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Profile: Lindores Abbey the birthplace of Scotch whisky

Discover the birthplace of Scotch whisky with our profile of Lindores Abbey in Newburgh on the north coast of Fife

Published: August 18, 2015

There are many arguments as to where the distillation of whisky first began with both Scotland and Ireland laying claim to being the birth place of the spirit. However, there can be no dispute over where Scotch whisky was first created.

Lindores Abbey

Situated on the Southern banks of the River Tay, lies the ruins of the historic Abbey of Lindores. The Abbey was founded by Roman Catholic monks of the Tironensian Order, nicknamed the Grey Monks because of their grey robes, the monks were famed for their skills as apothecaries and also for their horticultural abilities.

The monks took up residence in the abbey after it was built by David, Earl of Huntingdon in 1191.

The ruins of Lindores Abbey. Picture: Wikimedia

The ruins of Lindores Abbey. Picture: Wikimedia

It was visited by many of Scotland's monarchs and also Edward I of England but it was in 1494 that the Abbey truly gained notoriety, at least within whisky making circles.

Friar John Cor

It was in this year that King James IV sent a commission to a friar living at the Abbey to make for him aquavitae.

Quoted in the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland - which is held in the Scottish National Archives in Edinburgh - the footnote refers to Fratri Johanni Cor and refers to the King and the request for the Friar to make around 'eight bols of malt' or 580kg worth of the water of life.

This painting is thought to be a depiction of Friar John Cor. Picture: TSPL

This painting is thought to be a depiction of Friar John Cor. Picture: TSPL

John Cor was well known to the Royal court and was thought to have served as an apothecary, he received a gift of 14 shillings from the  King for his services to the court in 1488. 

Sadly the Abbey was destroyed by Knox and his supporters in 1559 and began to fall into decline.

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Reviving whisky production

The famed whisky writer, the late Michael Jackson, once wrote that for whisky fans a visit to the abbey was essential, declaring that 'for the whisky lovers, it is a pilgrimage'.

Thankfully, the derelict Abbey is currently undergoing a £5 million makeover in a bid to attract visitors worldwide and distill whisky once more.

Now under the ownership of the Mckenzie Smith family, who purchased the site in 1913, the plan is to once again make Lindores the 'spiritual home of whisky'.

The plans for the new distillery. Picture: Lindores

The plans for the new distillery. Picture: Lindores

Andrew McKenzie Smith, who is leading the project, said: “I only came across the actual whisky link relatively recently and realised I should try to do something about it.

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“The place has an incredible history.

“We’re very excited about getting the project off the ground and having a working distillery once again.”

The New Distillery

The whisky will be distilled using barley from nearby fields and the water will come from the “Holy Burn”, which was dug by the abbey’s monks to make whisky, meaning it is likely to bear at least some ­resemblance to the original whisky made more than 500 years ago.

The distillery itself will be built on farmland near the abbey, along with a visitor’s centre. Iain Cram, project director for Bell Ingram, which has been involved in the project from the beginning, said: “The original steading’s stone walls will play a significant part in the construction as we’ll use part of this structure to make the visitor centre which will hopefully encourage locals and tourists to find out more about the whole distillation process.

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“However, there was never a fully functional distillery on the site like we see nowadays with copper stills which is what we wish to create here. It will attract people from across the world as well as create jobs and give a great boost to the local area.”

“We would hope to open our doors within two to three years,” said McKenzie Smith. “Whisky, of course, is not something that can be made overnight but we would hope to have a very saleable product on the shelves within four to five years.

“We want it to be something that will taste good and also respect the history.

“What Friar John Cor would have made would have been pretty rough stuff flavoured with locally grown herbs, which are still in the area.

“But we would hope that what we would produce would be a little more refined than that.”

Well known whisky consultant, Dr. Jim Swan, has recently joined the project with plans for the new distillery to be up and running by 2016/2017.



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