Poetry and Scotch go particularly well together. The lyrical rhythms and cadence of poetry and song are particularly suited to the swirling repetitive notes and flavours found in whisky.
Whisky has a foundation, a ground – as does Piobaireachd (a very old style of pipe tune) it repeats and changes as you nose it. It takes you on a journey with twists and turns as you delve deeper into its layers and structure. There is a magical space in poetry between the meanings of the words and sentences where the actual body of the poem lives – this is the same with whisky – you smell the notes and taste the flavours, experience the textures, but, the whisky is more than the sum of these parts – also, after drinking a few drams we, ourselves, tend to wax lyrical….

Bruichladdich Warehouse

The Water of Life the spirit has been stilled for long enough
the popping of the cork is followed by
a rising breath which hangs, then dissipates
perhaps all dreams are based upon such stuff

the popping of the cork is followed by
a rush of gold for fools, an ancient salve
perhaps all dreams are based upon such stuff
outdated wisdom and enchantery

no rush for gold of fools, this ancient salve
but something which can fire the modern mind
an older wisdom and enchantery
empowers the soul, releases our true selves

but something which can fire the modern mind
a rising breath which hangs, then dissipates
empowers the soul, releases our true selves
this spirit has been stilled for long enough

Enjoy this poem by Islay girl Elizbeth Angus whilst drinking one of your favourite malts.






Wrapped in a host of intangible ingredients and a vast envelope of water is the Spirit of Scotland – it is the distiller’s task to set free, to isolate, to set apart, to liberate that spirit.

Whisky making is like creating good sculpture – we bring forth what is already in there. Michelangelo “freed” David from marble. In making whisky are taking the ingredients that ‘grow around the door’ and by crafting their essences bring out of them something wonderful.  Truly it is Alchemy. Taking the elements of barley, water, yeast and wood and through ordeal by fire transforming them into

Bruichladdich Barolo Nostalgia

the Spirit of Scotland. A centuries old native practise begun as a sideline to farming is now the largest single food and drink sector in these isles currently known as UK. The process of making Scotch whisky is now so technically relayed – this #SCOTCHSERIES does this – that we are in danger of forgetting the marvellous magic that takes place. We still do not know how this magic happens. It is like making a baby – we know practically how to do it, but we don’t know why it happens! So tonight lift your glass of Scotch, of whisky, and toast the miracle that is, Uisge Beatha.

Thanks to Ross Wilson: Scotch, It’s History and Romance.







Single Malt is whisky made from malted barley from a single distillery. The spirit is made by batch distillation in pot stills

Jura Stills

Grain whisky is made from a variety of grains including maize and is made in a column still by continuous distillation. These stills were refined by Scotsman Robert Stein and later by Irishman Aeneas Coffey.

Blended whisky is exactly this – a blend of malt whisky and grain. Grain whisky can be cheaply produced in large volumes so makes much more money for companies.

A blend may have 35 different teaspoons of malt in it and two or three grain whiskies in large volumes. Very small amounts of malt are mixed in with the “relatively bland” grain spirit to give it resonance and depth. This is why people refer to “teaspooning” as the volumes of malt can be small.

People think blends are cheap and nasty, but many of them taste very good. Contemporary brands such as Compass Box et al are reconfiguring the blend and sexing it up. It requires a different skill

Column Still Diagram

set to create blends – and I image it will be very satisfying work.

In a single malt you tend to get a deeper band of flavour, a timbre and texture. There is a depth and complexity missing from blends. Blends can be thinner, but may have more flavours in a single layer. It’s like comparing apples and oranges – you can’t really, they are two different things.

One could shoehorn it as Blends are horizontal, Malts are vertical….

Written by Rachel MacNeill







Less handling of the spirit the better. It is like pastry, or fire. Don’t annoy it!

Casks must be less than 700 litres because much of the maturation chemistry depends on good contact with the wood.

Oxygen diffuses into the cask. Reactions take place between the molecules in the spirit, and also between the spirit and the wood.


Three types of reaction happen in a cask: ADDITIVE, SUBTRACTIVE, REACTIVE.

