Latest update: July 14th 2008
INVERGORDON DISTILLERY PICTURES
Why visit a distillery like Invergordon? Quite simple, when will you ever get a chance to visit a distillery like Invergordon. When I started planning my trip to Scotland, I went to Whyte & Mackay concerning visits to Dalmore, Fettercairn and oh yeah, of course Invergordon would be nice. As Invergordon has a “NO VISITOR” policy as all grain distilleries, I did not expect anything from it.
Dalmore and Fettercairn were arranged without any problem and to my surprise even Invergordon. Until the moment that I walked up to the distillery gate and was “approved” to go to the main office I had my doubts, but it really was true. I had been going around most of the distillery already and was having doubts that it was a distillery. It almost looked like a small refinery, but it really was Invergordon Distillery. Even better I was inside the distillery and getting a tour from production manager Duncan Munro and spirit operations supervisor Ian Mackay.
And before I even try to give you a review of the tour and of all that they told me: “The visit was unbelievable”. This was not a distillery as usually known by a “professional distillery visitor” like me. I had my fair share of malt distilleries, but when you walk into a grain distillery everything changes and your views of distilling change. This is surely a distillery, but nonetheless it is so much different from malt distilleries that you can only walk around in ore and probably miss a lot of the information that both gentlemen throw at you. The size of the distillery is probably only to be set off against other grain distilleries, which I haven’t visited yet. Well I will try to give you a review of the tour and hope that if I made any mistakes, Duncan and Ian will put me straight.
When arriving at the gate, there is a big sign that says “NO VISITORS”, but yes, I was allowed in and they tour was really arranged for which thanks to Julie, Margaret and Richard.
Even before the tour started it was clear that this was not an ordinarily distillery, grain distilleries are more like a chemical plant than that they are a distillery, in the way that I have been visiting a lot off. Set with the necessary security gear, we are off for the real tour. We are touring a plant of about 80 acres with about 140 personnel.
The first part of the tour Duncan Munro, production manager of Invergordon, takes me around the production plant. Duncan started from the “bottom” and in his 20 years at the distillery worked himself up into his current position.
One of the first things I was told is that Invergordon produces 35 million litres per year. When walking out to the distillery, we see a truck unloading a full load of wheat. When arriving at the distillery, they first check the quality and after that is approved, the wheat is dumped in one of the 2 silos. Each of them can hold 2,500 tons of wheat, as you probably understand, this is the main ingredient for the Invergordon spirit. However if you want to be able to get the fermenting process going, you will also need malted barley. Where there are arriving some twelve to fifteen 28ton trucks daily with wheat, the amount of malted barley is only about 150 ton per week.
Both the wheat and the malted barley are milled separately in 2 large Hammer mills. A load of 16,7 tons of wheat is put into pre heated water and heated (60° C). After that the temperature is taken up 100° and then 142° C. the malt is also put into water, however this water is only 6° C. After that the wheat and barley are put together into the mashtun, however not before the temperature of the wheat is taken down to about 62.8° C. If the temperature is higher there will be no conversion of starch into sugars. If leaving the mashtun the temperature is taken down to 8 to 9° C. To do this there is a cooling system, actually there are 2. If system 1 is in use, the second is cleaned and after 2 weeks takes over duty and system 1 is cleaned.
Next step is the seed-fermenter, here the yeast is added just before the worts are going into the wash backs. There are 23 stainless steel wash backs, 9 can contain 220,000 litres and the other 14 contain 300,000 litres. The fermentation takes 48 to 60 hours. Filling each tank takes up to 4.5 hours and emptying and cleaning the tanks takes about the same time.
From the wash backs the beer is put into a wash charger and after that it goes into the still. This is not the pot still that you are used to see in a malt distillery, now this is completely different. The production is done in a column, known as a continuous, patent or Coffey still. The still contains two large, connected parallel colums. One is the analyser, of stainless steel, and the other the rectifier, of copper. The wash comes in at the top of the analyser, and is warmed by steam, it will descend over a series of perforated plates. The plates hold back the heavier compounds, which rise from the bottom of the still. The lighter compounds are vaporised and go over in the rectifier. Here the vapours are cooled as they rise up the column, and will be collected in liquid form. The spirit is taken off at 94.5° ABV.
What about the remains? Invergordon produces cattle feed of the spent wash. The spent wash is put through a centrifuge and the draft is taken off. The liquid (5 % solids) is evaporated until it holds about 45 to 50 % solids. This will be put together with the draft and pellets are produced for cattle feed. As at Invergordon there are no copper stills, the cattle feed is usable for all kinds of animals.
Invergordon only uses bourbon casks, which they repair, and if necessary re-charr at the distillery. To end the part of the visit with Duncan, he showed me the boiler room, mostly not the most interesting place. But if you see the 4 boilers at Invergordon, you will have to admit that they are quite impressive. Basically there are 2 boilers with each having 2 compartments. They can be run all separately.
Next part of the visit is with Ian Mackay, spirit operations supervisor. Ian showed me one of their racked warehouses, of which they don’t have to much any more. With the quantities of spirit they are producing it is easier to palletise the warehouse. This means quite simple that the pallets are not put down anymore, but are staying straight up at pallets. This makes them easier to handle. There are in total 41 warehouses, which hold about 700,000 casks. And they even have permission to enlarge their premises and build even more warehouses.
Last stop brings us to the part where they cask up the spirit or whisky for transport. In this area they also work at the double maturation of Whyte & Mackay whisky. First all the malt whiskies necessary for the Whyte & Mackay blends are mixed and casked for 3 to 4 months. After that they add the grain whisky to the malt whisky and once more leave them in casks for 3 to 4 month, hence double marriage. This ended a tour at a distillery that I didn’t expect to get into. And why make a huge story about this one. Well as most people will not be able to visit a grain distillery, I hope this at least give you a little insight in how a grain distillery works.
Oh, if you are wondering if you know Invergordon from malt whisky, well that is possible. In 1965, the Ben Wyvis distillery was set up inside the Invergordon plant. In 1977 however the Ben Wyvis section was closed and dismantled. You still can see the stills, but you will have to go to Campbeltown and hope that you are able to visit the Glengyle distillery, because that is where the stills are now.