It doesn’t seem to matter if the weather is dreach or the sun is out on its highest peak, the Edradour distillery seems to attract busloads of people every day during the season. Not so strange really, if you take a look at the tiny bridges over the rushing cooling water of the Edradour burn, the colourful patches of flowers in between the lush green grass and the waterwheel against the background of the white farmhouse walls that give reason enough to stop for a visit at the picturesque location. On top of that, it is an easy to reach location with public transport and from the airports at Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is a short enough drive to calm down an exciting group of anticipating whisky enthusiasts, or stretch your legs if driving past Pitlochry on your own.
While turning our car into the distillery car par sided by the in 2007 built Signatory bottling hall, we encounter one of these satisfied fellowships, opening one or two of their most recent purchases on top of their cars to share amongst themselves to lubricate their innards before continuing their whisky quest, undoubtedly in the direction of the Speyside region.
THERE AND BACK(WARDS) AGAIN
The distillery proudly states to be “the Smallest Distillery in Scotland” on a sign at their entrance, a statement we already found questionable when we visited on our first roadtrip in 2012. In May 2016, the time we are talking about now, we can see a lot of of activity on the back of the site, and rumors are going around that owner Andrew Symington has acquired a patch of land next to the distillery to expand his warehousing facilities, but it quickly becomes clear to us that more is brewing…
We decide to book a tour and inform ourselves. While waiting for the tour to start, we tell our tour guide we had done the tour back in 2012, but that we had found it to be slightly confusing because we started at the backside of the terrain in the warehouse, working our way into the distillery backwards, until we would reach the mashtun and end the tour at the flat bed cart of draff, where we were waiting for the group to be complete at that moment. His reaction was mild (to say the least) and after the tour we understood why; backwards seems to be the only possible way to do the tour.
IT ONLY GOES DOWNHILL FROM HERE
We are welcomed in the Malt Barn, a reception area, which surprisingly, originally operated as the malting floor. With a dram of the Edradour or Ballechin 10 year old, or a cream liqueur for the faint of heart in our hand, we watch a short video about the history of the distillery and whisky in general. Afterwards, through what used to be the kiln, together with an explanation of its original operation, the large group of about 30 people is guided into the warehouse at the back of the plot. This turned out to be the perfect moment to see the new site across the burn, where a large area of land was being prepared to start a large building operation. Here, they are now building a second distillery, twice the capacity of the current operation, based on exact copies of the original distillery equipment. Interestingly enough, this is just about all the information we were able to peel away at that time, and very little new information has come free since.
Back to the tour we are following, we find ourselves in the best possible place of any tour; the large warehouse with not only Edradour and Ballechin spirit, but also many of the Signatory owned casks, sourced from many distilleries throughout Scotland. The smell of the place is amazing as ever, and after a clear explanation of the core business of the distillery owner as an independent bottler and a last deep inhalation to fill our lungs with the best smell in the world, we walk down the hill towards the back of the distillery, following the meandering stream, where we meet an old and disused copper worm, which nicely demonstrates the tiny size of the operation; the old worm is hardly 1 meter in height and width. The two tubs holding the bathing worms are dug in the ground at the back entrance of the barnhouse, built against the side of the hill.
STREET DISTILLERY VIEW WITH WORDS
Standing on the threshold of the door leading to the second floor, we meet a small and modern mill, which took over from the old Porteus mill several years ago. Baird’s Malt delivers the malted barley in metric tonne bags, conveniently the exact amount used in one mash, milled and mixed together with the water from a spring at the Moulin moor at Ben Vrackie. From the small area, we can spot the two small stills in the small room next door [there seem to be many occasions where we can say “small” in this article], opposed by the cast iron open topped mashtun slowly stirring its straight cast iron rakes.
Above the Victorian mashtun we can see the unique cooling system, an uncovered, recently rebuilt Morton’s Refrigerator, cooling the 6.500 litres of wort down to just about 18-20 °C, before it is transported to the far corner into one of the two wooden washbacks, where it is provoked by 25 kg dry yeast for the next 48 hours. The small 4.200 litre wash still takes about half of the wash before the low wines are transferred into the 2.200 litre spirit still, together with the heads and tails of the previous runs. During the distillation process, the wash and spirit flow through the two worms outside where we are still standing, back inside through the spirit safe, to end up in the spirit receiver and being casked and stored in one of the company’s warehouses.
WHO HAS THE SMALLEST?
Currently, the distillery has an annual output of about 130.000 litres of pure spirit, of which about one third is their heavily peated “Ballechin”. These numbers definitely make it one of the smaller distilleries in Scotland, but not per se the smallest, something that is totally depending on the set of parameters you look at to substantiate the statement. Taking the Alembic driven but undeniably smaller distilleries of Abhainn Dearg, Strathearn, Eden Mill and Dornoch out of account, traditional pot still distilleries (but newly built) such as Ballindalloch, Daftmill, Kilchoman, Kingsbarns and Wolfburn each have similarly sized stills and annual spirit capacities – although not necessarily similar fermentation and distillation times or annual outputs.
At best, we could say the award for “Who has the Smallest” has come to a tie between the Edradour and these last handful of new distilleries. With the build of their own new distillery, the Edradour distillery may just come in an entire category altogether. That said, if they open the new distillery as a unique facility and keep the spirits separated at birth, they are still in the running for the title, and they would at least be the “Oldest Smallest Traditional Farm(house) Distillery in Scotland”. A small change to their sign at the entrance would suffice.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
They may choose to name the new distillery “Edradour II” or something similar, because naming it “Ballechin” seems to be difficult due to many rules and regulations where all whisky baring a distillery name, must actually come from that distillery (which it obviously would not). Another option would be to name the new distillery “Glenforres”, the name that seems to have been on the buildings a long time ago, but then they could not make any “Edradour” spirit anymore. Confusing, isn’t it?
We can only speculate about the name, and only time (or Mr. Symington) will tell us what it eventually will be. What we can tell you however, is that if you are interested in knowing exactly how a distillery works from start to end, the Edradour tour may be a little confusing due to the layout of the cramped distillery, but if you want to visit a small and definitely picturesque distillery, the Edradour site(s) should most certainly be on your list to visit. We have already put it back on our list and once Edradour’s big sibling is born and takes its first strokes in the stream of single malt spirit, we will make sure to make yet another stop at Pitlochry and tell you about what it has become.
Thomas & Ansgar
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Copyright notice: Photos by WhiskySpeller