Jeptha Creed- An All American Distillery

Meeting up with Joyce Nethery at Jeptha Creed Distillery there’s one word that comes to mind and that is warmth. We walked around the facility here and there is a real sense of what they, as a family, are trying to build, with a field to bottle ethos running through what they do. Joyce exudes a pride in what they are looking to achieve here and a real sense of drive and purpose from this chemical engineer turned distiller.

The impressive Jeptha Creed site from Gordon Lane off the 64 East of Louisville

The family tie is very strong here. The whole idea of this site started from a desire to have a business that both married Joyce’s strengths as a chemical engineer with her husbands Bruce’s  roots in agriculture and farming. Allied to that they wanted to create a business that the children could get involved in. This has included her daughter, Autumn, taking time out to study at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland to learn more about brewing and distilling there. With the family crest being translated as “Don’t forget” Joyce and the team here strive to make sure that what they are doing is honouring their forefathers and heritage while creating something fantastic and sustainable for the future generations.

The disitillery site has some beautiful spaces in it with wedding receptions and major meetings all capable of being staged on site. Friday nights there’s music, food and of course a bar running. One of the bars is actually crafted from a 100yr old plus tree that fell-  which just shows how the guys like to rework and recycle where they can.

Talking to Joyce about the ground to glass philosophy you can see the excitement in her. On site they produce pears, apples , paw-paw as well as blackberries, blueberries  and strawberries all of which can be used as flavourings in some of the vodkas and moonshines that they make.

However in my eyes the star of the show is the corn varieties that get used. There is some fantastic heirloom varieties that Jeptha Creed employ- possibly most notable of these is the Bloody Butcher variety which is dark red in colour. It’s an open pollinated non-GMO variety and has been in use since 1845.

The deep red Bloody Butchers heirloom corn

Talking to Joyce she reckons that it gives a slightly different flavour- a fruit sweetness as well as a cookie note off the still. This is backed up by giving slightly higher levels of Iso-amyl alcohol which in turn can lead to banana and pear notes. The variety tends to gives a slightly lower yield through the mashing process but Joyce helps to balance that out a little with the use of malted rye as well as malted barley. It’s not the only heirloom variety being used with blue corns also appearing on occasion. The anniversary of Jeptha Creed falls on Veterans day and you can’t get much more patriotic than a red, white and blue mash bill.

The Jeptha Creed Corn Sustainability message and some of the blue heirloom corn

 

Around the plant she has a 1000 gallon cooker ( approx 3700l) feeding the original four 1000 gallon fermentation vessels as well as her two newer 2000 gallon FVs. Mash bills tends to have a high wheat and rye content for the whisky side of things and as previously mentioned malted rye is also a common addition here. After that there is quite a few toys to play with. There is a larger continuous still with standard sieve plates as well as a smaller 250 gallon batch column still and a small pot still with a hybrid column and bubble cap trays. The is also a small experimental still where first trials were run.

The Still arrangements that Joyce is using including the “mini” still for experimentation

Post distillation wheat and rye barrels are blended at around 6 months of age and there is some use of toasted oak staves to enhance the characteristics of the spirit.

The range of production here is also impressive with moonshines and vodkas of various types, as well a a young whisky and bourbon getting ready for release sometime in 2019. Throw into the mix that the vodka was the official Vodka of the Kentucky Derby Festival this year and you have a lot going on for such a young organisation.

It’s going to be a busy times for the Netherys  over the next few years and I’ll be looking forward to the results with interest.

 

          

A real slice of Americana- on the left 102 yrs old and only 3 careful owners and a car from 1949 on the right – go see these at Jammin at Jeptha on Friday nights at the distillery

Huge thanks to Joyce @JepthaCreed for her time at the distillery

Peerless Distilling- Living up to it’s name

Louisville is famous for a number of things, Mohammad Ali, the Louisville Slugger baseball bat and as a centre of the Bourbon industry. Peerless Distilling is little more than a home run hit away from the Louisville Slugger factory and is certainly one of the new kids on the block, well kind of. Peerless actually has a history which takes it back years and they are now really looking to re-establish the family’s name and brand into the bourbon market and they have some story to tell.