At any point in the maturation process the maturing spirit has a unique flavour profile resulting from 1) flavour congeners derived from the distillate ‘base’ flavour, 2) flavour congeners removed from the spirit, 3)flavour congeners added to the spirit by extraction from cask wood or by reactions within the spirit, 4) flavour congeners produced by interaction of the wood surface with the spirit (Philp, 1989)

Whisky world needs in excess of 3 million wet coopered oak casks a year for whisky.

Written by Rachel MacNeill







Copper is an element. It is number 29 in the Periodic Table, in the same column as Silver and Gold. They are called Transition Metals. It is found in South Africa, among other places. LH Stainless – a

Still sketch

turnkey distillery builder get their copper from MkM Manfelder Kupfer and Messing GmbH in Germany. It is milled there into strips, sheets, plates, wire, tubes, rods, bars and profiles. LH Stainless bring it home to design and fashion the stills we know and love for distilleries in Scotland. They have designed and constructed the stills for Ardnahoe – Islay’s 9th distillery.

Written by Rachel MacNeill

Pictures are Ardnahoes Stills, and a random demo sketch.









Water density number is 1000 kg /M3. We work with mass and atmospheric pressure, and work the equation backwards, to get the SG of water.  Specific Gravity (SG) is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of water.

When water freezes it has slightly less mass.

Kilchoman weights for density

Wort density is different as it contains more sugar and other molecules. Each distiller has a requirement for the density of Wort in their production cycle.

They have parameter figures and each time the wort is measured it must fall within these parameters.

To find the density we divide the Wort density by the measurement of water density. An average figure maybe 1060 kg/M3.  In a distillery the gravity of Wort is usually called the OG  – the original gravity. As the fermentation goes on we constantly measure wort density by using hydrometers –  as seen in picture from Kilchoman Distillery. We use these figures to tell us the percentage of alcohol being created in the washbacks. From this measurement we are double checking how the yeast is working, what time is left for fermenting and numerous other facts.

Written by Rachel MacNeill





Scotch Whisky adds £3.3 billion directly, and its total impact is to add nearly £5bn overall to UK GDP – GDP means Gross Domestic Product. GDP is the total value of everything produced by all the people and companies in the country. So Scotland’s Whisky in 2015 – it will be much more now – contributed over £5 BILLION Scottish pounds per annum to the Westminster purse.
Scotch is the largest single food and drink sector. It accounts for 25% of the total food and drink exports from these Isles of Scotland, England, NI & Wales.
In value added to, Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Industry contribute more to the economies of England, Wales and NI than iron/steel, textiles, ship building or computer industries.
The photo shows a large excise lock.
The locks were oversized – there was no physical reason for the locks to be so large. They were used as a symbol and a psychological tool to reinforce the excessive power of the customs and excise.

Written by Rachel MacNeill







Yeasts eats simple sugars and needs help to eat the big/complex sugars in Barley. Grain holds some of its sugars in polymers – starch and cellulose. Polymers are built up structures of units – in this case we are talking about structures of sugars  (polymer can create plastics. It is a construction)

Yeast can’t digest starch. In malting we create the conditions for the grains to break down it’s sugar


polymers ie starch –  so the yeast can eat them. We do this by making the barley grain think it is time for it to grow. So it naturally starts breaking down the  polymers into energies it can use to grow. Just at the right time, we heat/dry the barley and this stops the growth, so, the sugars we need for the yeast to eat have been naturally broken down by the grain itself.

Sugars are carbohydrate which means their construction is carbon atoms with hydrogen and oxygen atoms attached. Things are things because of the pattern they are constructed in. The same components in a different structure give us something else.  Starch and cellulose are made from the same components, but are different things due to their structure.

Written by Rachel MacNeill





On International Women’s Day 2018 we highlight the connection between whisky & women, through focus on barley;
Barley has established eminent connections throughout time; ‘Cailleach n’am braice’ meaning Great Mother, is the Gàidhlig Goddess of barley. The Empress card in the Tarot symbolises the Great Mother, the original goddess creator. She is directly connected with Demeter, and to passion and sexuality. Her iconic image shows her holding stalks of barley. Her long, rich yellow hair flows in furrows reflecting the golden ripeness in the fields. 

