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.
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.
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.
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.
Our tour of Lindores Abbey terminated with a sampling of their Aqua Vitae in 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…
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.
Having selected the cask, Peter got to brand and stencil it in order to personalise it.
Then we filled the cask with “new make spirit”, squeezing in as much as we possibly could, of course!.
Finally, Peter hammered in the bung and rolled it over to where it will be stored in the warehouse.
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!
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.
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.