Towards the end of my drive from Inverness to Gairloch I stopped at Drumchork. Drumchork lies on the eastern shore of Loch Ewe, and I wanted to visit a place I had heard about when on Islay a couple of weeks earlier. As a Whisky Tourist, I was told, I should not miss the Loch Ewe Distillery.
Loch Ewe Distillery is not your traditional distillery. It is part of the Drumchork Lodge Hotel and is housed, quite literally, in a garage.
Each whisky distillery has its claim to fame. Highland Park, for example, is the northernmost (though not for much longer, as there is a new distillery planned on Shetland). Bruichladdich (and I am sipping a Bruichladdich as I type this) makes the most heavily peated whisky in the world. Each distillery has its own unique feature and selling point. Loch Ewe Distillery’s claim to fame is that it uses the smallest stills of any licensed distillery. The minimum still size required to produce whisky in the UK is 1800 litres. Loch Ewe’s stills are 120 litres. They also have tiny 5 and 1 litre stills! Here is their (unused) 1800 litre still with a 5 litre still in the background.
John, the distillery owner, tells the tale of the battle he had with the authorities to get his production licence. He exploited a loophole in the law, he says, but the government were not happy about that and wanted to close the loophole without granting him a licence. After months of negotiation and dispute they finally relented, offering him a licence if he would please shut up, go away, and allow them to close the loophole. He agreed, got his licence, and the loophole was closed. Perhaps this is a tall story. embellished like an over-dressed Christmas tree, the decorations hiding the true trunk of the story – who knows? Not I, so I shall accept and enjoy the story as John tells it.
The main production area is well-themed to say the least! That’s their well in the foreground and the 120 litre stills in the background.
Most distilleries have washbacks made of Oregon pine or stainless steel. Loch Ewe’s is more…improvised!
As you might expect, the bonded warehouse is also on the smaller scale.
The casks in this warehouse are so small that the new spirit is not left to mature for long at all. Eight weeks seems to be the general rule. In fact, this means that it is not technically whisky, for the spirit has to be matured for three years before it can be given that name. John told me that he matures his spirit with various finishes. To give it a rum finish, for example, he will pour a bottle of rum into an empty cask, and then sloosh it round once every morning and once every night for two weeks, allowing the liquid to seep into the wood. He then pours out the rum and pours in the new spirit. Eight weeks of maturation later he has the finished product. I tried some of it – it was almost as if I were chewing on coconut! New spirit tends not to be too pleasant, but this stuff was pretty good. So good, in fact, that I bought three bottles of it there and then. Three?!?! Well, Loch Ewe only sells their products in bottles of 10cl. This was very convenient as it meant I could carry it as hand luggage on the plane back south. Airport security took a keen interest but eventually decided to let me through…
There was another treat in store at Loch Ewe – as far as I am aware it is the only distillery in Scotland where you can distill your own new spirit and take the bottle home. What a novelty! Under John’s supervision I was introduced to the 5 litre still. I poured in the spirit from a first distillation and turned on the gas. Regulating the flow of cold water into the condensing coil, I slowly put the spirit through its second distillation.
After the distillation water was added to taste. I settled at 50%. John then bottled my effort and gave it to me as a souvenir. It was not the only thing I took away from Loch Ewe – I am now the proud owner of my very own 1 litre still and cask! Here they are, with my bottle of new spirit.
Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Loch Ewe Distillery: N 57° 50.069 W 005° 34.451
- Date of Visit: 26 June 2013