Tarot Card Demeter

Greek Demeter, Roman Ceres, Slavic Zemyna are all barley Goddesses. Barley is a symbol of Persephone and the constant hope of renewal in spring.
Miyolangsangma, Goddess of the world’s highest mountain, (Mount Everest) is depicted astride a tiger whilst carrying a bowl of barley, by her side a mongoose struts and spits jewels.
The currency of our commerce begins with barley. Nissaba, the Eastern Mediterranean Sumerian Goddess of writing and accountancy is also the goddess of barley. Nissaba’s epithet is Nun-baršegunu which translates as “Lady whose body is the flecked barley”. Laksmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth is another female diety connected with barley. 

Written by Rachel MacNeill
Picture shows Demeter as The Magician.




Travelling library of bears

Today is a (non exhaustive) list of interesting whisky books. Some are completely focused on Scotch, and some let you learn “around” the subject; which is greatly beneficial.

In no particular order

1) Neil M. Gunn – Whisky and Scotland

2) David Wishart – Whisky Classified

3) Ian Buxton & Paul Hughes – The Science and Commerce of Whisky

4) Luca Turin – The Secret of Scent

5) Gordon M. Shepherd – Neurogastronomy

6) Vol Ed – Inge Russell – Whisky: Technology, Production and Marketing

7) Niki Segnit – The Flavour Thesaurus

8) Misako Udo – The Scottish Whisky Distilleries

9) Aeneas MacDonald – Whisky

10) Michael Jackson – Whisky

11) Charles MacLean – Scotch Whisky

12) Andrew Jefford – Peat, Smoke and Spirit

13) Ted Bruning – The Craft Distillers’ Handbook

14) Andy Brunning – Why does Asparagus make your wee smell?

15) Ian D. Rotherham – Peat and Peat Cutting

16) S & J Cribb with Richard Bell – Whisky on the Rocks

17) Sheila McConachie & Graham Harvery – The Whisky Kitchen

18) Adam Rogers – Proof The Science of Booze

19) Richard Paterson & Gavin D. Smith – Goodness Nose

20) Henry H. Work – Wood, Whiskey and Wine

21) A.R.B. Haldane – The Drove Roads of Scotland

22) Diane Ackerman – A Natural History of the Senses

Compiled by Rachel MacNeill






One of the reasons behind the ruling that the level of ethanol in new make spirit for Scotch cannot legally exceed 94.8% is so features from the fermentation & raw materials are retained. In gin production, the ethanol is purified by repeat distillation to reach at least 96% abv, producing a neutral spirit. In America pharmaceutical companies are the dominant suppliers of gin spirit, as they have huge stills designed to produce extremely pure ethanol for drug manufacture. 
The initial alcohol concentration coming off a wash still (dependant on the alcohol content of the wash) is around 45% abv. Distillation continues to allow the concentration to drop to 1%, giving a low wine fraction around 23% abv. Spent lees is the name given to what is left in the still. Lees are the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation. 

Photo is inside the Wash Still at Springbank Distillery






One was to remove a stone from where the pipe from the still to the spirit storage tank passed through a wall. Drill a hole in the pipe (very small) then insert a wooden plug. So that any time the foreman was not about, the stone could be removed, the plug taken out and a wee dram consumed!
Another ingenious thing to do was to make a “funnel” out of the silver paper in a cigarette packet (they all smoked in those days) which was moulded around the base of the square box wood dipstick in the intermediate spirit receiver. Move the dipstick up and down vigorously and the run off from the stick was channelled into the silver funnel and on into your glass..!
As we all know – necessity is the Mother of invention…..

