] and Daftmill [WLP] – see pic. With Strathearn, Inchdairnie, Eden Mill and Kingsbarns also close-by, we are witnessing the birth of a small-scale, provenance-led distilleries whisky trail.
- Though not a single estate distillery [just yet], Lindores is moving away from Concerto barley grown in Fife to Laureate barley grown on two neighbouring farms. With terroir firmly on the discussion table [with the recent inaugural whisky releases from Waterford], Gary said the differences in using local barley were clearly noticeable.
- Contrary to previous reports, Lindores are not using an ancient replica yeast strain from Heriot-Watt University. It is true that some students went to the abbey to collect/capture naturally-occurring yeasts and came across one viable strain that could be used for brewing. There are, however, no plans to introduce wild yeast anywhere near the distillery. Hopefully, there could be future experiments if that particular strain was replicated into a dry yeast form, but until then, Lindores are currently using a dried brewers yeast.
- 2-tonne semi-lauter mash tun.
- Four washbacks, long fermentation of 90-115 hours.
- One wash, two spirit stills. The idea for this set-up was to increase copper contact to produce a light and [tropical] fruity spirit. Lindores say: ‘We had been through four seasons of distillation at Lindores and had worked with the distillery to define the spirit. We had a direction, but the distillery decided to offer us up a new intriguing spirit instead. We went from nutty, to cereal, to malty, to pears, to fruity and to finally a spirit which combines all of these and more. There is also a sweetness and a spiciness with an incredible mouth feel‘.
- Capacity is around 260000 lpa, but Lindores is producing around 150,000 lpa in actuality. 5% of Lindores Abbey’s production goes to an Aqua Vitae which is based on an early monk’s recipe from Kendal, flavoured with local ingredients that would have originally grown on the site. Murray Stevenson likens Lindores Aqua Vitae [link] to a combo of “whisky, gin and spiced rum”.
- Lindores pulled the plug on heated warehouses. Whilst the SWA doesn’t like ‘controlled environments’ anyway. it’s also very costly to heat during the winter, so it was deemed ‘not worth it’.
- Gary tells us they have filled more than 50 different cask types.
To the juice!
Lindores Abbey 2018/2020 Un-Ob. 1st-fill Bourbon Cask Sample #289 61.8%
We’ve been waiting 500 years for this, so it had better be good! I’m kidding. This sample is taken from a Heaven Hill cask. The distillery is experimenting with plenty of other bourbon casks to see the effect they have on the spirit. Gary admits they haven’t found the perfect cask just yet.
- N: Surprisingly soft [sublimely so] and fruity [pears, crushed apples, a touch of melon > with cinnamon] with no ethanol nip whatsoever – none! Overall, this possesses a very pleasing familiar and rounded soft ripe varied fruitiness with some structural maltiness and a coconut/sweet ‘n’ sour milky lactic note [coming from a long fermentation]. Classy, balanced, and extraordinary 2yo spirit on the nose.
- T: Some husky oiliness, plenty of cereal maltiness and a slight resinousness. Adding water [up to 50/50] allows unhindered exploration. Next day, I pick out some marzipan.
- F: The cask influence settles to leave a salivating and almost waxy but certainly malty husky cereal finish with a firm indication that a ‘dunnage’ note shall one day emerge.
- C: With a fairly long composed form, Lindores have a competent spirit style that, evidently, is to form the backbone of their single malt. We are suitably impressed.
Lindores Abbey 2018/2020 Un-Ob. 1st-fill Oloroso Sherry Butt Cask Sample #293 62.8%
Whilst Lindores will use sherry casks that had previously aged sherry for 12 years for their inaugural release, in the main, they’ll be using sherry-seasoned casks as is the industry norm. We are told there are significant differences with Spanish oak compared with US oak, though Lindores are unsure of what’s actually best for their spirit at this early stage. The Spanish oak, we are told, becomes flavour-forward far quicker – bringing more spicy citrus – whilst the US casks are more ‘mellow’.
- N: This is certainly as familiar as the bourbon cask sample, the family resemblance between them remaining true. It’s arguably no fruitier than the previous sample, only slightly different in character, but much of the fruitiness here comes more from the cask, accompanied by a slight pongy > lactose note. What strikes me is just how malty both samples are, and almost sugary-sweet.
- T: Very little nip on the palate given the strength, though the arrival is more acute/narrow than the previous bourbon cask sample. A coppery peppery seasoned-sherry [sweet-sour] cask arrival is carried by the maltiness with only a very slightly green tannic/butyric-ness on the turn. Next day, there’s more of an oily mouthfeel and a decidedly citrus influence that Elliot thinks may become part of the Lindores character/profile in the longer term [though the direction is still up for grabs].
