Swings and Roundabouts at Lindores

I confess, today’s article lies right on the limits of my technical knowledge!

I was invited by Steve Rush of Tweet Tastings to a tasting of Lindores Abbey cask expressions, put in cask during 2018.

Lindores Abbey distillery on the north Fife coast was is a family run distillery, advised by the late Dr. Jim Swan. In 2018 I tasted their new make, their Aqua Vitae product and a cask sample of maturing spirit so this opens up interesting comparisons.

While controversy rages about the emergence of so many new distilleries. I welcome these and I admire their courage in entering a market that may well become saturated quite soon. I love that whisky continues to boom but increased volume, national and international competition must eventually reach a tipping point.

To launch a new distillery needs a strategy as the investment cost is high – I would hazard £25-£30 million. It then takes legally 3 years – more like 8-10 to release a mature spirit which is a long time to support both the capital investment and running costs for any enterprise. There are a number of strategies to mitigate this.

A new distillery can;

make gin or vodka which can be sold straight off the still.

have membership schemes where clients effectively purchase future releases.

Sell casks.

Lindores adopted both membership and cask sales schemes and sold Aqua Vitae a whisky spirit plus botanicals product to help bridge the financing gap.

Their membership and cask purchase schemes are well thought out and worth exploring if you are looking for a cask. Lindores are both innovative and transparent about costs and your involvement in the maturation journey.

They also adopted a strategy with Dr. Jim Swan of designing the distillery and process to produce good whisky early.

To produce early you need:

Firstly, a great new make spirit straight out of the stills which offers good flavour early and is low in immature characteristics e.g some sulphur compounds and vegetal notes. These notes tend to be highly volatile so easily and rapidly detected on the nose and unwanted.

Secondly, casks which are lively enough to make early impact on maturing the spirit, STR cask (rejuvenated) for example.

Both spirit and cask must also be able to sustain longer maturation without the resulting whisky becoming woody or bland but rather increasing in balance and complexity, by no means easy to achieve.

Nothing fascinates me more than how development in the cask progresses. Every cask being different is one on the great wonders of the industry. Let me discuss what I discovered from Lindores.

Going back to 2018. I wrote:

“I feel truly blessed! The cask strength really excelled for me a promise of great things to come – imagine it after a few years or even a lot”.

Lindores New Make spirit 73% ABV

The new make at 73% offers options. I wonder at what ABV it goes into the cask. In Scotland for various reasons, one being economic the cask norm in scotland is 63.5% There are no regulations about this unlike in the U.S. where 62.5% is a maximum. Different ABV’s of cask filling offer different flavour opportunities with a lower ABV giving a sweeter smoother whisky and higher favouring spice and fruit notes.

Looking at the ABV of the various samples tasted – would appear to indicate they were put in cask fairly close to the 63.5% mark.

Again this presents a difficult balance as higher ABV spirit suffers from slower maturation. Early sales compete economically with the need for expensive longer maturation time requirements.

My notes on the new make were as follows:

Nose: Pungent, sour milk, gooseberry, banana, vegetal, malty

Palate: digestive, biscuit, per drops, ginger, marmalade tones citrus but sweet

I take little from this, it had the complexity and flavour notes to become a great matured whisky. I would not say I was a big fan at this point. It appears to be the case that you need ‘difficult’ new make to produce there most complex of whisky in the long run. I believe this to be generally true, at least outside of Islay.

Lindores Cask Blend 60.1%v. ABV

A nutty, malty light fruit style, unpeated.

Nose: faithfully reprises the new make nose, almond, milk, hint of stewed tea, malt loaf, toffee, vanilla, nicely multi-layered.

Palate: Early promise of great spirit cask balance, fruity, apple skin, orange, vanilla and toffee, sweet set honey, ginger, nutmeg, cardamon slight liniment note I can’t place.

This I enjoyed a lot.

The first fills were in 2017 so this blend must have come from these I assume. Lots of assumptions in this article, sorry. I could see how the new make was rapidly maturing into an interesting whisky. At this stage not exceptional but I could see the strategy unfolding. Patience is what whisky is all about.

There is a big early impact from casks both in colour, tempering of any poor odours and tastes and taming the spirit and adding to complexity and balance. This initial large impact seems to me to be the same timescale as for a finish. About 6 months smoothing out after that the maturation enters a second phase as successive seasons draw the spirit in and out of the wood.

So I was excited to be invited to taste the 2018 fills now with three years maturation.