It begins with Henry Kraver who arrived in the US as a Polish Jewish immigrant. He clearly had an entrepreneurial  side to him as he started selling newspapers from a very young age. He looked West for his fortune and travelled as far as his money would take him where he worked in a series of odd-jobs. Through these he saved enough money to set up in a couple of businesses before settling on banking as his career. This proved fruitful for Henry and allowed him to invest in a number of business’s notably taking over the Worsham Distillery in Henderson as that company ran into some difficulties. Kraver set about improving the premises and operations and at it’s peak was overseeing the production of 10,000 barrels per year. Also around this time he changed the company name to The Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company

The slowing of production due to World War One and then the effects of prohibition eventually meant that Henry had no option but to close the distillery.

So to the modern day and you’ll find Corky Taylor, a guy with infectious enthusiasm and his son Carson, have resurrected the families Peerless brand and opened up a stunning facility in downtown Louisville.  Carson saw the building they are housed in and, through his previous experience, was able to craft out both a functional and beautiful production facility converting the ex- tobacco/ ex- grain packaging plant into a beautiful red brick distillery. Corky and Carson are four and five generations on respectively from Henry Kraver but you can see that the energy and entrupreuneurial drive are in the blood to this day.

I was taken on a tour of the place by John Wadell who was keen to give me an insight of the plant and some of the great features of Peerless.

Some beautiful attention to detail with table legs in the shape of bottles and stills

John explained that the distillery had a particular affinity with the military as Corky’s dad had served his country with distinction and had been General Patons right hand man. Indeed the General’s gun is on display at the distillery. As a result of this Peerless is pretty popular with veterans.

The distillery itself centres around a 2500 gallon mash cooker (c 9500l) that feeds 6 fermentation tanks. Grain is milled on site and mixed with around 1200 gallons city limestone water with the rye and corn being held around 100C to aid extraction. The temperature is reduced down to around 62C for the addition of the malted barley and the action of the enzymes from the barley allowed to progress for around 30 minutes. The temperature is further reduced to around 25deg for the addition of yeast. The FV’s do have cooling coils on them to help to maintain this temperature.

 

The mash cooker with grain feed via the white pipe and agitators and one of the FV’s  in full flow

Systems at Peerless are pretty impressive with PLC control being evident throughout the plant. FV’s are dropped to a beer well after fermentation prior to being sent onto the 25ft column still.

The 25ft column still with the entry point of the beer being around 2/3rds of the way up with the copper doubler to the left side

Again there are beautiful touches to the facilities at Peerless with you being left in no doubt as to where you are.

Some of the branding touches around the plant with the high wines and mingling tanks

Prior to to the spirit being placed into barrels it is proofed down to 107 (53.3%abv)  and then placed into storage in barrels sourced locally from the Kelvin Cooperage (see our previous article on them).

Rickhouse room in Louisville is not plentiful and expansion plans for this part of the operation are already being looked at.

One other aspect that bears testimony to the fine standards the company set is the quality of the packaging they have. The bottle is beautifully constructed with the address of the distillery on the bottom and topped with bold closure. There is an image of Henry Kraver on the label and overall it makes it a really attractive stand out product.

The beautiful packaging in use at Peerless

For such a young distillery, with a remarkably young head distiller in Caleb Kilburn, there has already been some outstanding reviews of it’s straight Rye product. It was the only craft producer that made Whisky Advocate’s 20 best whiskies of 2017. Peerless certainly is making a fine run at living up to it’s name.

 

With huge thanks to John for showing me around and Corky for making me so welcome.

John Wadell, myself and Corky Taylor

 

 

Kelvin Cooperage- Scottish Heritage in Bourbon Country

A common number that gets bandied around is that roughly 60% of flavour in whisky can come from the barrel. The conditions the spirit is kept in, the surface area to volume ratio, the type of barrel and wood, how long the spirit stays in there, all apply a significant role in the taste and appearance of whiskies and bourbons.

In Scotch, barrels are often second use coming from wine, port, rum or bourbon and are often shipped to Scotland broken up with coopers putting them back together once they arrive. This makes for much more efficient shipping. However virgin unused barrels are an absolute must for bourbon to be bourbon and so it was with some excitement I had arranged a trip to the Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville to see how these are constructed and learn about some of the techniques they use.

