From our cottage in Collessie we drove up towards the city of St. Andrews following the A91. About ten minutes before reaching the city, just before crossing the bridge over the river Eden we entered Guardbridge village, turned onto Main Street at the roundabout and followed the road until we reached the not exactly pretty buildings where the Eden Mill distillery and brewery is vested.
Originally, the site was a distillery in the Haig family heydays around the beginning of the nineteenth century, was closed in 1864. The family turned the site into the Guardbridge Paper Company in 1873, building the village around it. A small part of the buildings was kept in use to run the Seggie Brewery from 1869 until the 1890s. With various mergers and buy-outs the then Curtis Fine Papers company, went into receivership in 2008 and in 2010 the St Andrews University purchased the buildings in order to convert them into the UK’s first Carbon Neutral University Energy Centre.
Arriving a little early for our appointment with the stuck in traffic Daniel, we browsed the shop, enjoyed a good cup of coffee and learned that the buildings of the brewery and distillery – the original location of the paper mill, were on the agenda to be completely torn down rather soon, and the company is to be moved to one of the currently being renovated building, one of the original brewery and distillery buildings. The brewery knew from the start they were occupying a temporary location, and are built to pick up and move at any time, something that is quite obvious when entering the building.
The large room we first entered was equipped with a gathering of the many different beers and gins the company has to offer. Halfway the room long tables are set up for tastings alongside the large bar, where most of the current beers and gins were available for sampling. Everything looks to be built on pallets (which it probably is too), and is ready for the big move. When we enter the next room, we immediately find ourselves in the brewery where the different beers and whisky recipes are mashed, brewed, fermented and bottled at the same time, and wherever a spot is free, an experimental batch is cooked up and put together from the (as much as possible) locally grown ingredients, without the help of any computers, but with a lot of elbow grease. Everyone seems ready to pick up a hammer when something needs a good smack or to help sticking a label onto a bottle whenever the next batch is ready.
From the start of the brewery in 2012 they quickly had a put together a range of award winning beers, brewed with different barley and grain varieties, an assortment of hops and an array of yeast strains, the road was quickly paved to start creating a crossover into distilling. Three 1.000 litre Hoga Alembic stills are now producing their spirits, one for their massive range of experimental gins – one of which is very similar to the recipe of their St. Andrews Blonde, including the Australian Galaxy hop. Some of the experiments stick and become part of their core, others wither and die, some with good reason. At the time of our visit, head distiller Scott was creating their recently released Golf Gin we got to taste, a fragrant addition to their core range of gins, indispensable in the golf area of Scotland. An experiment that seems to have stuck.
Their single malts are put together from different mash bills, using a different combinations barley varieties and several yeast strains during the rather long, four day fermentation. Again a lot of experimentation is going on here, and with the different types of barley and yeasts at hand, they have created three different styles of new make spirit to mature, of which are already one year old 20cl samples available. They clearly have an understanding how to run their stills where the expected sweet-and-sour “Alembic style” is limited to a minimum. More experiments are done with the use of different (as in: not industry standard) maturation in a variation of cask types. They are thus creating a distinct range of experimental products, next to an industry proven fermented, distilled and matured core. Not ready to be called whisky yet, but each new makes and one year olds are already very promising on their own.
Maturation is something they have plenty of at the moment, but there is a clear shortage in the space area to let the spirit get its much needed rest. Cages, racks, pallets, corners and office desks are stacked with casks containing maturing spirit, and they clearly are in need of proper housing. Something that is (literally) around the corner, and when the first renovations are done, we are sure they will start moving in with the paint of the walls still drying. With the move, an increase of equipment is also very likely, and we have also heard rumours to purchase a column still in order to create their own grain spirit for their gins. All great plans, and with a little luck, plans that get executed fairly quickly.
Bumping into charismatic owner Paul Miller on our way out of the production, storage, packing and bottling area, we get talking about his plans with the company and how he has come to what the it has already become from the Eden Brewery he started in 2012. Only four years later, the Eden Mill distillery & brewery have become too large for their housing – as we have clearly seen, and he is looking at a bright future for the company who are already shipping overseas. Paul has worked with IDV (now Diageo), Molson Coors brewing Ltd and Glenmorangie plc during the purchase of Ardbeg and sale of Glen Moray. From this era, he has kept strong connections with the distilling world, and this is probably also where the plans are coming from to create a blended whisky series using a nine year old Glen Moray as a base and different (again, experimental) cask types, to have more product generating income and get the Eden Mill name out into the world. Paul could, and probably would have kept us listening to his enjoyable stories and marvellous anecdotes for the remainder of the day, if it were not for our appointment later that afternoon at the Daftmill distillery.
Eden Mill is one of the many breweries that have started in the area in the last couple of years. They are also one of the many distilleries sticking their heads above the local grain fields. They are however, (one of) the only doing both, and have created a good portfolio in a very short period. Talking to the people making the liquids and sticking the labels, the people selling the bottles and the brand, or the man owning the business and making a dream of many come true, each and everyone of them has a no bullshit attitude. If something breaks, they get their hands dirty and fix it. When the floor sticks, you know you are working with liquids that spill every now and then and don’t be a pussy, get that mob in the corner and clean it. A good dose of humour with a well balanced responsibility, doing things the way they should be done with resourcefulness and a good head on their shoulders, crafting a future focused on making people happy.
We brought home a pack of 12 (!) different gin samples, a huge variety of beers, three different one year old single malts and some of their single malt new makes. Happy homework for us, we’ll be back to see what their future brings them, but it is looking good from our perspective…
Thomas & Ansgar