Lindores Abbey is a young distillery. And yet the place is rich with lore and history. After all, it is the home turf of the fabled monk John Cor, whose name is inseperably attached to the first-ever mention of whisky or uisge beatha in recorded history. For the longest time, the McKenzie Smith family, who have owned Lindores Abbey for over 100 years, did not know about this detail. They first heard about it in the late 1990s or early 2000s, when the famous whisky writer Michael Jackson paid them a visit and asked if he could take a look around the premises. Soon after, Mr. Jackson told his hosts why the ruins of Lindores Abbey had sparked such a curiosity in him; a curiosity that encroached upon others, too. Cause the moment he had learned about the place’s history-charged past, Andrew McKenzie Smith (who was a Chef back then) fell in love with the idea of heating up the stills at Lindores Abbey again. At that time, however, the whisky world was not as vital as it is today; and consequently, funding for such a venture was almost impossible to raise.
So for the next couple of years, Andrew continued to work as a Chef. Deep in his heart, however, his dream lived on: To build a distillery on his family’s property and reintroduce whisky making to a place where Scottish monks had already made whisky more than five centuries ago. And if there is one thing we all know about dreams, it is the fact that they eventually come true if we just don’t give up on them. In Andrew’s case, this was to happen in 2014 or 2015, when Lindores Abbey Distillery – as he put it in his own words – “became serious”. After round about three years of planning and construction, the newly erected Lowlands unit went productive in late 2017. And now, another three and a half years later, the first single malt Scotch whisky made at Lindores Abbey is about to launch. In the light of this festive event, the distillery’s German importer Prineus GmbH did an online tasting with round about 40 invited guests, most of them whisky dealers or spirits bloggers. Luckily, my name had made it onto the list of invitees as well.
The tasting was hosted by Prineus GmbH’s Managing Director Marc-Björn Stock. During the two-hour Zoom event, he got amazing support from Scotland: Founder and Managing Director Andrew McKenzie Smith, Brand Home Manager Helen McKenzie Smith and Export Manager Tim Foster were all present to tell us more about Lindores Abbey; and to sip with us five utterly amazing drams! The first was the distillery’s signature drink called Aqua Vitae. Essentially, it is an unmatured spirit drink infused with herbs and other botanicals. According to Andrew, making it was kind of a gamble. “Normally, a young distillery sells gin while its whisky sleeps,” he told us. “But that was never an option for us. It wouldn’t be honest to our history. After all, the ancient monks who inspired our journey didn’t make gin. They made aqua vitae. So we decided to make aqua vitae, too.” Thankfully, this bold move paid off for Lindores Abbey. The Aqua Vitae, which is both smooth and flavorsome, went on to win multiple awards and become a fan favorite. Some drammers enjoy it neat, while others mix it. The folks at Lindores Abbey Distillery recommend it on ice with ginger ale and an orange twist.
Next up was the New Make, which Lindores Abbey considers the cornerstone of its efforts, because it sets the foundation for everything that follows afterwards. Consequently, the distillery team is especially proud that its New Make was declared “Best in Scotland” by the expert panel of the World Whiskies Awards 2020. And indeed, the creamy and full-bodied liquid turned out to be very delicious. It combines an immense fruitiness (green bananas, fresh apples, zesty oranges) with crunchy, minty and chocolate-y notes. At 63.5 per cent ABV, it obviously packs a good punch, too. Another cool detail: The New Make from Lindores Abbey is made entirely from local ingredients. For example, the fields, on which the barley grows, are no more than a stone throw away from the distillery. This home-lovingness is as crucial for Lindores Abbey as its sky-high quality awareness. “In all we do, we never cut any corners,” Andrew pointed out. Be it the distillery set-up or the production methods or the wood quality: Lindores Abbey is always happy to go the extra mile. “In the end, this will pay off,” the founder is sure. “All of these investments have a direct, lasting effect on the quality of our spirit.”
We culminated our degustation with three cask samples, all of which were three years old (give or take). Each was sourced from a cask type that the whisky makers at Lindores Abbey used to compose their first fully matured 3 Years Old (hence the term “deconstruction tasting”). I must say: These three drams were super impressive! They all showed key qualities of Lindores Abbey’s house style, such as a thick texture, a creamy mouth feel and a delish flavor profile brimming with ripe green and yellow fruits, fresh mint leaves and fine cocoa powder. At the same time, however, the different maturations had also given each of them an own character.
The ex-Bourbon one was clean, brisk and elegant. Besides soft apples and peaches, it also provided citrus, toffee, cheese cake and crepe with vanilla sauce. Here, Tim pointed out that “the bourbon cask is the cask that you can’t hide anything with. It shows your spirit as it really is.” In case of Lindores Abbey, there is no need for hiding! Even at a very young age, this dram was fabulous! The same goes for the ex-Sherry one. It was very sweet and sumptuous with lovely notes of berries, raisins, honey, pudding and marmalade. Towards the end, it also produced some licorice and even a wee bit of ash. The STR* one was last in line. It was crazy good – with emphasis on crazy! This out-of-the-ordinary dram offered lots of herbs, spices, tannins, cough drops and dried tomatoes. Underneath, lighter and easier fruit notes unfolded: apricots, peaches, grapes. “On its own, this one’s pretty intense and unusual,” Tim explained. “But in the vatting of our first single malt Scotch whisky, the STR cask harmonizes beautifully with the other notes, adding wonderful layers of depth.”
*STR means "Shaved, toasted, recharred". It is a special procedure to treat red wine barriques, which was invented by the late Dr. Jim Swan, who was a friend and advisor to Lindores Abbey in its early days. According to Tim, STR casks give the spirit a virgin oak-ish profile. But at the same time, they also instill in it all kinds of wine-y notes.
In regard to the first official Lindores Abbey whisky, Andrew’s attitude is very sympathetic and exemplary. He told us that him and his team are well aware of the fact that – being a first release – their debut bottling will most likely become a collector’s item. Nevertheless, they hope that many fans will open it, share it and enjoy it. “We want people to drink it,” he proclaimed. “If they want to collect it, that’s fine by us, too. But if they flip it for a quick profit, that’s not something we like or encourage.” Well, I can only speak for myself, but I will certainly buy Lindores Abbey’s kick-off release. And once I have it in my possession, I will pop its cork and pour me a dram … and my friends too, when they come over!
Aqua Vitae (Herb-infused malt spirit / Lowlands / Unmatured / 0yo / 40%)
New Make (Malt spirit / Lowlands / Unmatured / 0yo / 63.5%)
Cask Sample “ex-Bourbon” (Sing. m. Scotch whisky / Lowlands / Bourbon cask / ~3yo / 62.3%)
Cask Sample “ex-Sherry” (Sing. m. Scotch whisky / Lowlands / Sherry cask / ~3yo / 61.9%)
Cask Sample “STR” (Sing. m. Scotch whisky / Lowlands / STR cask / ~3yo / 61.9%)
*** I was kindly invited to the event by Prineus GmbH. Thank you. ***