The Kelvin Cooperage was established in 1963 by Ed McLaughlin in Scotland where it would refurbish used barrels. In 1991 the business relocated to Louisville to get itself closer to the original source of the product and also expand into wine barrel production. I met Paul McLaughlin, Ed’s son, on site along with William Hornaday, production manager. Paul still speaks with a bit of a Glasgow accent and was good enough to translate some of the volumes for me out of US gallons and into litres. He explained that the business has a particular affinity with craft producers as they themselves still use some of the more traditional methods to treat the wood and form the barrels.

I was then taken on a tour with William to look at how a barrel was made.

The first step is that the wood is atemperated in two large humidity controlled drying blocks. This helps to manage the moisture content and improve the structural strength of the white American oak that is used. The moisture can be as high as 50% straight off the tree and is reduced down to low double digits before it can be processed. Some of this seasoning would have been done at the saw mills but the final accurate control is done here at Kelvin. Typically bourbon wood is matured for around six months in open air to season it to the required level.

Wood is cut to two lengths- for the barrel butt ends and for staves that make up the barrel body. The wood for these is typically cut with the growth rings running top to bottom on the short side of the cut to ensure better stability and a more leak proof finish.

The heads for the barrel are constructed through a series of these shorter cuts being held together with pieces of dowling. The 1st picture below shows you these in construction with a blank head board being created. These are then machined, taking place in the second picture, to create the barrel end with an edge around the diameter,, which will fit into the croze in the body of the barrel.

The bank end being prepared before being cut to shape

The longer stave pieces, creating the heart of the barrel, are made from pieces of wood that are machined in a precise manner. The barrel is convex in structure and the inner diameter is shorter than the outer diameter which mean the staves have to be slightly curved. Similarly the middle of the stave is slightly wider than the ends as the barrel has a fatter middle.

The slightly convex shape of the stave

The next stage sees around 31-33 staves assembled around a forming ring to start to create the barrel body. Narrower and wider staves are selected to try to ensure an equal pressure is created around the barrel- too many of a single type can create leakage points. The ability to get the pieces in the correct order and form are down to the skill and judgement of the coopers.

Preparing the 31-33 staves that make up the barrel body

I asked William Hornaday at this point about how they dealt with the waste and offcuts from the various stages of the operation. He smiled and explained all would become clear in the next few phases – he wasn’t kidding. Once the barrels are formed and have their first hoops on them they are wetted and placed over the first heat source. These are small brazier type units which use the offcuts as a fire source. In this first stage the barrels are not really being toasted as much as allowing some moisture into the staves so when more hoops are applied the convex shape of the barrel is created.

Barrels undergoing the first firing stage- note the very open structure

After new hoops are applied the barrel can then be toasted in earnest for as much as 20 minutes or to whatever level the client has specified.  Toasting typically occurs over a longer period of time than charring and has the effect of browning the barrel. The effect of toasting is to stimulate and access the sugars that are lower down in the wood and allow these in turn to be dissolved by the alcohol and take part in the finished product. Charring is more of an action of burning the surface of the wood. Leaving this carbonised product in the barrel allows it to act on potential undesirable favour compounds and remove them from solution. Often charring is associated with the phrase subtractive maturation- where the carbon is filtering out compounds.

The charring at Kelvin is undertaken by skilled craftsmen who are familiar with the required char level through smell and know when to douse the barrel with water to halt the process.

Note the more barrel like shape as they are now toasted and charred

Barrels at various stages of toasting and charring

After this stage the barrel is cooled before being cut so the butt end can be introduced and the bung hole is also cut. The butt ends are also treated in a similar manner on char and toasting again using a wood fire but on the purpose built set up that looks a bit like a cooker. The barrel once cooled has final hoops placed on it before being tested for leaks and pressure.

In the top picture note the charred ends in the bottom right of the upper pictureOn the bottom picture a barrel with bung hole and ends on having final hoops placed on it

Once passed those tests the barrels can be stencilled before shipping out to clients.

The finished article

Aside from the virgin barrel production Kelvin trades in returned barrels which is still a major part of the business. These barrels are shipped worldwide with many making the journey to Scotland and Ireland as well as being involved in rum or tequila production. These barrels essentially fall into three categories of ready to ship, require some rework or are taken for the staves and reused elsewhere.

