SPRINGBANK WHISKY SCHOOL
Unlike yesterday which was an easy introduction, today was a proper working day. We began with mashing, before filling the casks that were stencilled yesterday and then putting them away in the warehouse.
Mashing is the process of combining hot water and grist (milled malt) to extract a sugary solution, called Wort. Springbank is unique in that its mashing process is slower than most distilleries and uses four waters rather than the usual two or three, ensuring the maximum amount of fermentable sugars are extracted.
Filling the casks was quite a fun job. The machine that is used pours new make spirit into the cask at the industry standard of 63.5% ABV. The nozzle shuts off when the cask is filled to the desired level and the operator calls out the number of litres that were delivered. This figure, just under 200L since they were ex-bourbon barrels, was then stencilled onto the barrel and recorded by the distillery manager. The cask is sealed with a wooden plug called a ‘bung’ before being rolled out of the filling room. The last few casks are weighed for volume, since the filling machine becomes inaccurate when the spirit tank gets too low.
Once all the casks were filled, we rolled them by hand to one of the dunnage warehouses (Warehouse 7) where we prepared new planks of wood that are used to roll the casks into position and keep them off the damp and mouldy dunnage floor. Whisky casks need to be stored with the bung upright to prevent potential leaks and full casks can be difficult to manoeuvre. The distillery staff have a neat method for preventing unnecessary handling; a clock face system is used for aligning the bungs before rolling the casks onto the boards in such a way that the bung faces upwards after it rolls into its final position on the rack. This varies depending on the diameter of the cask but in our case, if you lined up the bung at the start of the boards at 12 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 8 o’clock and repeat, each cask you rolled onto the boards would finish bung up. It was clearly an efficiency that has developed over the years and passed on from staff member to staff member, but it saves having to spin casks around in difficult spots.
The mill at Springbank is quite literally a working museum piece having been in regular use for over seventy years!
The mill is driven my a single motor and drive wheel on the ground level, this powers a series of belts and wheels which operate every machine in the process. Unfortunately, the original 70+ year old belt used in the grain elevator, had stretched to a point where the tensioner could no longer take up the slack. This presented an opportunity for some real mechanical repair work since a section of the belt had to be removed to shorten it. Once complete, the mill was fully operational again and is a real marvel to see in action.
That evening, we met up with my dad who told us how surprised he was the night before when he ordered a pizza at the closest fish & chips shop and they deep fried it! Yes it is true, the Scots with deep fry anything. We all went to the Ardshiel Hotel which is famous in Campbeltown for having a huge selection of whiskies. We all tried and shared our drams and tasted quite a wide range. One of my highlights was a Springbank 11yo Local Barley release, but my favourite was my old faithful Springbank 12yo Cask Strength.
We left the Ardshiel around closing time, both cheerier and poorer and popped into the distillery on the way back to the Dellwood Hotel. During the Springbank Whisky School, you have near unlimited access to the distillery and since it runs 24/7 five days a week, you can even go in during the night shift if you wish.
WHISKY SCHOOL STUDENT PROFILE
Paul 53, Technology Services, UK
How did you get into whisky?
When I was younger I sniffed a bottle of whisky my dad had and really liked the smell of it! My interest heightened as I got older and learned about all the different types of whisky on my frequent visits to Scotland.
How did you hear about the Springbank Whisky School?
I was looking for a deeper appreciation of whisky and searched google; Springbank came up. I had received a bottle on my 40th and really enjoyed it, so I joined the waiting list straight away.
What is your favourite whisky?
It has to be a Springbank 12 cask strength. In my opinion, it has everything I want- it is complex, but not overpowering.