The Edradour distillery has remained virtually unchanged since it was founded in 1825, nestled in a beautiful pocket of greenery on the banks of the Edradour Burn. The stream is so ancient that its name is thought to be derived from the Gaelic Edred dodhar, ‘the stream of King Edred’.
Edradour is the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland; possibly the smallest legal distillery of any kind in the World. John Reid and his two assistants hand-craft Edradour without automation, using skills handed down through generations…
It takes the man-power of just three men to produce Edradour – three men whose expertise and attention to detail produces the most unique malt whisky in the world.
Using skills handed down over the generations, the men of Edradour distillery follow the standards of those who have gone before. John Reid, David Ramsbottom and James Kennedy continue to produce the finest single malt whisky available.
At Edradour we hold the proud distinction of being the smallest distillery in Scotland. We are also the last original ‘farm’ distillery in Perthshire. You’ll find Edradour nestling in a pocket glen in the hills above Pitlochry in the Southern Highlands.
Looking at the distillery from the breath-taking surrounding landscapes, it is not unlike stepping back into a scene from Brigadoon. It was built in the early nineteenth century, and seems hardly to have changed in the last 170 years. Observing the cluster of whitewashed buildings with red doors, one visitor felt it was ‘as if some little Victorian lass had grown tired of playing beside the burn and had left her toy houses there to gladden the landscape’.
On the inside, precious little has changed either. There’s the same wooden equipment which is used to mash and ferment the whisky in the same time-honoured ways. There are the smallest copper stills in Scotland – the smallest permissible by law. Our Morton refrigerator used in the distilling process was new-fangled in its day, of course, but is now the only working model of its kind left in the industry.
We select the highest quality barley and moisten it to allow the grain to partially germinate, a process which prepares the starch in the grains for conversion to sugar. After five to seven days, we dry it out in a malt kiln over a peat fire. The dried barley is now called malt. The malting process stops germination and adds a characteristic smoky flavour.
The barley is then sent to the distillery. Each sack is checked for goldenness of grain and the right lightly peated aroma. Mashing
The malted barley is ground into a rough flour known as grist, and mixed in the mash tun (as old as the distillery itself) with spring water piped down the hill from Moulin Moor. This converts the soluble starch in the grains to fermentable sugars. After several hours, the resulting sweet copper-coloured liquid called ‘wort’ is drained off.
The warm wort is then cooled. At Edradour we do this in the same way as it has been done for generations – by flowing it over the original, trough-like Morton refrigerator, the only one of its type still in use. It’s so old in fact that it could be housed in a museum! However it’s still in perfect working order, so there’s no need to retire it just yet. Year in, year out, it lowers the temperature of the wort to the optimum temperature of 20Â°C.
Once cool, the wort passes into one of our two 6,000 litre pine vats known as ‘washbacks’. In most other distilleries this equipment has been replaced with shiny stainless steel versions, however at Edradour, we’re purists and we believe that the old-fashioned way of doing things is the best way. We also believe the character of our whisky would be forever altered if we changed our equipment – a chance we’re not prepared to take.
Brewer’s yeast is hand measured, another traditional practice unique to Edradour, and added to magically convert the sugar over the next 56 hours into alcohol. The resultant liquid is about 8.5% ABV (Alcohol By Volume), and is known as ‘wash’.
To separate the alcohol from the water and any impurities, the wash is piped into the wash still for its first distillation. The liquid is heated to the exact temperature (88ÂºC) at which the alcohol becomes vapour, which then rises into the neck of the still.
To condense the alcohol back into liquid, the vapour passes through a coiled pipe called the ‘worm’, which is submerged in a tank of circulating cold water. The ‘worm’ has been used at Edradour since it was founded in 1825. The resulting liquid is called ‘low wines’ and is about 23% ABV.