Kelvin is a wonderfully traditional business. It employs craftsmen and the fascination of watching skilled guys put these things together isn’t lost on you. While there are undoubtedly larger and more modern cooperages Kelvin keeps to the tradition of coopering and I am hugely grateful to the guys for allowing me a bit of insight into the care and attention they take in their operation.

 

 

 

 

 

Bardstown Bourbon Company- A name you might not know now- but you will

Sometimes in life you just get lucky.

A gap in my schedule, a speculative email and within 6 hours I was all tied up to visit the Bardstown Bourbon Company (BBCo).

BBCo is probably the largest newest supplier of bourbon that you’ve never heard of. I had the huge pleasure of sitting down with David Mandell, CEO, John Hargrove, Director of Distillery Ops and Steve Nally, Master Distiller and Bourbon Hall of Famer, for a few hours to understand what, and how, BBCo are doing. It is a real privilege to hear the guys speak with such passion about the extraordinary project that is on the go here and how they are shaping their future plans.

The facility itself is hugely impressive and already of good scale. If you wanted to film a Bond movie (or maybe even Kingsman?) the site itself would be well suited- a fanstasic open atrium leads you past the moss wall and up into the production offices. Behind this there is serious production capacity with the mash cooker feeding 16 fermenters and space in the rack houses for well over 200,000 barrels. In a comfortable meeting area we discussed BBC from it’s inception, to its current state and its exciting and impressive future.

The distillery itself has only been operating for 18 months or so and in that time has seen rapid growth. David explains:

“We have always had a bit of an evolving business plan. When we set out we saw things as being smaller and growth to be slower but we have secured orders and the confidence of our customers, through our collaborative distilling program, and that has allowed us to move on at a pace we hadn’t really planned for. We had sold our original 1.5m gallon proof  of capacity before we had even begun distilling 18 months ago (around 2.8m LPA for us in Europe). This doubled to where we can make around 3m gallon proof today but we will have doubled this to around 6.5/7m gallon proof by the summer. (around 12m LPA)”

That by anyone’s standards is a stunning rate of growth.

If you add on top plans to further put in place a restaurant, some educational facilities, whisky libraries and bar areas this place is going great guns.

So what allows a distillery in the heartland of bourbon country, surrounded by some of the most famous brands in the world, to get off to such a flying start. The answer lies in its collaborative distilling program- don’t, whatever you do, refer to this as contract distilling. As the guys are at such pains to point out, it is far more than that- there is no take it or leave it philosophy in place here. There is a hugely detailed and flexible approach to how a client wants to work and how BBCo can help them to achieve the product to an exacting specification.

The exacting specs include the height from the top of the FV you wish your wash to fill to

John Hargrove explained in broad terms what they can do for clients:

“We have a hugely flexible facility here and we monitor the process closely. We can offer clients a huge array of choices and we are committed to working with them to get them the product they want. We can provide data in real time on production control points and look to cover parameters including: grind profile, cooking recipe, enzymes, non-enzymes, malt quantities, strike temperatures, fermentation temperature and profiles, set and control temps, still base and top temperature, high wines, low wines cut points, barrels- levels of char and toast and for 16 of 17 clients we can warehouse for them as well.”

Steve Nally (l) and John Hargrove (r) in front of the moss wall

When you walk around the facility you cannot fail to be impressed. The level of control, cleanliness and attention to detail is highly evident. John and Steve were keen not only to show off this first class distillery but also demonstrate how the future had very much been born in mind at the design stage. Alongside the first still there is now a second 50ft high Vendome column still in place. During my visit the second still was yet to be put in place so all I could see was the opening that this new still would go into.

Top of still no 1 and the red hatch in the roof through which still no 2 was delivered.

I asked Steve what brought a 40 year veteran of the industry to this project and why he wanted to come to BBCo.

“Firstly I get to handle over 20 different mash bills- in larger branded places there may be three or four but this gives me real variety. Secondly it’s the challenge of working with customers to deliver what they want and working alongside them to achieve that. Finally doing new things is fun and exciting, the work we’re undertaking in the next couple of months to extend the facility is really a great thing to be part of and to work with these guys to make that happen, that is even better.”

