Fire and Ice in the Shadow of Ben Wyvis

Glenwyvis Distillery hides away, tucked into a high hillside above the town of Dingwall. In winter the windchill here can reach -20 degrees causing the the water pipes from the borehole to freeze up but recently the story of Glenwyvis has been dominated by fire rather than ice.

On the 18th October 2019 a fire broke out within the wood chip storage area causing fire crews from Inverness, Dingwall and Beauly to race up the steep and winding hill road that I find myself travelling on now.

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It has been over a month since the fire and the distillery is not yet back in production. Perhaps you might think it’s not the best time for a tour with the stills sitting silently on standby but the chance to have a look around, unimpeded by production was too good to miss.

Plus I knew there was something special waiting me at the end of the tour…

Construction started at Glenwyvis in January 2017 after 3000 investors took advantage of a community share offer to back the project raising over £2.5 million. The first distillation was almost exactly one year later in January 2018.

Probably the first thing you notice when you arrive is the windmill that rises up over the car park. This is one of the few distilleries that gets 100% of its energy from renewable sources, harnessing not only wind but also solar and hydro sources, coupled with a biomass boiler.

GlenWyvis Distillery (1)

The distillery takes its role as part of the community seriously. Local tradesmen were used extensively throughout the build, even the steel used was Scottish rather than sourcing cheaper imports. This principal carries on into the production process as all the barley used comes from a local grain growing cooperative, the furthest geographical point it reaches from the distillery is when it is taken to be malted in nearby Inverness before heading back to the distillery.

This does mean that the distillery is limited to the barley it uses. Until recently it has always used the Concerto strain, whereas now they have had to switch to Laureate as that is what the local farmers are growing. It’s not effected much in the way of change, other than a re-adjustment of the rollers in the mill, the laureate appearing to be a little more spongey in its texture.

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Looking around the mill room you notice how modern the equipment looks. The CLS Process mill looks sleek and modern when compared to the industry standard Porteous or Boby mills. The CLS mill will process half a tonne per load and is completely self contained – emitting no dust whatsoever.

Moving upstairs takes us to the 0.5 tonne Mash Tun which is the smallest that Forsyths (the go-to company when it comes to distillation equipment) actually produce. With the lack of production it was sitting empty so a good chance to pop my head in and get a look inside.

At the moment they are doing 3 mashes per week but in time may run up to as many as 10 or 12 as and when they feel they need to start increasing production. No doubt the planned second warehouse will ease storage issues and may herald the arrival of a bump in production.

Glenwyvis is equipped with 6 stainless steel wash backs, each with a 5000 litre capacity, although they are never filled with more than 2400 litres to allow for the natural rise of the 120 hour fermentation process – what distillery manager Duncan Tait refers to as ‘unhurried fermentation’

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Talking of yeast it leads us to another issue that Glenwyvis commonly encounters. At the moment they are using a dried yeast but with economies of scale being what they are and storage space at a premium they are in no position to purchase the bulk quantities that other, larger, operations will afford and accommodate quite easily.

Wandering past the empty washbacks we arrive at the still room, home to a 2500 litre wash still and a 1700 litre spirit still. Despite the optical illusion the lyne arms (the copper pipes running from the tops of the stills to the spirit safe) do both run at the same angle towards the shell and tube condensers.

The main reason I have made the short journey from Inverness to Dingwall is that my visit coincides with the launch of the Glenwyvis new make spirit so it’s over to the warehouse for a look around and the chance to sample the NMS.

Wandering around the warehouse I spot a few interesting casks hiding in amongst the 500 or so barrels that are maturing there. Not only are there refill Oloroso Sherry casks there’s also a couple of Marsala, Madeira, Muscat and Moscatel casks too, not to mention some curious (and rather unusual) PX and Oloroso Firkin casks (approx 40 litres or so in capacity) Most of these are owned by original investors but perhaps we may just see some interesting releases in future from these very casks.

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But I’m here to try the new make so myself and Assistant Distiller Billy MacRitchie spend a little time discussing their house style and how they hope to see it develop and mature into the final product. There may (or may not) be a release at 3 years old but this may be just for investors rather than a commercial bottling. It’s good to see that are thinking long term, not just wanting to cash in all their chips early with a cash grab as soon as the whisky is legally ready.

The new make itself is remarkably drinkable considering its high alcohol content (unlike other ‘spirit drinks’ it’s not been watered down for bottling) It has a solid sweet and bready backbone with sprinkles of spice and an elegant fruity feeling.

Having been kindly gifted a bottle of the NMS I’m very much looking forward to saving a few drams worth to compare it alongside the fully matured releases yet to come from this hidden, modern and community owned distillery.

Thanks to the staff at GlenWyvis for taking the time to show me round and to let me be among the first to try its new make release.

The GlenWyvis New Make Spirit is available from the Distillery webshop

You can find more of my tasting notes in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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