The distillery writes – and I paraphrase: “Lindores has been through four seasons of distillation at and work has been done with the distillery to define the spirit. We had a direction, but the distillery decided to offer us up a new intriguing spirit instead. We went from nutty, to cereal, to malty, to pears, to fruity and to finally a spirit which combines all of these and more. There is also a sweetness and a spiciness with an incredible mouth feel, caramel and butterscotch nose with others picking up peaches and strawberries”.

These early tunings of the process are the most interesting but often puzzling for new distilleries trying to find their optimal process. There are hundreds of options at every stage available.

Of all the option available to a new distillery the major tweaks might include:

Milling the grain finer
Pulling less solids through the process
Decreasing the fermentation time
A longer distillation
A Narrower cut
At every stage time and temperature are variables to alter.

Lindores, or any new distillery have to balance early quality with long term quality and of course production costs a highly precarious balancing act. Many of the options present classic ‘win on the swings lose on the roundabout’ dilemas, every trial risking a poor batch. The distillery proceeds in its search for perfection in the knowledge of the debt burden hanging over their heads. Any new distillery deserves our greatest respect for putting themselves through this to present us with our dram.

Whisky is such a mystery and the craft distiller such a master of their art.

So what do I discern in the results of their efforts:

Sample A – Cask No: 68

Cask Type: First Fill Woodford Reserve ASB
Date of Fill: 16/02/18
ABV: 60.6%

Nose: banana, butterscotch, coconut, cereal notes, vanilla – fresh and lovely

Palate: caramel, peaches and pears, honeycomb, pencil shavings, white pepper, cinnamon and a sweet bourbon note – this is great!

I loved this whisky and would gladly have bought it immediately. What ever Lindores did they produced an excellent early maturing whisky. Superb the strategy worked.

Sample B-Cask No:38

Cask Type: STR Wine Barrique
Date of Fill: 31/01/18
ABV: 61.8%

STR is shaved, toasted, recharged. I will save the method and results of STR cask preparation a Jim Swan speciality for another time!

Nose: Demerara sugar, lemon peel, cardamom, digestive biscuit, oily olives, hint of rubber.

Palate: Lucozade sugary malty note, creamy and luscious, Turkish delight chocolate bar, ginger, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg its got it all simply amazing!

There is enough complexity in this sample to be confident that it will continue to improve for many years. Time will tell.

Sample C – Cask No: 95

Cask Type: Fresh Oloroso Sherry Butt
Date of Fill: 06/03/18
ABV: 61.6%

Nose: Great initial hit – plum, a cocoa powder note, sherry, liquorice, barbecue banana with cream and brandy (the type you barbecue on the beach).

Palate: Honeycomb, milk chocolate, peaches ,ginger, digestive biscuit, nutmeg needs more water which reveals lemon puff biscuits

Sample D Cask No:29

Cask Type: Ex Islay Peated cask
Date of Fill: 06/03/18
ABV: 61.6%

Nose: Best nose so far – deep an dark mahogany, polish, icing sugar hint of pineapple more Turkish delight, grapefruit

Palate: Sweet sticky blueberry juice, creamy, zingy sherbet lemon, dark chocolate , brine, peat. That smoky berry speaks best of Islay. Can I have a few? This is a real whisky – great job Lindores.

The cask influences are exceptional doing justice to great spirit. I would buy every one of these and enjoy it for different reason. The cask 29 was my pick – right at my favourite profile type. It will be interesting to see how this matures.

Next, the 95 – it would go further with more water and maintain its quality.

Lindores Abbey face a real dilemma! These will age wonderfully probably but these are spectacular in their youth.

There have been a number of 3 year old releases from new distilleries recently. These have attracted queues of buyers anxious to own the first release. There has been great hype about – wonderful fresh spirit but for me they have been immature too young and with the distinctive straw and sour notes.

Not Lindores Abbey. I cannot speak highly enough about these lovely whiskies.

Sufficient to say I will be a fan and in that queue to grab any early releases. I think that Lindores will keep maturing these for longer than 3 years probably 10 and beyond. Good luck to them, to the 1494 club members and to those who bought casks. Release them as non chill filtered, natural colour, high ABV, age statement they will be whisky perfection.

I look forward to following these cask’s journey. Having achieved great results at three years does the longer term maturity exceed these or have sacrifices been made? This is what craft whisky making is all about, to take nothing away from these excellent young results.

I hear lots of great things from Lindores. They are really engaged with community, their potential customers and stockists. The distillery is accessible, great for me! I also saw a recent event for unpaid carers. Drew McKenzie-Smith promises a first release which offers to be accessible to as many consumers as possible. It is, I believe a substantial 12,000 bottle first release, commemoratively labelled and publicly available on 2nd July.

Images courtesy of the distillery
Samples from Tweet Tastings with many thanks.