I was interested to know about the faith in the market to put up a facility of this size and whether the team saw any risk in doing that- David responded by saying:

“While it’s true we came in here with more modest plans what gives us a lot of faith is the response we’ve had in working with our clients. It’s also true to say that we have turned away quite a bit of work as we have commitments to others already in place. These commitments have meant we have been able to invest, grow our capacity and deepen out relationships.”

Steve also interjected:

“It’s also worth remembering that there isn’t the stock levels of bourbon that we have seen in the past. This gives us an opportunity to work with others and also have a look at what we might create ourselves.”

There is already product available from BBCo. In partnership with Cooper and Kings they have launched Collabor&tion. 10 year old straight bourbon was specifically selected and has then been finished in C&K American brandy barrels or in Muscat Mistelle Barrels for 18 months. Again it’s indicative of both the creative nature and the collaborative process that BBCo adhere to that play a huge role in making these products. This is on top of several other products they are providing with other brand owners.

So with a doubling of capacity, new restaurants and bar area, work ongoing on the education side and visitor experience as well as looking at the possibilities in their own product range it’s fair to say that while you may not have heard too much about the Bardstown Bourbon Company yet- it isn’t going to stay that way for long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nelson’s Green Brier- Accidentally Reinventing a Distillery

It’s not everyday that you nip out to the butchers and come back with a distillery but in shorthand that’s what happened to Charlie and Andy Nelson.

The story begins generations ago, around 1820, with the family relocating from Hagenow in Germany to America. John Philip Nelson had sold his candle and soap business and converted all the family assets into gold. For safekeeping on the voyage to the US he had a suit specially designed to look after this expensive cargo. Sadly the ship went down and while family members were saved in lifeboats John Philip, weighed down by the suit, drowned. Arriving in New York with virtually nothing a 15 year old Charles found himself looking after the household.

Setting out in what he knew, soaps and candles, he got enough money together to move the family west, to Ohio. After a few years there they moved again to Nashville, here setting up a grocery business with a focus on coffee, meat and whiskey. The grocery business became a chain and 20 stores are still in existence today.

Charles Nelson realised that they were having some issues fulfilling orders on the whiskey side and stepped into the production area. He sold his interest in the grocery business and concentrated on whiskey full time. He was quick to understand that producing a reliable product was key and it’s wasn’t great business for people to have teeth falling out after consuming  your whiskey. He patented techniques for the production of safe whiskey and was an early adopter of selling in glass bottles rather that out the barrel, as was normal practice of the time. The business grew and grew and became the largest producer of Tennessee whisky at the time. Nelson’s was selling 2 million bottles and was capable of producing more than 16 times the amount of whiskey than his nearest competitors. Charles passed away quite suddenly and his wife Louisa took the business forward. She expanded into international sales but the storm clouds of prohibition were gathering in the US and in 1909 Tennessee adopted this policy. The Green Brier distillery ceased operations and Louisa sold the remaining stock and the site. She went on to support the suffragette movement , fighting for the vote for women, and in a movement that was not entirely in tune with the alcohol business.

The patent for safer whisky production still on the wall of the production area today

 

Fast forward to 2006 and the two boys, Charlie and Andy Nelson, were helping out their dad on a trip to Greenbrier and spotted their name on a historical marker. The butcher that they had gone to visit confirmed the family connection and the boys had a project! The curator of the Greenbrier Historical Society was able to expand on the family link and was even able to show the boys two of the original bottles of Nelson’s Greenbrier Tennessee Whisky.

Two of the old style bottles Andy and Charlie were shown

After three years of planning and research the boys opened the doors of the Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery 100 yrs after it had ceased operations. Their research has allowed them to follow the original recipes but ensure these are good for modern tastes.

The focus of production is on whiskies and bourbons although there have been a handful of ryes produced. Around 600kgs of cereals are used to give around 3000l of wash off the cooker for fermentation. In cooking they are looking for a pH in around 4.3 and Nelsons do use a higher malted barley percentage, well into the teens, compared to other producers. This has the effect of almost eliminating the need for any enzyme treatment.

Single strain yeast is pitched and fermentation allowed to proceed for around 96 hours achieving around 10-12% alcohol. Interestingly the vessels for fermentation are stainless steel and cubic in design and don’t have the the tapered conical that we are used to seeing in the UK.

