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Keepers of the Quaich

Single Malt Ambassadors

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Category: Homework


Numbered among Macallan’s large Special Release line is their Vintage Travel series. The whiskies bottled reflect the style of spirit produced during the eras of the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. To re-create the style of The Macallan in each decade, their Master Distillers sampled bottles of The Macallan from that decade, refered to specification documentation and records from each era, and matched their aroma and flavor with more recent distillations taken from the casks maturing in the warehouses.

Unlike most other distilleries, Macallan had long held back significant quantities of its spirit, with some stores laid down as early as 1926, allowing it to quickly market special rare aged releases. In 2007, for instance, a 1926 vintage Macallan was sold at auction at Christie’s for $54,000, making it the most expensive whisky ever sold. These reflections of their eras happen to have some very old Macallan in it reportedly including 25 years and older in some cases.

The Macallan vintage travel range was initially launched in 1999 as an exclusive to World Duty Free. After the initial trial period the product was re-packaged into its current form and put on general sale in the Autumn 2000. This highly collectable range is now on sale again.


Spanish Civil War 1936-1939; IMPACT: reduced availability of sherry (Oloroso) casks for export affected the aging methods of the Macallan. Second-fill and perhaps ex-bourbon barrels were used for some of the whisky in the 1930’s.

Second World War 1939-1945; IMPACT: sherry casks remained in short supply and coal was also in less supply due to the war and its increasing industrial activity so Macallan relied on peat-fueled fires. During the 1940s, The Macallan would refill their oak sherry casks more often than is the current practice. This, combined with the use of peat to dry the barley, resulted in a whisky that was less spicy and peatier than modern day Macallan.

20s – early modernization of the malt whisky industry hits its stride. The vintage series’ actual bottlings (1926 for example) provide a great benchmark of this halcyon age

30s – less spice and peatier than modern day Macallan

40s – lean. a war-time scotch. increased peat. less sherry flavor.

50s – most modern of this series. raw materials were more readily available. this expression should most reflect the modern Macallan.


A fun diversion into the past with the opportunity to reflect on the realities each historical period placed on the day to day lives and of the people who made and drank these whiskies.


Difficult to validate whether or not they were accurate. Of all Macallan’s bottlings, these expressions may be the most variable. Some feel that Macallan can put anything they like into these expressions since there is no standard for comparison purposes.

I’m pleased to announce that I have successfully upgraded the underlying blog software beneath, wordpress, to its latest version – 2.5.1. This represents an enormous leap from the prior version. You will mostly notice the differences when you go into the “admin” area to post your homework as a new posting in the blog. The dashboard and admin area look much different and work for the better imho.

However, the most important reasons that I even attempted this upgrade are:

a) I wanted to eliminate whatever security hole existed (in the prior version) for spammers to exploit in order to spam comments into our blog/database. I will be monitoring the comments to see if this upgrade was all that was needed to patch that security hole. If not, since we are on the latest version, I can utilize the developer forums to see what else may need to be done to patch the hole.

b) I wanted to demonstrate that we can run on the latest version so that when we move hostings to Chas’ provider there was no problem with wordpress version conflict between our site and the hosting’s version of wordpress. Additionally, in executing this upgrade it confirms my complete understanding as to what ALL of the files are that comprise our web site. I am now completely confident that I will be able to migrate the web site/application over to another hosting environment without any problems.

A brief survey of distilleries about the Glasgow area is summarized in the following table. The Ranking is based primarily on distance, with secondary attention to quality of scotch, scenary, quality of experience, and availability of tours. In other words, it is a recommended least-path tourist analysis.

for the pdf version click here.

for the html version click here.

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.
The Distillery
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 20°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 (88ºC) 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 Safe
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 ‘Director of Operations’, Iain’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 Pitlochry’s answer to the monsoon failed to damage the distillery building the car park was washed away, causing £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 distillery’s potential. The whisky itself has been available only as 10 year old in the past. It’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 Scotland’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. It’s one of the three most visited distilleries in Scotland.* 100,000 visitors a year turn off the A9 which connects Inverness and Scotland’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 £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.

Caol Ila – “the Sound of Islay” on whose shore it stands!

The view of the famous Paps of Jura out from the still house at Caol Ila A ROOM WITH A VIEW

The Caol Ila distillery is tucked in the lee of a hill on the seashore by the ferry from Jura and you look over to the famous Paps of Jura rearing on the far hinterland. Caol Ila is not a pretty distillery by any stretch of the imagination, but the view outwards from it is exhilarating. The still house is glass-fronted and these shapely mountains are always in view as the still house staff go about their daily work.


Caol Ila dates from 1846 and was built at this lovely but remote spot by Hector Henderson who had business connections with Littlemill (Lowlands) and some now long-defunct Campbeltown distilleries. It was bought by the owner of the Isle of Jura distillery in 1852.

Caol Ila distillery


Caol Ila continues to produce up to the present day with short periods of closure from 1930 to 1937 (under new owners DCL) and during World War II.

In the early 1970s, the distillery was largely rebuilt, the stark functional structure that makes you wince when you first glimpse it from the ferry, save for a massive warehouse. The old buildings from 1846 were levelled and new ones erected in a contemporary shoe-box like design, more or less shared with the then brand new Clynelish distillery. While Caol Ila was closed, the old Clynelish distillery, renamed Brora, filled in by producing a heavily peated new make, in order to safeguard supplies for future blends. Some of the casks of spirit from Caol Ila are matured in the warehouses of the old Lochindaal distillery near Port Charlotte, which was closed in 1929.


While the buildings may lack that romantic character (the 1st Islay distillery to be made of concrete in the 1800s) often associated with malt whisky distilleries, the spirit produced on the site more than compensates for it. Caol Ila has eight 60,000 litre wooden washbacks, where the peaty wash is fermented for at least 80 hours. The six stills are copies of the old ones, traditionally onion shaped, with wide necks and long, downward sloping lyne arms. The wash stills hold around 35,000 litres, and the spirit stills some 29,500 litres. However, the charges are only around a third to half of the full volume of the stills. This increases the reflux action, as the top part of the kettle of the pot still practically forms a section of the neck. Shell and tube condensers are used to condense the spirit vapours into liquid.

Caol Ila boasts the largest output of any of the Islay distilleries, but almost all of the production is used for blending purposes. Such is the quality of the spirit that it in addition to the usual heavily peated version, an unpeated ‘Highland’ style is also produced, and this is now available as an eight-year-old expression from Diageo.


Although the large, original warehouse remains on site, very little Caol Ila whisky is matured on Islay. Most of it is tankered away as new make, to be filled into casks and then matured in the Central Belt of Scotland. It is therefore highly unlikely that any Caol Ila whisky has spent more than a few days on Islay. The olive-like, briny, fruity and often intense character will clearly not have much to do with the coastal location of the distillery itself. Caol Ila is, nonetheless, very distinctly an Islay whisky.

The independent bottlers have long recognised the quality of Caol Ila, despite its huge output, and surely, Diageo’s blenders will also know its worth? But the marketing department has insisted that the largest Islay distillery was a malt to be hidden from the market. Were they scared to negotiate that last, steep slope down to the distillery? Now however, given the current bullish drive for peaty whiskies, even the marketing department has woken up, as it has only recently become available as a bottled malt with a very limited distribution.

Text from The Whisky Trails, Copyright © Gordon Brown 1993; The Whisky-Pages, Copyright © Par Caldenby 2006; Edited by R.P. McMurray, Copyright © 2007