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Lindores Abbey Distillery: the oldest distillery in Scotland?

by | Destinations, Scotland | 30 comments

Well there’s a question! Is Lindores Abbey Distillery the oldest whisky distillery in Scotland?

In its current incarnation, Lindores Abbey is actually one of the newest whisky distilleries in Scotland. In fact, when we first visited in 2019, it had not then bottled its first whisky. However, there is evidence, both documentary and archaeological, which suggests that Lindores Abbey is built on the site of the oldest known distillery in Scotland.

External view of Lindores Abbey

According to documents, King James IV commissioned the monks of Lindores Abbey to make Aqua Vitae from malted barley in 1494. No other Scottish Whisky Distillery can challenge this date. In addition, archaeological excavation has unearthed what is believed to be a medieval kiln still, similar to those used in early distillation. Other artefacts have also been discovered.

Lindores Abbey Distillery: reborn

The Twenty First Century version of Lindores Abbey distillery has been created, in part, from farm buildings in the grounds of the abbey farm overlooking the ruins of the abbey. The ruined abbey was on the land when the farm was acquired by the family of the current owners in 1913.  It became an ambition of the present custodians to distil whisky on this site again and distillation started anew in 2017. Mindful of the historical significance of Lindores Abbey, the owners have gone to great pains to acknowledge and preserve this history in the design of the new distillery. The modern distillery has been tastefully and imaginatively constructed, incorporating some of the old farm buildings on this ancient site. The history of the abbey permeates the distillery in the artefacts and decoration. The result is a stunningly beautiful piece of architecture which is worth touring in its own right, regardless of one’s interest in whisky.

 

Inside Lindores Abbey Distillery

The Cloister within Lindores Abbey

Wooden book on display in Cloister

These beautiful wooden texts are on display in the Cloister

 

Religious artwork within the Cloister

Artwork on display reflects the abbey’s history

Lindores Abbey artwork

Lindores Abbey Distillery: the tour

We have toured many distilleries (you may wish to check out On the Whisky Trail and On the Whisky trail – again!) and Lindores Abbey is one of the best. In addition to demonstrating the entire whisky making process, the tour also emphasizes the history of the abbey. In establishing the distillery, the owners have been at pains to use traditional methods and equipment to reflect those used through the ages in Scotland. The washbacks are not modern stainless steel containers, but have been crafted from beautiful Oregon pine. The copper stills have been fashioned in the time honoured way and are just as beautiful. The barley is all sourced locally, is malted in a small establishment in Yorkshire and is milled on site. The water comes from the Holy Burn just a short distance from the distillery and is extracted via a bore hole.

Oregon pine washbacks

Beautiful Oregon pine washbacks

Coppers stills in Lindores Abbey

Traditional copper stills

Copper stills and the spirt safe

And the spirit safe by the copper stills

The distillery building itself, part of which was the original farm buildings, is both traditional and modern – lots of stone and glass with imaginative styling that pays homage to the history of the abbey.

External view of Lindores Abbey Distillery

 

Our tour of Lindores Abbey terminated with a sampling of their Aqua Vitae in the tasting room.

Sampling Aqua Vitae

Looking out over the Abbey from the tasting room

Why not whisky, you might ask.  The answer is simple: there was no whisky to taste! Scotch whisky cannot be bottled until it has matured in the barrel for at least three years. As such, the first bottles of Lindores Abbey whisky are expected to be released early in 2021. Many distilleries opt to produce gin whilst they are waiting for whisky to mature. Lindores Abbey has not gone down this route, but instead produces Aqua Vitae for clients to taste. Aqua Vitae is a spirit blended with herbs and spices. It is an interesting taste and can form the basis of cocktails

And one of my favourite parts of any distillery, the barrel warehouse, is filling up fast. We decided to contribute to it…

The barrel warehouse in Lindores Abbey Distillery

 

Our Cask!

Such is the care and attention to detail taken in this fledgling distillery, that we took a leap of faith and invested in a cask!

It was a leap of faith in that there was no whisky to taste when we made the decision. However, we felt sufficiently reassured by what we had seen to think that Lindores Abbey distillery is doing everything right and that the final product will reflect this.

Buying a barrel was an experience to remember. We were led through the process by, Elliot, the cask custodian. This started with selecting the cask and there was a wide choice. The cask is important as most of the taste and all of the colour of the resulting whisky comes from the cask.

Choosing a barrel

Smelling the barrel

Having selected the cask, Peter got to brand and stencil it in order to personalise it.

Peter stencilling the barrel

Stencilling the barrel

Then we filled the cask with “new make spirit”, squeezing in as much as we possibly could, of course!.

Filling the barrel with new spirit

Tasting the spirit

Finally, Peter hammered in the bung and rolled it over to where it will be stored in the warehouse.

Peter hammering in the bung

In the barrel warehous

It will live there for at least ten years, maturing silently, until such time as we choose to bottle it. Alternatively, we may choose to transfer at least some into a different cask for “finishing” and further maturation. That will be Christmas presents solved towards the end of this decade then!

Peter shaking hands with Elliot

Where is Lindores Abbey Distillery?

