Strathearn Distillery’s Whisky School: Final Day

by Keith Savage · 2 comments


Marking our Mark at Strathearn Distillery

This series details my week distilling at Strathearn distillery in Perthshire. If you haven’t read the prologueDay 1Day 2Day 3, Day 4, or my review of Strathearn, now’s a good time to do that.

Our last day of distillery school in Perthshire dawned a powder blue over Comrie town. Tony and the Strathearn boys had given us freedom to come in late, assuming, rightly, that the previous night would’ve been a late one.

In the shade of Comrie’s high street we stopped at the Comrie Café for a proper Scottish breakfast and recapped the various whiskies we’d tried the night before. Of the ridiculous number I imbibed, Kilchoman Machir Bay and Bruichladdich Port Charlotte stood out. Then, on our way back to the apartment, we stopped at the butcher and picked up a steak pie for dinner.

We arrived to Strathearn just after 11am and withstood salvos of ribbing for the late landing, but I felt better today than I had the previous morning. As I entered the stillhouse for the last time there was no denying the bittersweet feeling of knowing the week was nearly over. Jeff was in a very Jeff-like pensive mood, and I knew he was feeling the same thing.

The last day of our whisky school would be more denouement than anything. The distillery didn’t wait for us to arrive to get started, so by late morning a couple of gin distillations were underway in Wee Erin and Sampson, the 100L direct-fired still. The Orkney gin flowed off Sampson, and we took over the process logging volume, transferring the finished gin into drums, and taking strength measurements. Here at the end of the week this felt automatic. Gin rectification is a fairly simple process once the process has been designed — it would be fun to be involved with creating the botanical recipe, determining the desired strength, and figuring out whether to utilize maceration or vapor distillation.

While the gin flowed we began refilling the cask we had emptied on day one. Cask 1724 was prepped and ready so we drained off some newmake from the spirit receiver to start. The strength of the spirit was 68.85%, which is too high to put in the barrel. According to Strathearn’s strategy, we performed some basic calculations to arrive at 55L of 62% newmake. Of those 55L, 49.5L were pure heart cut spirit we’d made earlier in the week and 5.5L were purified water. Ever so slowly we filled the barrel by bucket and funnel, and when she was full we slapped in the bung. Jeff stenciled on the Strathearn information and took care of the paperwork while I managed Sampson’s gin distillation.

Given our late arrival, we didn’t pause for lunch, and after filling the cask we took straight to hand-filling the bottles of newmake we were take home. We each took a liter of newmake spirit at around 60% ABV and a 1L wooden cask so we could further our education down the road by aging the spirit. It’s such a good idea and a nice finish line to the week because this wasn’t any old spirit — this was the whisky we had produced during the week!

With our bottles corked and ready, we handed them over to Kenny who took care of getting the appropriate labels and documentation together for their departure from the distillery.

It was only mid-afternoon but the day was already petering out. We pumped feints into the receiver and emptied Bella of the remaining water from yesterday’s water run. She was still steaming when we opened the hatch.

Then the week was over. I didn’t want to leave.

But the Mad Men of Methven weren’t ones to send us off glum and melancholy. David volunteered to take us over to Glenturret distillery, also known as the Famous Grouse Experience, to provide a look at a different Perthshire distillery. The distillery had undergone some changes since my last visit, the most visible being that, at least inside, the focus had changed from the Famous Grouse brand to Glenturret’s single malt. It’s a good idea if a little late, as it reflects consumers’ changing tastes. David was like a private tour guide, and his insight on the various processes was enlightening. Most of all, though, it was nice having David with us because he’d become a friend in our short week at Strathearn.

We said our goodbyes, promised to return and check on our cask, and returned to Comrie by way of Crieff. That evening we stoked the coal fire, tucked into a delicious steak pie, and downed a couple of bottles of Ooskabeer from Glenturret.

The week I spent at Strathearn Distillery was one of the most educational and enjoyable weeks I can remember. With any activity like this the people running the show have a huge impact on the overall feel of the experience, and everyone at Strathearn — Tony, Stuart, David, Liam, Kenny, and Clive — was an absolute joy to work with and be around. The sense of camaraderie and shared purpose made it easy to slip in as outsiders for a week and feel like part of the team. What’s more — I learned how to make whisky and gin. I learned about brewing, cleaning, bottling, and casking. I learned about choosing barrels, barley varieties, marketing products, and the realities of the spirits industry within and without Scotland. It’s all knowledge not easily gained, nor gained in such a memorable fashion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series, and I invite you to consider a week at Strathearn’s whisky school if these posts have piqued your interest. Strathearn might be Scotland’s smallest distillery, but it has had a huge impact on me and my future.

Disclosure: Strathearn provided me with a complimentary week of whisky school. All thoughts and opinions expressed here, as always, are my own. Special thanks to Jeff and David for the photo assist.

Patsy TartNo Gravatar October 12, 2017 at 4:04 AM

Keith,

I think I see your future. Moving to Scotland and opening your own distillery, while writing books at the same time. Is there time for the two, I laugh and wonder? Looking forward to your novel.

Scotland still has my heart but it may be 2019 before I return. I’m looking at Scottish Dream Tours for traveling. We don’t like driving in Scotland at our age. I hear train travel is very good. What do you know about that? I have other travel plans for 2018 so Scotland looks to have to take a backseat at this point, but, you never know.

I love following you even if I can’t be there. My heart is truly in Scotland, but my husbands is not. I do have friends who love it and we travel!

Patsy Tart

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 12, 2017 at 8:17 AM

It’s good to hear from you Patsy. Thanks for continuing to read, and I’m happy to learn a return trip to Scotland is in the cards for you. Regarding your vision of the future, wouldn’t that be a wild ride!

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