The distillation process is then repeated through a smaller copper (spirit) still. The resulting condensed vapour is about 69% ABV. The spirit then enters the spirit safe, and into the hands of the distiller, who’s job it is to select the best spirit for aging. At Edradour, only the ‘heart’ of the run is selected. The distiller analyses the quality of the spirit and returns everything but the finest spirit for another distillation.
The alcohol is rigorously tested for strength and quality by the experienced Stillman, who ensures that it meets our exacting standards. It’s then transferred to the filling store where it’s brought down to precise strength before it goes to the warehouse.
The spirit is stored in specially selected oak casks which allow the malt to breathe, while it slowly but surely mellows with age.
During maturation, the spirit is constantly monitored as it acquires its distinctive colour and flavour. Every year, around 2- 4% of the liquid is lost to evaporation – what is known as the ‘angels’ share’.
Whisky has to lay down for at least three years before it is legally classified as a true Scotch whisky. At Edradour we lay the spirit down for a full ten years, to allow the whisky to reach its optimum flavour and character. And it’s only after ten years that we allow the whisky to bear the name of Edradour.
In late January I drove North from Edinburgh to Edradour Distillery to meet up with Des McCagherty of Signatory and the newest employee to join the company, one Iain Henderson. As â€˜Director of Operationsâ€™, Iainâ€™s role is one of part-operational adviser, part- ambassador for Edradour. Known of course for his time as Distillery Manager of Laphroaig, Iain, upon reaching the official retirement age of 65, found himself without a job at Laphroaig. Being unprepared for a life of ease, he accepted a job offer from Andrew Symington with Edradour.
Andrew had taken over the Distillery in late July 2002, only to be flooded and nearly washed away within a matter of days. While Pitlochryâ€™s answer to the monsoon failed to damage the distillery building the car park was washed away, causing Â£300,000 of damage.
Operationally, the Distillery was largely unaffected; whisky making continued, the Distillery was taking in visitors again within 3 days and the cosmetic damage to the gardens and riverbanks has now been restored. As a first time visitor, you would not appreciate the near-disaster that had swept down from the hills a few months earlier.
With Signatory now in control of Edradour, changes are afoot as might be expected. They are doing nothing too radical which is reassuring, but instead taking advantage of some of the distilleryâ€™s potential. The whisky itself has been available only as 10 year old in the past. Itâ€™s been a steady seller for Royal Mile Whiskies, thanks partly to the Distillery who have hosted visitors who then drop by our shop to collect a momento of their visit to Scotlandâ€™s smallest distillery. In Autumn 2002, Signatory introduced an unchillfiltered 10 year old bottling, followed by a 13 year old cask strength Decanter style bottling, bringing the fledgling range to 3 products. Planned for March this year is a heavily peated malt which Iain is convinced will work well. For the enthusiast eager for information on peating levels, 50ppm is planned, putting it up there with the likes of the heaviest Islay malts such as Ardbeg. An interesting departure from the gentle, sherried Edradour known to the whisky enthusiast! Of course, it will be some time before we get the chance to sample the new peated Edradour!
Edradour Distillery is of course well known for its status as Scotland’s smallest distillery. This and its convenient Perthshire location make it a big pull for the tourists. Itâ€™s one of the three most visited distilleries in Scotland.* 100,000 visitors a year turn off the A9 which connects Inverness and Scotlandâ€™s central belt, to drive the few miles up the hill to Edradour. This figure is put into perspective when you look at how many visitors Iain Henderson saw come through the doors of Laphroaig Distillery every year – 11,000.
Edradour has changed hands a number of times during its history. After 20 years under the ownership of Pernod Ricard it was brought in 2002 for Â£5.4m by the Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company, the well established Edinburgh based whisky bottling company.
In its earlier life Edradour had a fairly colourful history, and much of its production was alleged to have ended up in the USA by various means during the prohibition era of the 1920s. It has also been alleged that during this period the distillery was briefly and indirectly owned by the Mafia. Whatever the truth of this, the US market remained an important one for Edradour.