Many Scotch distilleries used to put the word Glenlivet on the label as a sign of quality. After The Glenlivet took legal action, it was still permissible to hyphenate the distillery name with -Glenlivet at the end. This is an old distillery logbook from the early days of Aberlour.
Aberlour was founded in 1879 by James Fleming, a merchant from a farming family who was better at business than farming. He converted a water powered saw mill into a distillery.
Malting and Milling
Aberlour mills already-malted barley that’s been grown in the surrounding fertile soil. The crop changes year to year, depending on such variables as the weather. The grist (the name for the end-product after milling) contains husks, grits, and flour.
Hot spring water plus ground malted barley makes a sugary liquid. At Aberlour, the water’s added in three batches.
Computers are a common sight in most Scotch distilleries these days, as their help in monitoring the distillation process produces a more consistent spirit. Aberlour’s staff is impressively small: there are only five distillery workers. One worker sits here per shift.
It’s fermentation time! An addition of yeast to the sugary liquid ferments the sugars to alcohol over the course of about 48 hours. The end result is akin to a strong beer, so we’re not quite done yet.
Aberlour’s stainless steel washbacks are different than the wooden ones at The Glenlivet. These modern guys have fans and vents, and are also much easier to clean.
To turn the beer stronger, it’s distilled twice in four copper pot stills, as required by law. The alcohol vapors pass through the swan neck to cool in the condenser behind the wall.
Back in the day, they determined when the process was complete by dropping in a wooden ball and listening to the ping. Now the stills have windows so it’s easy to see when the alcohol is boiling.
The Spirit Safe
The colorless liquid then streams through the spirit safe. After the first distillation, the liquid is called low wine and clocks in about 25 percent ABV. The second distillation further purifies and ups the alcohol level—it must be above 40 percent to be considered Scotch. As at The Glenlivet, the spirit safe divides the condensed liquid into heads, heart, and tails/feints.
Aberlour’s got some cool green methods. These towers, originally built in 1930s and renovated in the 70s, are filled with whinstone and coke that serve as filters to purify the used water.
The heart of the spirit ages for at least three years in bourbon or sherry casks. At Aberlour, single malts mature for 10, 12, 16 years or more. About 2% evaporates every year—that's called the Angel's Share. Are there drunk angels up there somewhere?
After the distillery tour, Aberlour offers the opportunity to hand-fill a bottle of whisky with either a 16 year old single malt aged in bourbon or sherry casks.