Following on from SWAG’s first Lindores Abbey tasting back in July 2020 – the distillery’s first-ever private/club [virtual] tasting [WLP] – SWAG are back with another Lindores first! Tonight we will be opening a 1494 Member’s bottling alongside the Commemorative Inaugural release with Lindores Abbey’s cask ‘custard’ custodian Elliot Wynn-Higgins, distillery Manager Gary Haggart, and UK sales manager Murray Stevenson. In addition, we are honoured to receive founding father [An]Drew McKenzie Smith, who joins us for a dram before a dinner date with his in-laws.
This post is further supplemented with information from an enlightening SWAG interview with Drew and his wife, Helen.
Drew’s Great Grandfather bought Lindores Abbey Farm [including the Abbey ruins] for £3000 in 1913, blissfully unaware of the connection with Friar John Cor and 1494. Until, that is:
[Drew]: A chap knocked on the door and asked my father if it would be OK for him to go into the Abbey ruins. Dad said fine but thought it was a bit odd that anyone would do this as back then the Abbey was just an extension of our garden and not really open to the public like it is now. He thought no more of it until several months later this parcel arrived and it was a book called ‘Scotland and its Whiskies’ and the man who visited was the late Michael Jackson, the leading whisky and beer writer of his day. Dad opened it and on the inside page it reads (we still have it):
‘Dear Ken, thank you and turn to page 127′. On that page is a lovely photo of the Abbey ruins and the chapter begins ‘For the whisky-lover it is a pilgrimage.’ Further down he talks of wandering around the ruins, saying a silent but happy St Dionysian prayer of thanks to Friar John Cor, this was the first we knew of the connection.
Drew received huge enthusiastic support at that time, but no cash/investment. So, he went back to the day job – cheffing. Thinking “we’ve got to make the best use of this”, some years later, Drew scraped some money together for a feasibility study. The more we moved, he tells us, the more traction we got. The rest, as they say, is history.
Drew is not drinking Lindores whisky tonight, of which he’s tried quite a bit! He is in fact drinking, appropriately enough, Whyte & Mackay’s 500th [1494-1994] Anniversary Blend [WB] – a bottle gifted to him around 18 years ago by close friend Richard Paterson. It remained unopened until, at the opening of the Lindores Abbey distillery, Paterson gave him another bottle – so one to keep and now one to drink!
We begin [as requested last time] with Lindores’ new make spirit.
Lindores Abbey won ‘Best Scottish New Make Spirit’ at the World Whiskies Awards in 2020, but Gary tells us he wasn’t that fussed about it then compared to how he feels about his spirit today. This is a new make sample taken off the still around 3 weeks ago which Elliot tells us “is really on-point”.
- N: Being far less coppery than Lindores’ first [sold out in a flash] new make batch, I find this far more fruity [ripe juicy peaches, Ribena?], and with a slightly funky custard-y/eggy bread ‘thing’. It’s beautifully yeasty too. Later, a hint of gravy. Overall, there’s something so gentile,… tactile about this – comfort-blanket stuff which we shall see further promoted down the line as whisky.
- T: Raisiny, porridgy, and with a gentle fruit-laced spiciness. Keep it held in the mouth for the fruity oils, more Ribena/raspberry concentrate, and even suggestions of sherry/red wine maturation before it’s even touched a cask. Later, melons, apples, unripe pears,… this is some new make!
- F: Thick oily coppery faint rhubarb fruitiness. Lingers on those glycerin-ed fruits, a touch of Blu-tac & putty.
- C: After an unmoving first contact in 2020, in 2021, I find this superb.
Scores 80[+] points
With noticeably large changes/improvements with the new make spirit, what’s changed?
- Gary tells us that the switch from Concerto to Laureate barley has made a huge difference, as has the use of a different yeast strain for the hotter/summer months. Last year, the distillery was in the process of moving away from Concerto barley grown in Fife to Laureate barley grown locally. In 2021, this process is now in full swing with two neighbouring farms – Parkhill [Falkland Estate] owned by Drew’s cousin and the other at Braeside – meeting the distillery’s barley needs equally [50/50]. So far, 10 tonnes of malted barley has been made ready for milling, brewing, and distillation – only the malting done off-site. Both farms were originally part of the Abbey lands in the 15th century. Furthermore, we are told, it’s likely the barley grown for the 8 boules of aqua vitae in 1494 came from the Falkland Estate.
- Then there’s the fermentation length. Originally 72 hours, an ‘accidental’ ferment of 90+ hours has led to a 114 hour fermentation as standard.
- On the distillation side, there’s been constant tweaking and a familiarity with the distillery’s idiosyncrasies & inner workings. Beyond Jim Swan’s initial guidance, like many of the new[er] distilleries [Wolfburn, and Bimber for example], Lindores now charge the spirit still as slowly as they can.
Drew: What separates us though from all the other ‘Jim Swan’ distilleries is, due to his tragic passing Gary had to pick up the ball and run with it as Jim didn’t leave a Lindores ‘file’, he would have but we didn’t get to that stage! So really he delivered us fantastic kit that we then had to make sing and over time that is exactly what happened, experimenting with barley types, fermentation times, cut points etc. They were all tried and changed until we realized we had created a Lindores style, and that now shines through from the new make spirit, the Aqua Vitae and to our first release, it will be detectable in all releases going forward so in my opinion Jims spirit lives on here at Lindores.
