Historic first distillation in over 500 years to take place at the 'spiritual home' of Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky history will be made today (13th December) at Lindores Abbey Distillery in Fife, when the first cut of distilled spirit in over 500 years will be captured, as the stills are fired up and whisky production returns to the site described as the 'spiritual home of whisky'. 

Published 13th Dec 2017
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

The distillery opened in October this year on the site of the first recorded whisky distillation in Scotland - where back in 1494, the exchequer rolls note that Friar John Cor of Lindores Abbey in Fife paid duty on eight bolls of malt to make aqua vitae (400 70cl bottles) for King James IV.

Now widely recognised as a place of global whisky pilgrimage, its custodians, Drew and Helen McKenzie Smith devoted 20 years to establishing a distillery and visitor centre on the site in order to preserve it for centuries to come.

Distillery Manager Gary Haggart will have the honour of taking the first cut of spirit from the three unique stills and saving it to be to be stored in Woodford Reserve and Old Forester bourbon barrels from Kentucky.

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Distillery manager Gary Haggart. Picture: Lindores Abbey Distillery

Lindores Abbey Distillery will produce 150,000 litres of spirit a year and will now also welcome visitors for distillery tours.

Haggart has more than 20 years’ experience in the Scotch Whisky industry, most recently as Distillery Manager for Cragganmore Distillery in Speyside.

Before joining Cardhu Group (owners of Cragganmore), Haggart worked for Dewar’s in several roles, from electrician to production team leader. During his time with Cardhu Group owners Diageo, Group Manager Andy Cant first introduced Haggart to Cragganmore.

Influential Scotch whisky writer, the late Michael Jackson, who wrote of Lindores Abbey that “for the whisky lovers, it is a pilgrimage”, described Cragganmore whisky as having “the most complex aroma of any malt”. Andy Cant is Lindores Abbey Distillery whisky consultant, working alongside Haggart.

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Picture: Lindores Abbey Distillery

In a unique move, Lindores Abbey Distillery will not produce gin from its new make spirit in the interim three year wait for Scotch whisky status, instead in keeping with its unique heritage, Lindores Abbey will produce aqua vitae, initially for sale exclusively from the visitor centre in Newburgh.

Taking inspiration from the provenance of the original brewing and agriculture of the Abbey grounds, Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae will include herbs and spices which would have grown on the site in 1494 and been used in the spirit production.

Bee hives are also being reintroduced to revive the honey production of the monks, and orchards are being planted next spring where Scotland’s largest pear tree once stood. To take advantage of this innovation, an apothecary has been created within the visitor centre, overseen by Heriot Watt Brewing and Distilling graduate, Tim Foster. Foster is working with Haggart and the team behind the Timberyard restaurant in Edinburgh to produce recipes and distilling techniques for Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae.

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Gary Haggart, distillery manager at Lindores Abbey Distillery, said: “Distilling the first spirit at Lindores Abbey in more than 500 years is such an honour, and with this innovative and world-class distillery behind me, it’s now the task of the team here to produce a Scotch Whisky worthy of its spiritual home. We’re looking forward to that challenge, using all of the expertise and passion Drew and Helen McKenzie Smith have garnered from across the industry, and it will be our pleasure to welcome whisky pilgrims through our doors to share in the spirit of this unique place.”

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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