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New Fife distillery takes a fresh approach to whisky making

InchDairnie is a whisky distillery with a firm focus on the future, discovers Sean Murphy

Published: May 18, 2016
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InchDairnie distillery first appeared on our radar two years ago - July 2014, to be exact - when it was first announced construction would begin on a new site on the outskirts of Kinglassie in Fife, since then its become something of an enigma.

The striking new distillery building. Picture: contributed

The striking new distillery building. Picture: contributed

There was little fanfare surrounding its construction and indeed very little conversation about the distillery itself or even its new make spirit.

However, it was revealed yesterday (17th May) at the beginning of a four day event to mark the unveiling of the new distillery, that this was exactly the plan.

Industry veteran Ian Palmer, who founded the distillery, has instead had his team keeping out of the limelight and quietly perfecting their new spirit production, and the results are startling to the say the least.

The distinctive site took around 18 months to build and aims to produce some two million litres of whisky in its first year. However it is future proofed to the tune of four million litres, should there be the need for expansion to meet, what is sure to be, high demand.

1 InchDairnie Distillery - MD Ian Palmer and stills - credit Rob McDougall

The distillery has two warehouses both capable of holding 44,000 casks. Picture: contributed

The distillery also has two warehouses capable of holding up to 88,000 casks, but again the team say that future plans could see them add another seven, bringing the total to nine overall, should the extra onsite storage be required.

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The word 'future' is not something you hear often in an industry where the tendency is towards tradition, stories and the romance of the past, but with InchDairnie it has become something of a watch word.

The distillery employs innovation at every level with nothing - right down to the minutiae of where to place the gas boiler and electricity box - being left to chance; everything has been planned for, improved and optimised.

The innovative Mash filter, only Teaninich also use this system. Picture: contributed

The innovative Mash filter, only Teaninich also use this system. Picture: contributed

The team, which is led by distillery manager Scott Sneddon, are boldly focusing on a modern style, using a range of innovative production techniques, aimed at energy efficiency and enhancing the flavour of the final whisky.

This focus has been split into five key parts:

• Malted barley - which will be sourced from Fife and will include experimentation with different seasonal varieties.

• Mash conversion techniques – using a distinctive mash filter and hammer mill instead of mash tuns and traditional mills, which they say allows them to get a better yield than conventional methods.

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• Yeast cultivation – the team are looking at how different strains affect the final product, hopefully leading to a unique strain that will only be used by InchDairnie.

• High gravity fermentation – experimentation with higher than normal gravities will allow for a more flavoursome spirit, say the team.

• Bespoke Italian-made stills - Each with double condensers and an additional Lomond still, which can be used for triple distillation or switched in in place of the spirit still to create different styles of spirit.

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The copper stills including (closest) the distinctive new Lomond Still. Picture: contributed

The first InchDairnie single malt scotch whisky is expected to be available to consumers around 2029, with the distillery also making a malt for blending to sell to other distillers such as its strategic partner MacDuff International.

Industry veteran Ian Palmer, who founded John Fergus & Co in 2011, describes InchDairnie as the realisation of a life long ambition, he said: “InchDairnie is the culmination of a dream and everything I’ve learnt about whisky-making over the last four decades. I’m hugely respectful of traditions, but at InchDairnie our vision is to use technical expertise to capture and nurture all of the flavours from the whisky-making process.

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“That’s why, alongside traditional ingredients such as water, malted barley and yeast, technology and innovation will be important ingredients in our whisky. The contemporary look of the distillery is designed to reflect our approach.”

When asked when the first malt will be made available for customers, Palmer said:  “We are fortunate not to be under any commercial pressure to release our whisky so we will wait until the whisky is at its absolute best, which could be in ten, 12 or 15 years’ time, only time will tell.

A sentiment echoed by distillery manager Scott Sneddon, who added: "It'll be ready, when we think it's ready."

The new distillery will be focusing on innovation and the perfection of its whisky range for the forseeable future, so there are no plans for a visitor centre, though it is thought that tours will be available eventually.

For now we'll just have to settle for a glimpse of the future of not only this exciting new distillery, but perhaps the future of the industry itself.

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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