Back to the festival, with a visit to Inchdairnie
TL;DR: And the time for one of our favourite appointments came again: The Fife Whisky Festival, where we and a bunch of Edinburgh Whisky Group folks volunteered again to help Justine and Karen. As part of the festival, we visited the very modern Inchdairnie Distillery, usually closed to visitors.
One of our favourite events of the “whisky-year” is a relatively small festival, expertly organised by the entrepreneurial duo of Justine (Kask Whisky) and Karen (Angel’s Share Glass): the Fife Whisky Festival. It starts on a Friday in early March (carefully chosen to avoid clashes with the 6 Nations) with an opening dinner, followed by two sessions on the Saturday at the Corn Exchange in Cupar, and it ends on the Sunday with a few events at local distilleries or other venues. Simple and effective, and this year edition was no different.
Like in 2022, this year the opening dinner was at the Lindores Abbey distillery, in Newburgh. We were welcomed at the bar with a cocktail based on their Aqua Vitae, which we enjoyed in the adjacent production room (not working during the evening). Dinner was served downstairs, in the “huge table hallway”.
As last year, we had four drams, an opening one and three paired with the delicious courses. This year we started with a Lindores Abbey (Friar John Cor cask strength), and then we had a Nc’Nean (The Huntress 2022 edition), a Loch Lomond and finally another Lindores Abbey (the leftover of their inaugural release, reserved to the members of the 1494 Club). Before the event, Justine kindly asked the distillery staff if we could sleep in our campervan in the parking lot, which they agreed (thanks again!). We are not sure that everyone was up to speed though, as in the morning we spotted some puzzled faces among the workers…oops. As we woke up, we quickly dressed and drove towards Cupar to grab some breakfast. For the second night we had booked a B&B, and fortunately we could check in early.
The festival went very smoothly. We were on tickets duties at first, and during the second session we also checked in Roy Duff (from the Aqvavitae Youtube channel) and other whisky-pals from Glasgow, among others. During each session, after most of the attendants got in, we helped the standers by bringing coffee, tea, etc. Gianluigi even replaced temporarily Declan from Glenallachie to let him have a break, as he was alone at the stand. For a minute it was nice to “play brand ambassador” for one of our favourite brands! There were many volunteers, so work was not excessive, and it was nice to take a break from time to time to get a wee dram and chat about whisky with old and new friends. After cleaning and wrapping up everything, the night ended at a local restaurant with a good curry.
On Sunday, after a sizeable Scottish breakfast at the B&B, we picked up our friend Stephen and drove to one of the events of the day: the visit to Inchdairnie distillery (the other was a Lady of the Glen tasting at Dalgety Bay). We were very excited about that, for a number of reasons. First, it was a rare occasion to visit a distillery usually closed to public. Second, we knew they were producing some very interesting spirits that we tried at the virtual Fife Festival whisky tasting in 2021 (the only year when the actual festival didn’t go ahead), including some rye, which we both quite liked.
The distillery is in an industrial estate near Glenrothes. The parking lot is in front of two modern buildings, one for production and the other one for he offices (with warehouses behind the latter), and the entire (very tidy) area is surrounded by a green lawn. After a little wait, we were welcomed inside the offices, in the conference room. As we sat around the table, Ian Palmer (the managing director) introduced himself and started describing the distillery vision and production, soon delving into technical details (so much that we both started taking notes on our phones).
Production started in 2016, with a capacity of 2 million litres per annum, soon to be doubled. Because of this big capacity, they experiment with different mashes of malted barley, rye and oat. Thus, they have lot of different products in their portfolio and, unlike most new distilleries, they are keeping some to release themselves and selling the rest to blenders (including Macduff International, whose portfolio includes Grand Macnish, Islay Mist, Lauders and Waterproof whiskies…many of theese bottles were on display). Current plans will see their single malt (Inchdairnie, unpeated) released in 2029, and will be the result of Fife malted barley, from both spring and winter crops. Depending on the season it is distilled, the newmake will be put in different casks (here a scheme of the pairing between season and cask type).
At the moment, they are also producing an unpeated single malt, Strathenry, as their trading whisky (a few independent bottled ones already came out). There are also two peated malts: Kinglassie and Finglassie. The former is produced using Fife barley, while the latter is sold as a trading malt (to blenders and independent bottlers). A range of unique distillations, varied every year, will be released under the name of Prinlaws, and they will be experimental runs. Finally, the first product they released is the Ryelaw: a mash of malted rye (53%) and malted barley (47%), with second distillation in a Lomond still (the third we saw, after the Ugly Betty used to produce the Botanist gin at Bruichladdich, and Scapa’s wash still). Because there isn’t a definition for rye whisky in Scotland, it is classified as a single grain whisky. However, it satisfies all the criteria for American rye whiskey, except not being produced in USA, of course. It is currently available for the not wallet-friendly price of £110.
After the thorough introduction by Ian, Scott Sneddon (the distillery manager) took us around the production plant. We first saw the boiler, currently running on natural gas, which will be replaced with a hydrogen fuelled one. Being so new, they don’t have neither a Bobby nor a Portheus mill, and the milling is done with slightly different percentages compared to the most common 70% grist, 20% husks, and 10% flour mix. This is to maximise the sugar production in the mash, which is obtained through a mash-filter, as opposed to the majority of distilleries that have a mashtun. Fermentation happens in stainless steel washbacks outside the production building. Other than the three stills (wash, spirit, and Lomond) used for production, they also have a wee pilot still, which they used to decide the various parameters for their spirit. Of course, everything in the distillery is highly automatic, as testified by the equipment in the control room. Outside, we saw silos utilised as spirit receivers, and a row of palletized warehouses, with barrels patiently waiting to be ready for bottling. They have also a small warehouse in a separate building for their cask club.
Back inside, we had a very nice buffet lunch and a nosing experience of some of their spirits (including some oat newmake spirit, veeery different). To our surprise, no tasting on site, which was actually better for us as we didn’t have to pick a designated driver. Instead, they gave us a very generous tasting pack with four drams: 2018 Inchdairnie Palo Cortado, 2017 peated Kinglassie (probably ex-bourbon cask), Ryelaw newmake spirit and Ryelaw (distilled 2017). A very nice touch, and as we later found out, the drams are all delicious.
Overall, one of the most peculiar distilleries we visited so far. While most of the new distilleries went down the road of a traditional building and process, others like the Cairn definitely embraced modernity. Inchdairnie, however, seems to push this to another level, and only with time we will see if their efforts will be rewarded. For now, everything looks very promising.
Until next time, slainte!
Fife Whisky Festival
Inchdairnie Distillery (not generally open to visitors)