From award-winning new make to Lindores Abbey’s inaugural release, our next dram is the commemorative first release of [only] 12750 bottles, compared to the wider release of 40000 [WB] – still available at around £43-45 at time of writing. “We’ve been waiting more than 500 years for this, so it better be good”, I jest.
2] Lindores Abbey 1494 Ob. MCDXCIV Inaugural release [12750 bts] 46% WB88
- N: Incredibly complimentary of the spirit’s DNA, the fruits are lighter/greener yet still soft/summery, and there’s a lovely bready ‘bloomer’ savoury-sweetness too. The bourbon maturation influence is clear but nothing is peaking/sticking out, it’s just so.
- T: Picking up faithfully from the new make, as a whisky, this one comes in at cruise control from the off, continuing to travel that way completely undeterred. Though not light as such, it is ridiculously ‘easy’/effortlessly moreish barley spirit I could drink by the bucket-load. Amazing really, that they’ve arrived at this in just three + years.
- F: A complimentary finish in keeping with the new make, slight coppery, malty light yeasty with a slight spiciness showing alongside more utterly un-resinous bourbon cask-influence.
- C: Exceptionally faultless/straightforward/well-rounded whisky, the unwavering mouthfeel and delivery, this one’s firm appeal. Furthermore, I commend Lindores for their relaxed accessible release & pricing policy, one that deliberately avoids/negates the ‘exclusivity’ flipper model. Looking ahead, Lindores will continue to stick to their scaled-up ‘whisky to be opened’ plan by avoiding ‘limited’ batch releases.
Scores 82 points
When we [SWAG] tried some of Lindores cask samples last year [WLP], I found the overall profile to be malty sugary sweet with some spice. Finding the bourbon working over the sherry cask samples, the wine influence was popular amongst many others. How is the cask management going with regards to finding just the right ‘mix’ that suits the spirit, we ask?
We are told that some of the various cask types on offer in 2019/2020 were driven by private cask buyers in the early years. Lindores now has a very focused model for consistency & quality going forward, and a restricted private cask programme as a result. This means many of the early cask types unavailable since the end of 2020 won’t be repeated.
The original cask framework [as laid out by Jim Swan] was as follows:
- [Old Forester] bourbon casks [65%]
- STR red wine cask [25%]
- [12yo] ex-oloroso-aged casks [10%]
In practice, Jim’s initial vision isn’t the whisky they have ended up with. After many tests and experiments, the original ratio simply didn’t work. No secrets were given away, “but it’s not as bourbon-y as you think”, says Gary. The same three cask types are used in both [the Inaugural and Member’s] releases, but “the ratios between the two releases are completely different”, he adds.
3] Lindores Abbey 2018/2021 3yo Ob. 1494 Member’s Release [btl #934/1494 bts] 49.4% WB88.05
It’s likely this spirit came from the shorter [72-hour] fermentation days, the inaugural release containing more of the longer fermentations. For this bottling, Lindores went all-out and gave their members whisky from the best casks they had [perhaps 3 bourbon, 2 STR and some sherry].
It’s accepted that 49.4% abv was too ‘poetic’ a number to ignore, the ‘ideal’ strength being just 0.6% [abv] away. This idyllic bottling strength, however, won’t necessarily be a feature in the future [to the delight of the master blender].
- N: Made up from “the best casks” – yes, they went through them all – this one is a completely different beast in comparison to the inaugural ‘1494’ release. Seemingly more sherry & wine-forward by comparison, this one is buttery > honeyed on fruity [melon, ripe pear,…. strawberries and black pepper], though puzzlingly light on, erm, weight – as if it’s rapidly oxidizing/lifting off? Otherwise, this is rather a triumph for its age. Light-rich then, slightly grapey/vegetal oily leather,….. the dreamiest biscuits [with a never-to-be-repeated sweetness], barley sugar,… and so it goes on.
- T: More sherry [with a beautifully sulphury/phenolic touch] and wine influences neatly in play, salivating with an oily greasy fruity juiciness coming through, and,… oak? The extra strength over the inaugural release is favourable [I reckon it needed it too], with a significantly longer & elegant travel and an overall conviviality. Lovely leafy vanilla sweetness on the turn.
- F: With a very quiet spiciness, those grippy oils run & run,… now with a leafy ‘grapeyness’. It concludes with a bone-dryish dried fruit/bakery-confectionary savoury = < sweetness, ever coppery though in the background [thankfully without any coppery~raisiny overtness].
- C: A one-off with a maturity beyond its years. Bravo.
Scores 86 points
A message from the ‘Man With The Hat’ comes through completely scrambled like he’s been submerged underwater from the summer floods. “It’s like being at work isn’t it Wayne?”, BC.
4] Lindores Abbey 2019/2021 Ex-red Wine Firkin Private cask sample #544 59.2%
Last up is our mystery dram. It’s a sample from one of Wayne’s casks. Filled on 20/06/19, this 2yo spirit was drawn 3 weeks ago from a 50-litre ex-red wine firkin with a heavy char.