Lindores Abbey is in beautiful countryside in the Kingdom of Fife, a short distance from the banks of the River Tay and not far from the town of Cupar.

Map showing Lindores Abbey

Copyright Google maps, Map data 2021. Click map to open Google Maps.

Front view of Lindores Abbey

We shall definitely be returning to Lindores Abbey to check on our barrel, and of course, to sample the newly bottled whisky! Further information including opening times, prices, hospitality etc can be found on the Lindores Abbey Distillery website.

 

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30 Comments

  1. This is a really interesting article on several levels!
    I like learning new (to me) terms like ‘aqua vitae,’
    And the personal barrel! That must be exciting, although a ten year wait would not be exciting…
    As I remember, you have another barrel somewhere…

    Reply
    • Well, just a small bit of a barrel! Cannot wait to write that blog post, Will: “The story of the Stave” – or some such title. Really looking forward to collecting it, but travel restrictions have tightened yet again. Hopefully with vaccinations being rolled out we will be able to collect soon. Sure you have it on display in all its artistic glory for everyone to admire! Take care.

      Reply
  2. This is so cool! I’ve not even heard of this place, but I love that you got your own barrel!

    Reply
  3. Omg, how fun that you get to purchase a barrel! The anticipation of returning many years later to open it is so exciting. I would go there just to do this since they dont have any whiskey ready to taste 🙂

    Reply
  4. I love spots with history, but all the more so when they take on a new life. I really appreciate the owners’ thoughtful approach! I’m thrilled that you bought a barrel of your own, how exciting to have that to look forward to 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Lynn. I love to think of that cask sitting there in the dark, silently maturing over the years until such time as we can let the genie out!

      Reply
    • The imaginative and sensitive way they have incorporated the history is one of the best aspects of Lindores Abbey, Lynn.

      Reply
  5. Fun! I have never heard of Lindores Abbey, but love the documented historical connection! And a cask. HOW EXCITING! (this is why we are friends) 🙂

    I’ll have to visit next time I visit Scotland. 🙂

    Reply
    • You will, Lannie! In truth, Lindores Abbey is not one of the best known distilleries in Scotland as it is still quite new. However, it is now starting to be noticed because of the historical significance and because the first whisky has now been bottled.

      Reply
    • Absolutely Lannie! We’ll have to share a dram.

      Reply
  6. Life water from the Holy Burn is pretty cool. I do love the abbey theme- they seem to have done a great job incorporating the locations history.

    Reply
  7. You have to visit a distillery when in Scotland right? But this one is exceptionally good. I love the modern glass against the historic stone walls. I can picture me now sitting, sipping and taking in the those views.

    Reply
  8. This looks amazing!! I love Scotch, and I love Scotland, so I’m adding this to my list of places to check out next time I go. And I love how much they recognize the historical aspect of where the distillery is. So neat!

    Reply
  9. My dad is a big fan of whiskey and so would probably enjoy a tour of this distillery very much. The history of the site is very interesting. To experience and be part of the process must have been exciting and hopefully in a few years you’ll be able to enjoy your very own cask! As you said, a leap of faith but given the care that goes into the operation, reassuring.

    Reply
  10. Enjoyed this Jane. How fantastic having your own cask. 10 years is a long time to wait but I’m sure it will be worth it!🥃😀

    Reply
    • Thanks Lizzie. I do like to think of it there, quietly maturing.

      Reply
  11. Your Christmas gifts are all sorted for a few years Jane! I never knew you could invest in a cask, it’s a nice and novel idea. I never heard of Lindores Abbey before, so it was good to read about it!

    Reply
  12. This is so unique – what a great point of difference and a beautiful setting – and what a way to use that holy water.

    Reply
  13. I love how the new owners have tried so painstakingly hard to preserve as much of the original history as possible both in the reconstruction of the site and in the whisky production

    Reply
  14. A whole cask Jane? That’s going to be some night in ten years when you get your hands on that. Sore heads the next day too. Very enjoyable introduction to the oldest newest distillery in Scotland.

    Reply
  15. I just love all the history that seems an integral ingredient in Scottish whisky!

    Reply
  16. What an incredible place Lindores Abbey Distillery is! I love how they’ve preserved the history and blended the historic architecture in with the modern glass. It’s awesome that you bought your own cask. Certainly will be a nice way to ring in the 2030s!

    Reply
    • That is exactly what we were thinking, Becky!

      Reply
  17. Such a beautiful distillery! And the history is so interesting. I love the whole process of selecting and filling your own cask – I have a barrel at Makers Mark in Kentucky but there was no personal involvement and now I’m a bit jealous! haha

    Reply
    • It was a great experience. One of the things I did not mention is that they also have dinners and events for cask owners – in normal times. We had been invited to one in April and were really looking forward to going. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed and there has not been the opportunity to reschedule.

      Reply
  18. How amazing that you have your own cask of whiskey. I am completely in awe of you Jane. Seeing as you are both distillery tour experts, I will take your word that this is one of the best and try to visit when we are in the area.
    I found the history fascinating and happy that the owners have incorporated it into the new building.
    I may be knocking on your door in ten years time 🙂

    Reply
  19. We have driven past here but didn’t know it was there. This would have been a fun stop!

    Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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