The weather conditions play a significant role with temperatures here easily hitting 100deg F in the summer. As a result cooling regimes alter with city water, cooling towers or chillers all playing a role subject to the climate and also the cereals used in production.

 

Cubic Fermenters at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Stills at Nelson’s Green Brier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still runs are conducted over a two 6hr period and charcoal filtration also takes place to produce around 350 litres of finished product for barreling per run of fermentation.

Charcoal Filtration at Green Brier

Here barrels are new make US oak and come with a gorgeous vanilla and toasted smell. The 50 gallon barrels are filled with racking available at the back of the plant.

Racking

The range of product is growing with Tennessee whiskies and the Belle Meade Bourbon range under their control. The caramel notes, spices and flavours of these products will feature in our tasting report very soon.

With distribution spreading Charlie and Andy are heading for as much success as their predecessors in the business did.

 

 

With special thanks to Charlie Nelson and Goodloe Harman of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

 

 

 

The US Road Trip- an Introduction

Ok from next week I’ll be kicking off the road trip to the US which saw me cover:

10000 miles overall

1200 miles in a car

6 towns

6 tech visits

4 tourist visits

Notes on bourbons, whiskies, ryes, vodka +30

Alongside this I’ll be posting a little about some of the commonly used terms from out there to give you a feel for what makes up the US market- what is straight whiskey, what is rye, what is bourbon etc. The industry out there is really buoyant just now and the craft guys I spoke to are wanting to innovate and take a full part in what is going on. On top of that I’ll review some of the tourist trips that anyone can take and of course backing this up with tastings.

Busy busy few weeks with a real red, white and blue tinge to it!

 

 

 

Port of Leith Distillery- What do you do all day when you’re building a distillery?

With a number of sites being at various stages of opening and the announcements of progress on these flooding in I thought it would be good to talk to someone about what actually goes on when a distillery is being opened. What does their day consist of, who are they talking to and what are they actually doing? Ian Stirling of Port of Leith Distillery very kindly spent some of his time with me at the current site where he was able to fill me in on what is going on for his company as it looks to break ground on their site near the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh.

Ian and his business partner came up with the plan in their flat in London. With backgrounds drinks and finance it wasn’t such a step to begin to think and dream about how to get going on a site and plans for their own distillery in Edinburgh. Indeed it was a chance meeting with a client while Ian was in the wine business that seriously set the ball rolling.

Ian explains:

“I was selling wine to a number of clients from the Far East and during a conversation with one of my contacts we were discussing what you’d like to be doing in  the future. At this point I talked about the chance to set up a distillery but how getting things together on this wasn’t easy. In the course of that chat I had accidentally found my first investor.”

While that sounded like a great way to begin Ian went on the explain some of the difficulties. The next step was securing a site. No mean feat- somewhere with history and somewhere that is good for visitors, sufficient space, what about services to the site and room to grow and expand. Lots of things to consider and just at the point where Ian thought they had things in place his investor pulled out. No problem- back on the horse and now three early stage investors had expressed a strong interest in the project only for the site to be lost. This game of snakes and ladders set Port of Leith back to square one.

This is where you always need a bit of luck. Ian had been liaising on the project with the council in Edinburgh and they suggested having a conversation with Ocean terminal, the large cinema and shopping complex in Leith where the Royal Yacht Britannia is moored. Certainly an opportunity that would tick a number of boxes. Certainly a rich heritage in whisky and drinks that makes the Port of Leith an outstanding choice. When you couple this with the potential for visitors this was looking very promising.

Ian then spent the next 18 months negotiating a long lease with Ocean Terminal and also looking at the feasibility of the build. He went on to explain:

“While the site is in a fantastic place with lots of history and possibilities the actual parcel of land is not enormous. We had to think differently and so from the start we had our contractor involved to ensure that we the build was actually achievable and we can operate effectively- it’s really important that we can get an HGV turned around on our site and having the right people involved from the start allows us to make sure this and everything else can happen.”

As a result the Port of Leith Distillery will be gravity fed. The grain will make it’s way to around 5 storeys up of the building via elevators and then milling and mashing will occur. It will then drop to wash backs a floor down and then onto stills on the ground floor level. The innovation doesn’t stop there as a floating bonded maturation area is being looked at in the harbour area although this does involve some fairly complex engineering work when it come to harbour walls.