- N: Initially tried blind, this [compared to what’s just gone] is sweeter, stronger,… ex-madeira or is this a thick ‘bourbonized’ vegetal-vanilla number? A light bulb-moment is the realisation over just how much the charring of a cask contributes to the profile of bourbon whiskey. Seems so obvious saying it out loud, but there it is. Smelling bourbon maturation from a sherry or wine cask is an association issue!
- T: Most puzzling when drinking blind, this again appears like a vegetal-sweet bourbon-y?,… or is it a sherry/STR number with those grape candy side-notes,… It’s definitely spirit [not whisky], and definitely high in abv/CS. More importantly, I really like it.
- F: Continues powerfully, slightly drying tannic/abv with a vegetal chocolate hum, confectionary barley sugar, and a suggestion of cracked pepper – a note I can’t un-taste since its [understated] presence in the new make was mentioned. The new make is right there at the end with dried baker’s fruits. Add water, no problem. Promoting the sherry, it’s perhaps something between PX & Palo Cortado, or,…
- C: Revealed, what a pleasing result from a little ex-red wine cask, one that Wayne and the Lindores team are very pleased about. How far past 3 years will it go, is the question?
BEYOND THE BOTTLE
It’s serendipitous that this incredibly important historic site – Lindores Abbey – fell upon a family who, aside from building a distillery there, have done so to support Lindores Abbey Preservation Society. It could have played out so differently,…. Glenkinchie-filled friar-shaped bottlings, perhaps? In fact, at one stage, the site was destined for housing with planning permission to convert the farm steading into 8 houses, says Drew.
Drew: Surprisingly the farm steading wasn’t a listed building, though the abbey ruins are a scheduled ancient monument, so in theory we could have flattened the steading but that was never in my plans.
Drew initially offered Glenmorangie first dibs on the project, who came to check out the site.
Drew: I’ve always believed you make your own luck and also if you don’t ask you don’t get, so one day when I was still at Glenmorangie I heard a radio interview with Paul Walsh, the then MD of Diageo, in the interview he said that he believed it was the industry’s duty to preserve the heritage etc. So I got hold of his email address and wrote to him basically saying that this was his chance to put his money where his mouth is and that email was certainly one of the big milestones in this journey because a few days later I was contacted by one of his team. We had Bill Lumsden and the ‘creative’ team down at Lindores and there was genuine interest in doing something together but eventually the bean counters said no because it wasn’t their core competence, what none of us knew at the time was that Glenmorangie was for sale so it wouldn’t have been the right thing for them anyway.
However, whilst Drew owned the trademark for Lindores Abbey, Diageo owned the trademark for Friar John Cor.
Drew: ,… one of the main things that had put Glenmorangie off earlier was that I didn’t have the Friar John Cor trademark as it is obviously crucial to the story. Diageo transferred the Friar John Cor trademark to me for which I am eternally grateful.
Drew: From the outset we had two options, create a sort of Disneyland for whisky with Friar John Cor, William Wallace, 5 kings etc. etc. Only spent half the cost for the distillery and punted out a sort of Loch ness monster style whisky, but people would only buy that once, Also again from a bank managers point of view we should have but there was no way that was going to happen. Again this was where Jim Swan came in, he explained that in all whisky competitions they are blind tastings so it didn’t matter if the good friar himself was sitting in the room, On that day I promised Jim I would find the money to create the best spirit, a distillery only survives by people buying its whisky, not just the first bottling but the second, third and fourth etc. That will only happen if they genuinely like it.
Drew: One of the things we are most proud of is that we had zero objections! Which given normally someone will moan if you try and build a shed so we were delighted that the local community embraced the distillery. Newburgh, our small town was created around the monastery and ended up being an industrious place with a massive linoleum factory down on the banks of the Tay that employed 75% of the working population but in the mid 70’s it closed down and there was (and still is) high unemployment. So we’re delighted to employ around 40 people, In fact we are now the largest employer in the area. Our staff are mostly local and it’s great to repay the community for their support of the project.
“The people make the whisky“, says Gary. “Lindores is a family”. Indeed, it seems we have a model similar to that seen at Springbank – people [and preservation] over profits. What a legacy!
Drew: In the next year you will see a number of projects happening here at Lindores that fit within the remit of the preservation society, repairing stone work, cutting back the ivy etc. But the BIG project will be working out how to make the ‘Original Still’ viewable, it was a truly special moment when we discovered it but now it’s undercover, protected from the elements whilst we work with experts in how best to preserve it and yet make it possible for visitors to see it. Finding the original site of the still at Lindores just twenty meters from our current still house was like finding the holy grail of whisky! Whilst it wasn’t part of the original business model, it fits in with our whole ethos, we make and sell (now!) a fantastic whisky, The Abbey and its history are very much part of our story, our unique selling point if you will so it is very much in our interest to look after it.
With thanks to the Lindores Abbey ‘family’, SWAG member’s for your personal photos, and to Wayne for finding an extra dram set. I’m on board!
- Lindores interview [member’s only]