- F: Shorter finish here with a butyric resinous, almost vinegary softish chilli freshness. The ‘seasoned-ness’ remains a niggle.
- C: At this point in time, this very much feels like a ‘jobbing’ example, the cask and spirit still working out the terms & conditions let’s say. It’s harder to imagine a serendipitous outcome for this cask type down the line compared to the more composed bourbon matured spirit, and as such, if I were considering buying a cask I’d be going for the bourbon over the sherry based on this tasting.
Lindores Abbey 2018/2020 Un-Ob. Ex-Red Wine Re-char Quarter Cask Sample #508 61.3%
- N: We start with light plasticine fusty-bubblegum notes, but again, given the strength, the nose is very polite. However, it’s the cask-influence that appears rather shy or tame perhaps, the spirit softly shimmering all coppery and malty. Furthermore, there are all manner of interesting herbal and aromatic spiced developments.
- Red wine is very different from oloroso and I’m coming round to its influence, more accepting of the frequency of its appearance and use. That influence can be far more subtle and – dare I say [yes I do] – ‘organic’. After all, it’s less likely vineyards are making wine just for the whisky industry like is the case with sherry, just to be thrown away. Here we’ve a chewy mouthfeel with a fusty relaxed firm porridgy very low bubblegum character,…
- ,.. whilst the cask appears to bring out/promote the copperiness with a soft barley/cereal jacket. The likeness to Glen Scotia here is perhaps more grounded in chemistry than just a casual observation as we are told they [Scotia], include a small percentage of their feints to provide murkiness. Lindores apparently follow a similar approach in order to promote a lactose-y murkiness. Very interesting results indeed, the effects desirable and popular amongst our group.
- C: While Raasay is using their red-wine cask matured spirit for top notes, Lindores will be using red wine casks more predominantly, I guess because their influence is far more sympathetic, even from an STR ex-French wine quarter cask. [Expect to see some Australian red wine casks appearing in the future].
Lindores Abbey 2018/2020 Un-Ob. 2nd-fill Peated Cask Sample #290 63.2%
Lindores don’t make peated spirit and nor are they planning to use any peat in their single malt releases. Instead, they are maturing spirit in selected peated casks. Filled on the same day as the bourbon and sherry casks, this sample is from an ex-Ardbeg ASB and is the first sample drawn from the cask since being laid down.
- N: I love peated spirit. especially when it’s fruity. This might not beat my memory of Lagavulin’s new make back in 2013, but this is lovely in its own right, and again, very [raisin] sweet. With a temporary passing hint of roast potatoes [bizarelly], it’s more orchard than maritime but there is certainly more than a coastal hint. After all, we are right by the Tay.
- T: Soft, sweet, fruity malty salty coppery spirit, the order interchangeable with an emerging mouthfeel into,….
- F: ,… fruity > coppery spirity peat – and it is [vegetal-waxy slick] peat rather than smoke. Some grape-like dryish sawdust tannins linger but that could have been exacerbated by the previous samples. Alongside, the putty-ish savoury-sweet maltiness remains. Despite the ppm differentials, I get milky-sweet vegetal tar-like barley Octomore/Col-Tar vibes at the death.
- C: Whilst peat can be used to mask imperfections, there’s no sense of that here. Lindores’ spirit and peat could be even more of a match [made in heaven] than even they [at the distillery] might think. Impressive! Expect [eventually] to see the effects of Lindores’ spirit matured in  ex-rum casks that were previously used on Islay for an undisclosed peated whisky. Gary divulges that these casks are cracking.
If I’d had more juice, I’d have started blending the four samples accordingly with bourbon at the base, oloroso as the dresser and the red wine casks providing body and weight. I’d have instinctively added up to 5% peat-influenced spirit.
The votes are in. Preferences on the night were as follows:
- The bourbon cask sample received 4 votes
- Oloroso: 1 or 2 votes only
- The red wine cask sample saw an overwhelming majority.
- And the peat? Just me [perhaps].
In fact, I voted for all of them [bar the oloroso] as really interesting cask samples that shine a light on what might come. What’s remarkable is how sweet, malty, and soft these samples are – and at strength!! On reflection, I found some salty waxiness throughout all of the samples which are desirable characteristics worth nurturing.
Whilst Lindores Abbey’s inaugural ‘1494’ release will be released exclusively for its founding members, the distillery’s first commercial release is due in the latter part of next year . A standard affordable release will follow. I look forward to it.
With many thanks to the team at Lindores Abbey and to S.W.A.G.