Barley is composed of carbohydrates , proteins , lipids and minerals.
High protein barleys are generally valued for food and feeding, and starchy barley for malting.
Malting barley requires no less than 97% germination.
Six row barley can produce 25-60 grains per ear, while two-row barley produces 20-30 grains 
Ears (heads) per m2 can give 750 ears. Grains per m2 can be15,000 grains.
Scotch whisky (malt distilling) use low grain nitrogen barley 
Malts for grain whisky (grain distilling) use high grain nitrogen barley
Spring barley (SRUC recommendations) October 2018 ~ 
Name of barley –
Concerto > 70% of Scottish malting intake
Odyssey – Limited and declining interest
Laureate – Potential to be a market leader
Optic – No longer on the recommended list
Belgravia – Grain distilling variety
Propino – Biggest brewing variety (in UK)
Sienna – May have limited use in distilling
Octavia – Could develop niche in brewing and distilling
To be on the safe side barley requires less than <14% moisture for long term safe storage.
Photo is 2 row barley growing on Islay.

Some facts as told to me on 17 October 2017;

4 grain steeps, 7 tonne in each. 2 -2.5 days. 3 times water and drain.
Casting the malt floor – 2 men approx 30 mins to empty 7 tonnes of barley. Left for 7 days. Barley germinates its own heat. Always warmer near the floor. 7 tonne makes 1 foot deep green malt in kiln. 15 – 17 hours peat smoke rises through grain. SMOKING not drying. Smoke first, then dry. 17 – 20 hours dry. 5% moisture. Trying for 55 ppm – anything over 50 is fine. Hand cut peats made from Spagnum moss, heather and grass.
5.5 tonne mash. 64.5 degrees strike point. Water is about 68 degrees, when mixed with grist reduces to 64.5. 1 & 2 & 3 waters all over lap. 2 & 3 waters are same temp. More to follow

another day…

“If you are ambitious to found a new science, measure a smell” Alexander Graham Bell, 1914
Different blood types draw people to different tastes ~ salty, sweet, etc.
Women experience drams differently at different times of the month. Our chemical constituents influence our flavour preferences.
Diane Ackerman tells us: A human has 5 million olfactory cells, which seems like a lot, but a sheep dog has 220 million and can smell 44 times better than we can.
Smell was the first of our senses and was so successful, that in time the small lump of olfactory tissue atop the
nerve cord grew into a brain. Our cerebral hemispheres were originally buds from the olfactory stalks. We THINK because we SMELLED.

A highly satisfying mouthfeel comes largely from high levels of oiliness in a whisky. Brooklyn whisky from Jura was constructed with the input from various baristas, cheese and chocolate sellers and trendy, craft brewery/bar staff from Brooklyn. Their preference was for a very modern, oily flat mouthfeel. Mouthfeel can create flavour in the way bricks can create rooms.

#IslayWhiskyConnection #IslayWhiskyAcademy #ScotchTalk

Nosing and Tasting are skills to be developed like any others – practise playing the fiddle, practise the skills of football, practise nosing and tasting –  one needs to wake up ones taste buds, develop a nuanced flavour vocabulary. One can build up an understanding of why a whisky tastes like it does due to the construction of it. Once one has developed a more highly evolved palate one can usually discern more flavours and aromas – and more often than not widen ones appreciation for many whiskies.

Phenol is a “family” of flavour compounds – Phenol is the overarching name – it contains guaiacols, syringols, phenols and other things. You have smokey and peated and they are different, but you can get both in one whisky – ie Ardbeg.  Octomore it is peated and not so much smokey. The mouthfeel and cut of the spirit contributes to the experience of peatiness. Octomore has the highest figure of ppm – but drinking Supernova from Ardbeg which has less than half the number of ppm than Octomore, is like drinking a peat due to the way Ardbeg is distilled, whereas drinking Octomore is not like drinking a peat, at all.

Copper is biostatic, meaning bacteria will not grow on it.
During distillation copper can reduce levels of sulphur compounds such as dimethyl trisulphide in the liquid. Copper can do this more effectively in some parts of the pot stills than others. It is not an over all copper effect. Studies have found that the wash still condenser and the spirit pot are most effective at removing this compound. Also, copper stills need to be “worked” to be good at removing these sulphur compounds – new copper doesn’t do it so well.

