Well, that was quite a fermentation period…
At WhiskySpeller HQ we have been handling a pair of overflowing washbacks the last couple of weeks. Cutting the froth didn’t quite ehm… cut it, so we decided to switch to an anti-foaming agent to clear the schedule a little.
Repairs have been done, both stills are undamaged, silent season is over and, as if we have never left, we find ourselves continuing our journey through Scotland in May earlier this year with the beautiful Kingdom of Fife in our rearview mirror…
En route to something that is best described as ginormous and down to earth. Impressively clean and high-tech are two other fine descriptors, just as passionate, contemporary and artisan are three more.
Just a small collection of fancy words summarising the visit to our next stop in Ellon, in the eastern parts of Aberdeenshire in the Ancient region of Formartine. Having abandoned the Kingdom of Fife in the morning, we followed the the A90 north contemplating about what we had just left behind, every now and then taking a self initiated detour to get a peek of the eastern coastline. We had only just passed Aberdeen and the river Ythan to enter a vast industrial area where the wooden sculpture on a the parking lot unmistakably revealed the destination of today’s trip – the BrewDog headquarters.
Wait. What? Have the Spellers gone into reviewing semi-finished products too and betrayed their love for distillates? Well, yes. And no. Please bear with us.
We have always been interested in brewing because of the close relationship with distilling, and when the chance presented itself to get into the bowels of the Dog itself, we took the opportunity and drove a different route than normally would have done to the Speyside region. Glad we did.
Little over ten years ago, two men and a dog started a craft brewery in a garage in Fraserburg, close to where the A90 abruptly ends in the North Sea. Over the years they have grown in people (and probably dogs) into one of the world’s most recognised breweries. They have opened numerous bars and several brewing facilities across the globe, creating millions of litres of the hoppy product, about half of which is their famous and ultra hoppy Punk IPA.
We hear you… “They are still talking about beer…” We’ll get to the core of our visit soon. Promise.
Looking around at the parking lot, we not only see the main brewery, but also a building where head offices are located and something that resembles a warehousing complex. DogTap – a taproom with a smaller, more experimental brewery (many starting breweries would love to eventually grow into that size) sits in the middle. This facility also holds a cantine and a shop, and when we look across the road, we find Overworks, where studies and experiments are done with, for example alternative fermentations with wild yeasts and sour beers. Makes sense this facility is kept a modest distance.
After donning a not-so-fashionable high-viz vest, get complimented on our sturdy hiking shoes (which in all honesty, was a first), we receive our own personally handwritten identification tags on a lanyard. We get guided around the immense facility, zigging and zagging between a 30.000 litre mash tun and 85.000 litre lauter tun. Wort collection vessels (basically underbacks, but… different) and boilers, whirlpools (with naked wort, not people) and long rows of different sized fermenters are just about everywhere, when it finally dawns on us – this artisan brewery is a massive beast.
All vessels are connected to each other by an endless supply of stainless pipes and each and every one of them shines as if the whole operation only opened its doors for the first time this very morning, when we were still having breakfast with the American guests at our B&B in Strathkinness. Everything is spotless and there for a reason, to make flawless brews. Cleanliness is key in any brewery, and for a brewery this size, any form of contamination can be (financially) destructive.
We were lucky enough to get a peek at Dexter and his fellow laborants, measuring the quality and consistency of production. Meanwhile, while getting lost between the shiny, sometimes masterfully painted stainless steel jungle, we suddenly spot – against the walls of a hangar sized beer warehouse, specks of copper…
Our host keeps throwing output numbers, ratios, statistics and other geekery at us, but fair is fair, we are a little distracted by the amount of copper staring back at us. We have arrived at the main goal of our visit.
Welcome to LoneWolf distillery.
One smaller still, mainly used for the Wolf’s gin, two copper pot stills, one with an eye-catching triple (!) boiling ball system, both accompanied by a different sized column and two humongous columns with 60 plates each – so tall, they went through the already high roof to install them. Literally. Maybe a picture can describe the setup better:
We have just seen the different breweries as small as 2.000 per batch and the ‘mere’ 10.000 litres batches from the medium sized brewery. The large unit produces lots and lots of beer, and (until now) only beer. Each of the 53(ish) washbacks in various sizes can hold a wash of numerous compositions wash for any predetermined time. Some of the wash produced in the smaller two breweries are created from special hop-less recipes prepared for the “copper wall”.
After five days of fermentation in a controlled environment of 28°C, the wash is slowly pumped to a tank at the Copper Wall, where it is kept under a blanket of CO2 before the clear liquid which drinks as a refreshing, hopless beer is readied for distillation.
Whether it is gin, distilled in small 600 litre batches, Vodka – which reaches 96,6% after about 40 plates in the column stills where the remaining plates just act as purifying layers – or whisky, the distillation possibilities are plentiful. The perfect serve with their own gin – a tonic – is also brewed on the premises. Outsourcing or partnering with a proven brand can be nice, but when you have the capability and capacity to make something on-site… why not?
There does not seem to be a fixed set of parameters for distillation at LoneWolf, and with their setup, the options are endless. There are of course many experiments which have resulted in a reliable and repeatable recipe, and some of these recipes are maturing in one of the on-site warehouses. Doing it the old-fashioned way – one day at a time until it is ready – is nice and practiced, but why not try to pressurise a cask (again, literally) to speed up maturation, from which we must conclude, seems to be working quite well.
Handing in our high-vis vests and ID lanyards, we find ourselves outside, dazzled by this tour around the facilities. If you have the opportunity, reach out to them and make an appointment to see for yourself what they are brewing up here on the east coast of Scotland…
LoneWolf is pushing the limits, following its ancestral dog-heart, learning on the run with two things in focus: passion and quality. No concessions.
Thomas & Ansgar
Photo source: WhiskySpeller