©Port of Leith Distillery

 

A really significant milestone in the birth of the distillery was gaining planning permission from the City of Edinburgh Council. This maybe a little surprisingly was a fairly quick piece of work taking around 3-4 months. However prior to the application being submitted there has clearly been a large amount of work undertaken with council officials, planners, architects and others. Ian reckoned he’d had around 30 people involved at various stages of the process.

Now it’s on to looking at products and development. There is a plan for gin and maybe, a bit more surprisingly, a sherry. However links with Jerez stem back to Ian’s wine days and may also mean a good source of barrels for the future. Plans for the brand of Port of Leith are well underway as is packaging and packaging development. Ian was kind enough to share his exquisite looking gin bottle with me- on pain of death of revealing too much about it. What I did find genuinely impressive was the 3D printed version of it that he had and how this really let you see how the bottle looked and could be handled.

The gin plans have moved forward and a still is in place in the current site in Leith. Ian has also secured funding for a joint project with Heriot-Watt University and allow them to very much hit the ground running from a production point of view. At the same time fund raising is still ongoing and there is people to bring on board and construction planning to start looking at.

Ian Stirling in front of his new still

 

So based on Ian’s experience when somebody says to you but what do you actually do all day when you are setting up a distillery I think the short answer is everything!

 

 

 

 

I love to be in America – Bound for Bourbon Country

I’m lucky enough to have visited the US on several occasions  and have loved it every time. From New York, to Seattle, to LA, to Florida and a fair amount in between the country is fun, interesting and really does do things bigger.

The scale of operations in the US was brought home to me on my first ever visit there. I was part of a small team to visit St Louis on a work trip with Anheuser-Busch, looking at a bit of kit we were to be installing. When we asked about what happens when you shut the machinery down we were told that they simply didn’t need to do that as their production schedule was so full – they made as much beer in a day as we made in a week.

So onto the craft distilling scene and it looks so vibrant. Different producers, wonderful looking cereal combinations, interesting products- some reverential some out there. I have visits lined up for most of the week and to say I’m excited is a massive understatement. I’m really grateful to those that have agreed to see me and I’m going to pile in some more visits on top of those arranged. States I’ve never been to, things I’ve not seen first hand and new experiences are always good.

The passport is out, the hotels are booked, the tastebuds are ready- bring it on USA – lets see what you’ve got.

About as far North as you can go- Wolfburn Distillery.

The drive up from Edinburgh is spectacular. Hugging the coast north of Inverness and Dornoch the quality of the light in the north of Scotland late in the year is soft and subtle. The route takes you past some of the venerable names of the Scotch industry- Glen Ord, Teaninich, Dalmore,  Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish and Pulteney all pop up on the drive – oh to have a spare week and get a few more stops in.

The destination today is further north than all of them – the northernmost distillery on the UK mainland – Wolfburn.

Some of the views on the way to and close by Wolfburn

 

The site itself is close to the original distillery which ran production in the early 1800’s. The reasons for its closure are not absolutely clear but its re-invention as a modern site commenced around 2012 with first spirit being produced the following year and its first bottles being available from 2016 onwards. The current operation actually uses minimally treated water from the Wolf Burn close by the back of the distillery.

The site itself is generous enough with three warehouses alongside the distillery – bottling is also done here.

Concerto malted barley is the grain of choice with around 1100kg of cereal being used per mash. The mashing regime uses  64.5degC water in a semi-lauter mash tun. 80degC sparge water is then used at the end of the mash to rinse through final sugars as well as creating first waters for the next mash. Transfer of around 5000l of wash is provided to the FVs with a single yeast strain added. Fermentation then takes in the region of 72-96hrs with an abv of around 8-9% being reached.

What is very apparent is a very light bright style at this stage. Upon opening the FV’s there are distinct floral notes that are mixed in with a warming caramel and malt aromas.

For a few weeks of the year there are production runs with peated barley as Wolfburn look to diversify their product range.

The Forsyths stills are next with a 5500l wash and 3800l spirit still and the wash being preheated before entry to the stills. The distilling process itself takes around 5 hours per charge.

