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Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

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Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Al Qaemist » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:13 am

2 weeks ago I visited the Spingbank Distillery in Campbeltown Scotland. This distillery does all the processes from malting to bottling in house which is pretty rare these days, most buy in malt from a malthouse or will ship the finished product in tankers to be bottled in Scotland’s central belt (the area from Glasgow to Edinburgh where the bulk of the population live).

When I was visiting they were distilling rather than malting, the same 6 men do all the process so they can be malting for up to 2 months, then the same men will move over to the fermentation and distillation. I like this idea of them being in control of the process from start to finish.
The process starts with the steeping the grain for 36 hours, they steep 10 tons of barley at a time. Once steeped they lay this out on the malting room floor and turn it by hand once per shift, the 2 man teams work 6-2,2-10,10-6 shift patterns so it gets turned once every 24 hours over 4 days. As they weren’t malting when I was there the room was empty, so make for a rubbish photo.

Once the grain is malted it is moved to the kiln for drying, they use a combination of peat smoke and hot air from an oil burner to dry the malt and stop the germination. They do 3 malts at this distillery.

Springbank – lightly peated (6 hours of peat smoke) 2.5 times distilled.
Longrow – heavily peated (46 hours of smoke) double distilled.
& Hazelburn – no peat just air dried, triple distilled.

The dried malt is stored in these 10 hoppers, each holding 20 tones of malt, they will continue malting until all 200 tones are filled.
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They recorded the contents and how full each hopper is on this high tech bit of kit
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From here it goes to be milled. This grain mill is huge, over 3 floors and driven by 9 dangerous looking canvas belts, the sort of thing punkin could lose an arm in, given his recent run of luck.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Al Qaemist » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:14 am

From this they look to achieve 72% grist, 16% husk and the remainder is a fine flour. If they mess up the grind they the farmer will get it for cattle feed.
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On to the Mash Tun – Using 3.2 tons of ground malt, for the first water they add 16000lts of 63.5oC water, this is then transferred to the fermenters via an under back (cools and is an extra step to separate any sediment)
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For the second water, they add 5000ltrs of 87oC water to get any remaining sugars, the third water they add something like 20000ltrs of really hot water in the 90’s I believe, this is then transferred to one of 2 hot water tanks to be used as the first waters for the next batch. The spent grain is then taken away as cattle feed.

My photos of the fermenters didn’t really come out, but they have 6 on the go and they ferment for 4-1/2 days getting a mash of between 4-7%, but on average it's just shy of 5%. They said they don’t leave the mash longer than this as it gets “fruity” tasting, I couldn’t get out of him whether he meant it went for distillation before it was completely dry, or if they just didn’t let it sit in the fermenter. The mash waiting to be distilled certainty looked inactive, so I think it’s the latter. It also tasted very lightly of the peat smoke when I had a little taste of it.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Al Qaemist » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:18 am

On to the shinny copper.

They have 3 stills at this distillery
A big wash still, that is a combination of direct firing (Oil burner) to burn some of the yeast on the bottom so I’m told, and internal steam coils.
You can see here the furnace with the big air blower super charging it.
Image Image
The still has chain rummager to keep the wash moving, the cog turning this have a little bell on the outside of the still so the distiller has an audio indication if this gets jammed somehow. All the spirit collected from this down to 1% goes to the low wines container, and is knocked down by a large shell and tube condenser.

They then have 2 smaller spirit stills. For spring bank the first spirit still would be charged with low wines, this is all collected and goes to the feints receiver. The third still would then be charged with 80% feints, and 20% low wines, this gives them the 2.5% distillation they talk about (80% triple distilled, and 20% double distilled). These 2 still use a worm in bucket condenser that is the hight of a 2 story house.
They don’t refer to heads at this distillery, only foreshots, on the spirit run the foreshots are directed to the feints container, they then collect from 78% down to 62% for hearts, and the tails are directed back to feints.

When I was there they were running the wash still, was down under 20% on the hydrometer
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I got to dip a finger in and have a taste – like you’d expect there is no taste of alcohol at this point, and also very little peat.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Al Qaemist » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:22 am

They were also running the third still and it was nearing the end of the hearts.
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I got to dip a whisky glass into the flow, and have a sip of the 64% ish white dog – it was fantastically smooth right off the still, nice peat taste to it with no real burn for something so high proof, really not what I was expecting.

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The Spirit is then let down to 63.1% and casked, then put in storage. The 10yo is mostly Ex Bourbon hogs heads, with the older spirit using mostly the larger sherry casks. I tasted a 12yo that was 60/40 sherry/bourbon and was very nice. Each cask is used 3 times before being discarded.
They use a mixture of first, second and third fill casks to vat the final product, they will vat it watering it down to just over bottling strength 47-48% and then put it back into the casks for a minimum of 12 months, where it will remain until they get an order to bottle it. Due to this process they do get a variation in colour between batches – but they refuse to use caramel to give a consistent colour like some distilleries do.

I enjoyed the tour, the guide was enthusiastic about the product and knowledgeable about the processes.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Smaug » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:41 am

Really nice right up Al.
I just love the fact that they refuse to homogenize their color variances. And am also impressed that their team does it all..
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Fester » Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:28 am

Great write-up Al Q.
Craftsmen plying their trade.
What's not to love about that?

Outstanding.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby bentstick » Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:31 am

Nice tour AL, looks like a little bit of paradise.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby Dan P. » Sun Jul 15, 2012 10:11 am

Thanks for this, Al Q
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby jake_leg » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:46 am

Fabulous...
I remember Aaron Schnell
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby wolfman1961 » Tue Jul 17, 2012 6:42 am

Great write-up Al Q!!
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Before the devil knows you're dead.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby zedzedtop » Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:42 pm

I've been really impressed with Scotch distilleries willingness to disclose their process. Nice write-up! Springbank certainly produces a very complex and unique whisky.
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Re: Al Q's visit to Springbank Distillery.

Postby vb » Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:48 pm

did a tour of Wild Turkey this spring, met the master distiller. someone asked him what the grain mix was for their bourbon, he didn't even acknowledge the question. immediately afterwards we did the 4 roses tour, they had a big sign up showing the exact quantities of each grain that goes into their mash.
world of difference in attitudes between the two places.
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