In damp air copper slowly forms a beautiful greeney blue surface film called patina or verdigris. This forms to naturally to protect the copper from the damp.  This effect can be observed on the Islay Whisky Connection logo image.

cùbaireachd – in Gaelic working as a “cooper”
To train as a cooper takes an apprenticeship of seven years – maybe 5 nowadays. One trains for a similar time to be a medical doctor, an architect or veterinarian. This seven year apprenticeship was also undertaken by storytellers – people who held the history of a culture and people.
Diana Twede relates that small wooden buckets and tubs have been found in Egyptian tombs. A tomb wall mural dated 1900 BC depicts a wooden tub used for holding grapes during the harvest. Alongside this small vat is a man who may have been the cooper who constructed it.
We can deduce that perhaps coopering can be held up alongside prostitution and money lending as one of the oldest professions…. creating links between whisky and sex and money….. no change there, then! 
#IslayWhiskyConnection #IslayWhiskyAcademy #ScotchTalk

Spirit from the stills became stronger than the spirit of repression…..
7 Influences on Flavour
1) Spirit Cut – length of foreshots
2) Speed of the run
3)Height of the Still
4)Shape of the Still reflex bulge – copper contact
5)Angle of Lyne arm – up light, down heavy
6)% fill of charge to still capacity – copper contact
7) Temperature of distillate Hot; Light, Cooler; Heavy
Foreshots: highly volatile components, acetaldehyde & ethyl acetate.
Feints: low volatility compounds including phenols and many nitrogen containing compounds.
Brian Eaton of ICBD says – ‘you could say that the aim with Scotch whisky is to distil it just enough’.
#IslayWhiskyConnection #IslayWhiskyAcademy #ScotchTalk

In Wolfburn Distillery the manager told me it is the strike temperature that is important ~ this means the temperature when the hot water first goes through the grist, the malted barley. The strike is when the conversion happens. When the hot water hits the malted barley it sets off a reaction. This is when 90% of the conversion of the sugars occurs.
In Ardnamurchan Distillery they told me that the size of their mash tun was governed by the size of the road coming into the area. 
A bigger mash tun would mean a bigger lorry and it would not have been able to drive up the roads of the Ardnamurchan peninsula to the distillery. 
The mashtun at Ardnamurchan holds 2 tonnes of grist and drains 10,000 litres to washback. 
When Alfred Barnard was in Jura in 1886 the stirring gear in the mashtun was turned by a water wheel.
#IslayWhiskyConnection #IslayWhiskyAcademy #ScotchTalk

MATURATION ‘Put thy ear against the vat, thou hearest a ceaseless murmur, a slow full suspiration. The juice is clothing itself in sound, in song, in psalmody.’ George Mackay Brown ~ A Time to Keep
When you mature a scotch you are trying to balance the spirit character with the maturation character.
Oxygen enters the wood of the staves and interacts with the spirit in the cask. It interacts with the

Scotchseries 10

Scotchseries 10

top layer of the spirit, the spirit that touches the sides of the barrels.
Phenolics interact with oxygen and turn their short ‘spikey’ molecules into long soft ones.
Tannins can cause astringency. From tannins interaction with oxygen they too become linked forming larger molecules which are softer on the palate.
Rapid maturation creates layering rather than subtle integration which comes from longer maturation.
Older barrels may impart a spicey aroma due to 4- ethyl guaiacol
or ‘barnyard’ aroma due to 4 – ethyl phenol – that minerality found in Lagavulin 8 YO.
Sulphur combats vinegariness.





Know your esters ~
Different esters lend different smells –
ethyl acetate – nail polish.
isoamyl acetate – bananas.
ethyl butanoate – pineapple
ethyl hexanoate – apple & anise.