Wolfburn Stills

 

From the spirit receiver the liquid is then pumped to cask filling stations in the warehouse. There is an impressive array of barrels on show with Olorosso sherry butts, first fill ex-bourbon,  and quarter casks all in evidence. There are even some casks from Islay which can help to provide a subtle peatiness in some of the range. Racking is carried out at around 65%abv.

The nose in the bond is stunning. The aromas that were present in the washbacks area are still here but you can sense the development of more complex and subtle flavours.

Inside the Wolfburn bond

Wolfburn produces around 110,000 LPA- enough for around 250,000 bottles per annum at usual strength and currently markets three main product lines- The Northland, Aurora and the latest addition- a more peat based whisky- the Morven. There are also some specials that are run through the Kylver Series when there’s something expecetional in a cask. Other specials have included batch 128- a limited run of 6000 bottles from a first fill US bourbon cask.

It is testament to Shane and his lean team at Wolfburn that awards are already forthcoming and with the care and diligence that is clearly in place Wolfburn can look forward to a highly successful future.

 

Sacred Distillery London – Hoovering up in Premium Gin

Sometimes it’s fun to imagine how novel ideas must have been met when they first came out. The introduction of coffee strikes me as one- so we roast these beans, then grind them, then add hot water- yeah right. This can’t have been an easy sell.

I think there might have been a similar reaction to Ian Hart’s decision to pursue vacuum distillation at the core of his production at the Sacred Distillery near Archway in London. So while others are concerning themselves with angles of swan necks and bashing copper stills into form, Sacred is far more interested in getting chiller temperature right and pulling a strongly sealed vacuum to get the product that they want to see.

The difference between the two distillation techniques can be described very broadly as conventional distilling using heat to drive off vapour before condensing this into a liquid whereas in vacuum distillation the lowering of pressure pulls off vapour into the vacuum that is then condensed back into liquid.

It’s a really obvious first question but the compelling one for me – why pursue such a production method?

Ian explained:

“I was involved in the finance industry when the crash happened around 2007. On leaving that industry I looked around for something else. I had a go at teaching myself how to create circuit boards but after seeing that maybe wasn’t for me I started to experiment with vacuum distilling some of my Bordeaux wines. I was amazed at some of the results I could achieve and that got me looking at this really seriously. I was able to take off bouquet, alcohol and other flavour complexes but leave behind water giving a really intense product- sort of the difference between beef broth and marmite. From there I started experimenting with botanicals and gin and when the landlord of my local tried it he loved it, from there I realised I had something commercial on my hands.”

So using this unusual production technique Ian has been able to grow his spirits business organically to around 50,000 bottles per year. In the initial days some deliveries were being made by hand to customers via the tube. These days there is export to around 17 countries and the first pallet of product has just gone off to Thailand. The Thailand connection was the result of a conversation on holiday- who says entrepreneurs can ever really switch off!

He has recently moved to larger premises at the Star pub and that has certainly taken some of the pressure off his home. It was not uncommon to have product stored 6 ft high on both sides of his hallway.

 

The new location for the distillery- with bar on hand

What is clear, however, is the passion Ian has for flavour. The base spirit for his gin comes from a specific grain and he understands both what this base is and why he believes it gives him the best starting point for his gins. Ian is keen to understand how flavour works and how different flavours interact. He does use some conventional distillation, on products such as his Christmas Pudding gin, but in the main his vacuum stills are used to pick up the fragrant notes in products such as his pink grapefruit or cardamon gins.

Looking to the future Ian is very clear about where he wants to sell and how his vision for the business can be delivered. While he remains concerned that HMRC can be overactive where smaller producers are concerned versus the risk that they pose he does acknowledge that in setting up his bonded premise they forced him to look and consider his business plan in more detail. However his concentration on the wine merchant and specialist shops he sees as the way forward for Sacred.

At the same time the business is taking on more staff with 2 apprentice distillers due to join the company in the next few weeks. To show how they are constantly innovating they have launched in the last few days a whisky liquor and their own finish of English whisky in delightful packaging.

The new whisky liqueur and English whisky

With the energy on drive on show and a slightly left field way of working I’m pretty sure Sacred will continue to grown it’s presence in the super-premium area of spirits.