The Beating Heart of Rosebank: Our Pot Stills
The beating heart of the new Rosebank distillery will be its three pot stills pumping out the spirit destined to become Rosebank single malt whisky. When the weather is dreich, there will no better place to be than soaking up the warmth from these magnificent vessels in burnished copper. As with any malt distillery in Scotland, their design will be entirely bespoke. “Each still has a unique shape, and each brings a unique character to the newmake spirit,” says Robbie Hughes, group distillation manager.
By the time Ian Macleod Distillers bought this long-closed distillery in 2017, the original stills had been ripped out by copper thieves. Luckily, detailed plans survived, and these are being faithfully copied by Forsyth’s, the coppersmiths and still makers in Rothes. Any slight change and you would alter the whisky. It might produce a decent dram, but it wouldn’t be Rosebank.
“The Rosebank wash still is quite unusual,” says Robbie. “Instead of a nice swan neck, it looks like someone’s decapitated the head and put a flat top on.” The effect is likely to be a slightly richer spirit with a bit more body. It will be fed into what he calls “quite a graceful wee still, where you’re building up the alcohols and floral notes.” Officially, this is the Low Wines & Feints still which feeds the spirit still, although some will be kept back and redistilled in one of the many permutations of triple distillation.
However, as with all pot still distillation, the magical ingredient is the copper. The vapours rise up from the boiling liquid inside the still, condense on the metal and trickle back into the pot. Every time it happens, the copper strips out some of the heavier elements until the vapour is finally light enough to make it over the neck of the still. Robbie likens it to a salmon repeatedly trying to leap a waterfall on its journey upstream.
A cleaner spirit allows more subtle flavours and aromas to shine through, but too clean and it will lack depth and character. It is a fine balance, and Robbie expects it will take quite a few attempts to get it perfect. But the moment of truth is approaching in just over a year when the stills are fired up for the first time.