YEAST: The overlooked Superpower:
In the greed ridden Thatcherite 80’s, a primary goal in whisky making, became higher alcohol yields. Yeast were created to withstand higher temperatures – producing less esters and more alcohols. The cost of this is a neutral flavour spirit profile. Companies who focus on creating new make spirit or ‘PBS’ within narrow flavour perameters, rely heavily on casks to flavour their spirit.
This explains why some distillers tell that 60 – 70% of flavour comes from their cask: it’s true. Other distillers create spirit which is 100 % flavour and get 100 % flavour from the cask (analogy)
Now, many distillers are relearning the value of yeast.
At the Blenders Evening in Glasgow I drank whisky from Miyagikyo Distillery in Japan. This whisky is made with 10 different yeasts. This demonstrates a fascinating awareness of the subtleties of fermentation. Fermentation is an intrinsic process in flavour compound creation.








RITUAL & CEREMONY: Scotch is drunk at momentous occasions – birth, death, and everything in between.



Whisky is taken at the thresholds of time – whisky is present for us as we enter this world, and when we leave it.
Scotch is present at the death of an old year and the birth of the new. At the threshold between the old year and the new, we respectfully stand. As the clock strikes Midnight, we lift a glass of UISGE BEATHA – the Water of Life, to our lips, and heralding the future with Whisky, we drink a toast to the New Year.
We are purified by copper and fire.
Champagne is frivolous life, Brandy contains a whiff of death, Scotch embodies the powerful strength of life.








Nosing and Tasting involves All the senses – SEEING, HEARING, TOUCHING, SMELLING, TASTING.



Also motor qualities- MOUTHFEEL – the ‘chewiness’ of the liquid. And TIME – the length of time we experience the dram.
Taste and language are closely connected. We are often lacking in a Tasting vocabulary – even though we recognise the smell, we don’t have the words to describe it. This can be why we share emotions and memory of times and places evoked by the smells in an effort to convey what we sense in the glass.






PEAT: Chemical composition of a peat bog depends on its geographical location. It’s all location, location, location!
Peat from different bogs can be distinguished by it’s chemical fingerprint ~ and the chemical fingerprint of a bog is still distinguishable in the final spirit.
Peat is created from the flora and fauna of an area. If you had a wooded area, the peat will be different from an area where the peat was mostly formed from heather – as in along the “Low road” in Islay. Here, it is also very salty due to the prevailing winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean carrying salt, also the salt laden rain falling on the West coast earth over millennia.

PHENOLS: A wide range of phenolic compounds are found in whisky. Simple phenols such as



phenol, the isomeric cresols, xylenols, ethyl phenols, and guaiacols arise through the thermal degradation of benzoic acid derivatives from malt and from peat smoke.
Guaiacol is responsible for smoky FLAVOUR.
Syringol is responsible for smoky AROMA.
Inside the kiln at #Laphroaig





YEAST: Yeasts are eukaryotic single-celled microorganisms classified as members of the fungus family. Yeast are inactive at low temp, at higher temp their enzymes are denatured.



The growth rate of yeast doubles every 10*C rise in temperature (roughly) This continues until the optimum temperature. – above which the enzymes in yeast become denatured and growth rate slows.
Distillers yeast is propagated aerobically – if yeast is propagated aerobically that means it starts faster, contains sterols, fatty acids.
Propagated means bred from the parent stock. Aerobically means “relating to oxygen”



WORT: Cloudy or clear wort.


Inside Wolfburn mashtun

Cloudy Wort ~ results in higher levels of lipids ~ more oily mouthfeel also adds high threshold of nutty/cereal notes. Malty character – usual in Scotland.
Japan only produce clear wort. Lauter Tun tends to give clear wort. Got this in Wolfburn. Less cereal notes.




The best book about Whisky and Scotland. Neil Gunn…never been bettered. Some people think it is Aeneas MacDonald with his book Whisky; but no. It is not. Aeneas writes a more jovial,



establishment pleasing style and consciousness.
Gunn is elegant, erudite and writes with such phenomenal grammar and intelligence, he can perhaps be too much for some.
This book Whisky and Scotland is meant to be savoured, to be sipped and mulled over. To be enjoyed when one has time and peace to engage with it.
Read it the way you enjoy your Scotch, take time to reread elegant sentences. Pour yourself a quality dram. Read this quality book and understand how a nation, a country, shapes and creates a liquid gold – know Scotch is Scotland.



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