There are many remedies to a hangover.
We all have their own, but there are many classic components. Pints of water are a mainstay, as are fry-ups of biblical proportions. The ‘hair of the dog’ proponents fight fire with fire while the sadists may deem it necessary to go for a run.
For our part, we hide under a tree with a good book and try to find god.
Ironically, it is religion that we can blame for our plight in the first place. Indeed, the first whisky-like spirits on this island of ours were distilled by monks and missionaries.
Many of them deployed their headache-inducing alchemy in the abbey which lies ruinous in Drew McKenzie Smith’s garden.
In what may be Scotch whisky’s spiritual home, Drew has built one of Scotland’s newest distilleries, Lindores Abbey.
But how does one start afresh while respecting an 800-year-old legacy of whisky making? We asked Drew that very question.
Arguably, you couldn't find a more appropriate place to distil whisky than Lindores. What led to you building a distillery here?
Serendipity, I suppose.
My great-grandfather bought Lindores Abbey Farm in 1913, the farmhouse garden of which includes the 800-year-old ruins of a Tironensian Abbey. We all enjoyed messing around among the ruins and possibly didn’t treat them with quite as much respect as they deserved.
Back in 2001, a gentleman turned up at the house and asked my father if he could stroll around the ruins. Months later, a book arrived in the post: ‘Scotland and Its Whiskies.’
It was signed by the author with an inscription for my father: ‘Dear Ken, many thanks. Turn to page 127’. There was a photograph of the Abbey and the author writes of his walk around the ruins, culminating with a St Dionysian prayer of thanks to Friar John Cor of Lindores Abbey.
Who was this Friar John chap? And why was he deserving of such gratitude?
My research led to the Exchequer rolls of 1494, the accounts of the Scottish Royal household for that year. Deep within the a vellum scroll third-yards in length sits one line that changed my life: ‘To Friar John Cor, eight bolls of malt wherewith to make aqua vitae for the King.’
It was an order. An order for the mediaeval precursor to whisky that Friar John was distilling on these very grounds.
Right there, I knew we had to once more make whisky here at Lindores.
Many families in the trade have been whisky making for generations. Some for hundreds of years. Yours hasn't. How have you found coming into the trade and integrating Lindores into that community?
The whisky community is an extremely friendly one. Competitive, but friendly. There’s a Scots saying that: ‘shy bairns get nae sweets.’ If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
So, I knocked on a number of doors ‘armed’ with the backstory of Lindores and the whisky heritage here, and was warmly welcomed in. In turn, we have since hosted umpteen would-be distillers here at Lindores to share our own wisdom and contacts.
The Lowlands are probably Scotland’s most obscure whisky producing region, and encapsulate a number of wildly different distilleries. Is there really any such thing as a ‘Lowland Single Malt’?
Probably not. The Lowlands once teemed with distilleries making money hand over first. But, being so close to the likes of Edinburgh and London made them easy pickings for the tax man.
They were hammered with duties, driven north into the Highlands and Islands, which offered a refuge for distillers. With that exodus died the Lowland ‘style’ of floral and grassy whiskies.
Nowadays, the region is full of new, independent distilleries that all have our own house styles.
Whisky drinkers love a debate. A question that seems to increasingly arise is whether ‘terroir’ – that notion that the land makes the drink – has any place in whisky. What’s your take?
I have just returned from Ireland. It was our wedding anniversary but became something of a busman’s holiday and included a few distilleries.
One was Waterford, where former Bruichladdich Distillery owner Mark Reynier is leading the charge on terroir.
Before Bruichladdich, Mark was in the wine trade, in which terroir is ubiquitously understood and championed. Old vines are metaphorically and literally rooted in the soil so clearly the land makes the wine.
And as for whisky? Some argue that as barley is seasonal and may not be grown in the exact same ground each year due to crop rotation, that terroir in whisky is dead from the get-go.
I disagree. At Lindores, all our grain comes from two neighbouring farms, both of which were once part of the Abbey.
Our whisky today is distilled from crops growing in the same fields that Friar John’s men harvested when fulfilling the King’s order back in 1494. That has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?
And as for maturation, you’ve already played around with a number of wood types?
Indeed. In the very early days of this project, I met the late Dr Jim Swan [an expert of all things whisky and a consultant to a plethora of new distilleries].
Cask selection and maturation was his forte. He introduced us to the art of ‘Shaving, toasting and re-charring’ (STR), a method he devised with contacts of his in Spain.
It involves rejuvenating an old red-wine barrique [barrel] in which one can mature Scotch whisky.
Shaving down the saturated wood prevents the wine overpowering the whisky while toasting and re-charring with fire kills off undesirable chemical compounds and caramelises sugars in the wood for maximum flavour. Nothing short of genius.
It also means that young spirit matures quickly, meaning that young distilleries like ourselves don’t have to wait decades to have good whisky. And as biassed as I am, it works!
That said, many people still presume that malt must show ten years of age or more before you can approach it. Do we have to challenge how we think about maturing malts?
Yes, we do. Thankfully, though, whisky is gradually shaking off the snobbery that has plagued it for years.
Drinkers are easing up to younger spirit but it’s about trust, right? One shouldn’t bottle very young whiskies just to bring in money. You might get away with that once but then you’d be sussed out.
We did it properly and it worked. The fear we then had was analogous to the ‘awkward second album syndrome’ that paralyses musicians. How do we follow-up from a stellar first release?
Mercifully, we’re past all of that and our subsequent bottlings have built us a following of those who back us to get it right each time.
FD Young Photography
Best way to enjoy a dram?
For me, it's in the company of dear friends. Or with a good book and a cigar. But it really doesn’t matter. Things have changed and Scotch is no longer the preserve of the crusty old colonel traipsing through a glen in his tweed breeks.
Indeed, it is increasingly the drink of young city-folk crafting whisky-based cocktails and what not. The snobbery has all but died, and not before time.
For more information, see lindoresabbeydistillery.com