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
MALT SPECIFICATION i
MALT SUPPLIER i
MASH TUN TYPE i
SINGLE MALT PERCENTAGE i
95%. Other 5% for Aqua Vitae production
SPIRIT STILL SHAPE i
SPIRIT STILL SIZE (L) i
Three - one wash, two spirit
Dunnage and racked
WASH STILL SHAPE i
WASH STILL SIZE (L) i
WASHBACK CHARGE (L) i
WASHBACK SIZE (L) i
WASHBACK TYPE i
Wooden (douglas fir)
WATER SOURCE i
WORT CLARITY i
Clear, using vorlauf
YEAST TYPE i
Anchor Lallemend Distillers Dried Yeast
Lindores Distilling Co.
DREW MCKENZIE SMITH, LINDORES ABBEY
Drew McKenzie Smith spent most of his life cooking for the rich and famous, unaware of his ancestral home’s connections to early Scottish distillers. He tells Gavin Smith about the day he decided to leave the kitchen and build a distillery at Lindores Abbey.
Lindores heritage: Drew McKenzie Smith fell in love with whisky after he realised his family home’s connections to Scotland’s earliest distillers
‘My father was from Aberdeen and my mother from Fife, but I was actually born in Sussex, and we lived at Barkham Manor where my father had a herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle. Barkham is now a vineyard. Dad was a stockbroker and I went to a lovely wee prep school before being hauled up to Scotland to attend Strathallan [public school in Perthshire], which was a bit of a culture shock for such a soft southern boy.
‘Lindores Abbey was always the family home though, and we moved back up to Scotland when I was about 10. Having the abbey in our back garden made it a pretty special place to grow up, though looking back now it was probably not quite right that my brother and I rode our motorbikes all around it.
‘My great-grandfather had bought the Lindores Abbey farm in 1913 and my grandfather gifted it to my mum when she got married. It’s a huge thing for me to think that through the distillery we can keep the abbey in the family for another 100 years and, perhaps more importantly, preserve the abbey ruins for future generations of whisky lovers, enabling them to make their own pilgrimage to the spiritual home of Scotch whisky.
‘Dad went on to buy Ardoe House Hotel, just outside Aberdeen. He used to go there when he was a young loon and I think it was a bit of a childhood dream. The best thing (for me anyway) was that it also had a mile and a half of fishing on the River Dee and I did various jobs at the hotel from bottlewasher up to ghillie.
‘Much later, I went back into hotels, after my wife Helen and I decided to leave London and move to the Lake District. Helen had been working as a classic car dealer and myself at Christie’s the auctioneers, but in the Lake District I learned classical French cooking using the freshest ingredients at The Punchbowl in Crosthwaite – arguably the first “gastro pub”. It was run by Steven Docherty, who had been head chef at London’s Le Gavroche.
‘While I was learning my new trade in the kitchen, Helen had made a similarly bold move and phoned up the owner of the newly opened The Samling at Dove Nest, a super place overlooking Lake Windermere, and one of the first exclusive-use properties in the UK.
‘The Samling was super posh and I left the Punchbowl to become head chef. It was a great time and we had Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman with us for weeks on end while they were in the UK filming Eyes Wide Shut. So, we began a career in the high-end hospitality industry that has carried on pretty much up until starting the distillery, where Helen oversees the visitor experience and I still make the soup.
‘I first got the idea for the distillery around 20 years ago, when Helen and I were running Myres Castle, an exclusive-use property in Fife. After finishing a busy evening service, I sat down at the computer (I don’t think laptops even existed then) and I was looking at a website called Connoisseur Scotland, which was dedicated to the finer things in Scottish life, one of them naturally being whisky. I was just scrolling through when the words ‘Lindores Abbey’ sprang out at me, it was the first I had heard of Friar John Cor and the Exchequer Rolls of 1494.
‘I then looked up various whisky websites and read the same thing and even though it was after midnight I thought I’d put a finger in the air (metaphorically) and look up whisky societies. The first one that came up was ‘An Quaich,’ a Canadian whisky society and I pinged them a wee message saying I was thinking of setting up a small visitor experience at Lindores, that there was no thought of a distillery at this point, and what did they think? A day later I received a reply that was so effusive and encouraging that I thought I’d give it a go. The rest, as they say, is history.
‘In terms of creating the distillery there have been many highs and a couple of lows, though the lows were all utility related. We were very fortunate, and greatly touched, that we did not receive a single objection to the distillery.
Lindores Abbey distillery is helping to regenerate the small Fife town of Newburgh
‘Newburgh is a small community and we are already the largest employer in the town, so bringing economic benefit to my home town means a lot to me, as does preserving the medieval abbey ruins. We can never rebuild it, but we can halt its decline, and that is why we have formed the Preservation Society, where members can join us in our endeavours.
‘A real highlight of the project was when Helen and I sat down for a dram in the half-complete Legacy bar after a very hectic day; it really felt as though all the hard work over the years was paying off and this was what it had all been about. The moment was somewhat diminished, however, when Helen’s mobile went off. It was her mother who lives down south and was watching our live cam and seemed surprised that we had time to be sitting about drinking.
‘On my first trip to Islay I had the great pleasure of sharing a few Kilchoman drams with Anthony Wills and the late Dr Jim Swan. Anthony has been very generous with his time and advice over the years and I’d known Jim for a long time before he came on board at Lindores. It was an honour to know him, and I also had the absolute privilege of sharing some Kavalan Solist with the great man.
‘Not long ago, I was told that there was a Japanese gentleman in the distillery, and if I had a moment would I go and have a quick chat. I’m not a whisky geek, but even I recognised Japanese whisky legend Ichiro Akuto, and it was super to show him around. While I say I’m not a geek, I not only asked him to sign my bottle of The Floor Malted from Chichibu, but we then shared a dram in the still room at Lindores.
‘Sharing a dram (or two) of his award winning 1494-1994 blend with Richard Paterson on the day of Lindores’ official opening was another very special moment for all sorts of reasons. After all, it was the opening of our distillery and I was with the man himself, but also, I had been staring at my unopened bottle for the last 20-plus years wondering what it would taste like. I can report that it was absolutely stunning.’