What it’s like being a distiller for the day

After the news that Annandale Distillery has listed on Airbnb for staycations and a distiller experience, Rosalind Erskine went along to find out the intricacies of making whisky.

Published 30th May 2021
Updated 9 th Aug 2023

“I walk about 23,000 steps a day, I’m always running up and down those stairs,” says Mark Trainor.

Mark is head of production and the mashman at the Annandale Distillery and I will spend the next eight hours shadowing him and senior distillery supervisor and stillman Darren Irving, to experience what it is like being a distiller for the day.

I’m delighted, not just because I have a year long unbroken run of 10,000 steps a day to carry on, but because I’m always keen to find out more about our national drink.

The Annandale Distillery was closed by owners Johnnie Walker in 1919 and was used as farm buildings until falling into disrepair.

Farmers Margaret and Robert Robinson sold the site to David Thomson and Teresa Church and the distillery was ‘reborn’ in 2014.

Mark and Darren were some of the first members of the production team and both helped out with the rebuilding and renovation work as the distillery took shape around them.

“It gave us a sense of pride and ownership,” says former care home manager Darren, who turns his hand to cask artwork when he’s not creating the new make spirit.

This sense of pride in their work is still evident from both men as they happily talked me through each stage of the whisky making process. 

This experience is available to visitors this summer, as the distillery has listed on Airbnb to offer a two night stay in an on-site cottage and a day at the distillery.

The day starts with the earliest alarm I can remember for some time thanks to working from home with no office commute.

The Whisky Exchange has revealed the Whisky of the Year 2024

After meeting a cheery Mark outside at 6.45am, it’s time to get stuck in. The sheer amount of information and interaction can be as full on or relaxed as required from each guest, but, having visited many distilleries for tours, I wanted to learn about it all.

Mark starts with his mashing process, which includes a trip to the mill room to switch on the coveted 60s Porteus mill.

The distillery has some automation, but over half is done with man power, hence Mark’s record daily step count.

I find myself following him to switch valves on and off and monitor temperatures throughout the mashing process.

Mark knows every sound and intricate detail of his craft, as he explains that it’s down to him if there’s a significant drop in yield. An ex car mechanic, he often repairs machinery throughout the distillery and spent lockdown painting and cleaning the place.

Isle of Tiree Distillery to release first single malt whisky

It’s one of the cleanest distilleries I’ve ever visited, and a source of great pride for Mark.

After mashing, we have wort which has been transferred into the washback, where I add the two types of yeast used.

While that’s left to eat up the sugars, Darren explains the work of the wash still and two spirit stills, and how, where and why he cuts the liquid to get the Annandale new make spirit, which is also sold alongside the distillery’s whiskies.

There’s a lot of maths here, but luckily there’s a calculator and a log book with times and tables, making it easy(ish) to understand. 

The spirit is directed into a large spirit tank below and, after returning to Mark to help empty the mash tun, Darren and I start the process of working out how much water to add to the spirit before it can then be put into casks.

Black Friday deals: 12 whiskies under £100 to buy this November - including Lagavulin and Aberlour

Cue more maths, a hydrometer, thermometer and measuring stick. We do this three times, for accuracy, and before I know it, I’m being presented with a small bottle of new make spirit that I helped create in a morning.

Before heading back to my cottage, Mark shows me around the dunnage warehouse, and we wander up to the newly built warehouses on site, which is slowly starting to be filled with casks.

I’m staying in the two bed Stables cottage, which is handily just a two minute walk to the distillery.

It has views of the pagoda from its garden, which has a large hot tub, BBQ and outdoor seating. Inside there’s an en suite double room, twin room, large family bathroom with corner bath and open plan living room, dining and kitchen.

It’s immaculately decorated with hardwood flooring throughout and all on one level - making it ideal for those with disabilities.

If, like me, you’re completely unprepared for self-catering, there’s a welcome hamper of bread, juice, biscuits, prosecco and chocolates as well as tea, coffee and milk available. 

The experience includes dinner at The Globe Inn, which is also owned by Teresa and David who have overseen a complete renovation of this historic former coaching inn.

The pub, which was often frequented by Robert Burns, consists of the 1610 restaurant, private dining rooms and bar areas.

The chefs have combined one- and two-star Michelin experience and are working on a menu of seasonal Scottish produce cooked simply and well.

After an excellent tour of the Inn from former Robert Burns World Federation president and landlady of The Globe, Jane Brown, we sit down to a whisky tasting and a chance to experience the fruits of the distillery’s labour.

Annadale produces two single malts - one peated, Man O’ Swords - and one unpeated, Man O’ Words - a nod to both Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce.

The distiller for a day experience is ideal for those looking to really get behind the scenes of the whisky making process, and it’s not one that is widely available.

It offers a glimpse into the daily lives of hard working and passionate production staff, without whom we wouldn’t have the water of life. Slainte.

The Annandale distiller for a day experience and stay is £480 for two people and can be booked on Airbnb now.

Guests should note that booking rules are in strict adherence with local Covid-19 guidelines and those who request to book must be 18+ and currently live in the UK. 

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
Copyright ©2023 National World Publishing Ltd
Cookie SettingsTerms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy
crosschevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram