Luxurious Magazine tasted history when Jeremy Webb visited Lindores Abbey, one of Scotland’s newest distilleries, yet probably its oldest.
I visited Scotland this week and toured around Lindores Abbey Distillery. It is just a year old and making Whisky which will be ready in three years and one day. Until then, it is the New Spirit and called AquaVitae. Lindores Abbey sits on the land where French Monks first distilled Whisky in the 15th century.
It happens to be the place where Whisky production is first mentioned, as a scroll records the King of Scotland requested the Monks make him Whisky. Lindores is now owned by the McKenzie Smith family, and they have spent twenty years planning and building the distillery.
The products are already fantastic and becoming recognised within the Whisky world. I can’t wait to sample the actual Whisky in two years’ time.
Along with three fellow Whisky lovers and Writers, We had a personal tour of the grounds, distillery and on-site facilities, which include a shop and a lovely cafe—also a beautiful cocktail bar on the first floor.
The water of life flows through Lindores Abbey and touches every element of whisky production there. It is the bond that every person working in the family-orientated business has that fuels their passion to produce such quality products. I would say it is the lifeblood of the company.
Whisky owes its origins to the monks who lived at Lindores Abbey five hundred years ago, and this was only discovered fairly recently in terms of the history of the drink. Twenty years ago a visit to Lindores by a Whisky expert lead to a discovery which changed the lives of the owners.
The expert sent the family a book about the history of Whisky, and within it, there was a piece about Lindores Abbey. It showed on the Exchequer Roll of 1494 that Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, was commissioned by King James IV to turn 8 bolls of malt into Aqua Vitae.
Aqua Vitae being Whisky. This is the earliest recording of Whisky production, making Lindores Abbey the spiritual home of Whisky.
Drew Mckenzie was fascinated by this discovery and started to research more about the Abbey and the land surrounding it, which he had played in so many times as a child. He took the decision to build a distillery on the site and went through the gruelling process of seeking permissions and finance.
The task of obtaining both was very slow and arduous and didn’t amount to anything. Drew had to keep working while trying to get the distillery off the ground, so this hampered things, too.
Five years ago, a quick phone call from a close friend kickstarted the project again, and finance was sourced. The building was granted permission, and the rest is now part of the amazing history of the area.
Lindores Abbey, or the ‘Church by the Water’, was founded in 1191 by David Earl of Huntingdon on land overlooking the Estuary of the River Tay, given to him by his brother King William I.
It was built with local red sandstone and covered a very large area, the extent of which is still discernible today, although many of the buildings to the South have been destroyed. The position for the Abbey would have been chosen because of its plentiful supply of timber and stone and for the swift-running waters of the Pow of Lindores running over the land down to the Tay.
The monks who arrived at Lindores in 1191 from Kelso on the borders of Scotland to build and populate the monastery were Benedictines from the Order of Tiron, France, or Tironensians.
Earl David knew and respected these hard-working men, who favoured a practical life within a cloistered environment. The Tironensians were masons, distillers, brewers, carpenters, blacksmiths, sculptors, painters, gardeners, beekeepers, farmers and husbandmen, and they all played a part in the work of the Abbey. There were probably around thirty monks at any one time, based at Lindores, during the Abbey’s existence.
The whole of the Lindores estate in Newburgh, Scotland, is historic. It saw battles against the English, with William Wallace leading his warriors against the men of Edward 1st. Wallace also visited the Abbey for rest and food, and he was actually captured there by the English. Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, visited the Abbey too, probably partaking in a few drams of Aqua Vitae.
As I mentioned, Lindores is a family-run business formed by the Mckenzie Smiths, who found themselves the guardians of the grounds of the Abbey. This may be a small-sized distillery, but it is highly professional in every aspect.
They employ the best people in their fields who share the same ethos and goals. To produce the best quality product and the best experience surrounding the operation.
Lindores has superb food in the restaurant on site, it has an excellent bar serving all types of drinks, cocktails and of course Aqua Vitae. I sampled many gorgeous Aqua Vitae-based cocktails after our great tour of the facilities. There are plans for cottages to be built near the distillery so visitors can take full advantage of the samples provided on the tour and also if you take the Apocathery experience.
Tim Foster is the Apocathery, and he really knows his stuff. He takes you through the process of blending Aqua Vitae into your own recipe. Tim also tells you how the distillery came up with the blend that matches closely what the monks would have produced in 1494.
The monks built their distillery looking at what the location offered them in the way of supplies, as any modern business would plan their location.
The river Tay is very close to the Abbey, which allows transportation. Loch Lindores is two miles away in the hills, and the river runs down from it, right by the Abbey. The monks then built runoffs so the water flowed into their distillery.
Spices were obtained from Flanders, Herbs from the Abbey garden and Barley from the surrounding fields. This is very much what Tim and the Distillery Manager Gary Haggart still do.
The two of them have to work together to blend the ingredients, which go through the distillation process to produce a New Spirit, known as Aqua Vitae. The spirit cannot be called Whisky until it has aged in casks for three years and one day.
The goal of all involved is to produce aged single malt Whisky to rival any in the world.
The water for the whisky now comes from a borehole near the distillery, which means the company can draw from the same supply used in 1494. The barley is grown in Fife, malted and then mashed in a conventional, semi-lauter tun supplied by renowned distillery fabricators Forsyths of Rothes.
Fermentation is happening in traditional wooden washbacks supplied by Joseph Brown of Dufftown.
There are three Forsyths copper pot stills, one large wash still and two smaller spirit stills, which allow greater copper contact in the final distillation, creating a clean and delicate flavour in the spirit.
The two spirit stills are named after Drew and Helen’s daughters, Poppy and Gee. Apparently, the stills have their own characters funnily reversed from what the girls are. I won’t describe what Gary told us about them.
Spending time at Lindores Abbey is like being around family. You are welcomed with great hospitality and professionalism on a personal level.
The excellent attention to detail and hosting, you can tell, is innate in the family and staff. It wasn’t increased as we were reviewing the facilities; you can tell it is an everyday occurrence.
The four of us were allowed to plant apple trees in the land surrounding the distillery which is going to become an orchard as it was back in the 15th century. Drew wants to produce Cider on-site using apples from the trees. Again, this is what the monks were doing when they lived at Lindores.
In the evening, we were treated to the finest dining experience. After making several cocktails ourselves in the Regency bar, using Aqua Vitae as a base, we were piped to dinner.
A Piper in full dress uniform played, and we all followed him through the distillery to a beautifully dressed large table.
Andrew, the Head Chef, made some of the best food I have ever tasted, and I experienced eating pigeons for the first time. Three courses of delight were served by the excellent waitresses.
Following the fine dining, we were piped across to the owner’s home and met Jacobite Jack. A Clansman dressed in traditional clothes who entertained us with stories of Lindores Abbey and its royal connections. He even got us singing. What a fantastic experience and a way to end a great day in Scotland.
I would totally recommend Lindores Abbey for a visit and the area for a base to explore Fife. Staying nearby will allow you to sample the superb Aqua Vitae naturally or in cocktails. You will be very impressed with the food served onsite, too.
Lindores Abbey gives you the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Robert the Bruce and drink Whisky fit for a King.
Lindores Abbey – Where and how?
Tel: 01337 842547
Visit the Lindores Abbey Distillery website here.