It has been a quiet week up at Glenfiddich, literally. Late spring has long been the traditional time for the so called 'Silent Season' when many distilleries across Speyside cease production for up to three weeks in order for essential maintenance and safety checks to be carried out on the plant and equipment. For most of the past couple of weeks the still houses of Glenfiddich have pretty much been out of bounds to visitors. But with the shut down now coming to an end and production scheduled to start up once again there was an opportunity to get our newest resident, Isidora Correa in for a quick tour of the process areas.
Isidora is our very first artist from Chile. So far she has used ceramics, plastics and wood in her sculptural works. However for her time at Glenfiddich she plans on using copper as her primary material. Coincidently, Chile is the worlds top producer of copper and has with in it's territory well over a quarter of the world's total reserves.
The tour of the Glenfiddich process areas let her see first hand just how central copper is in the production of single malt whisky. Not only do it's physical properties of being highly malleable and an excellent conductor of heat make it ideal for the construction of stills and other pieces of distilling equipment. It has qualities that allow it to interact with the hot vapours rise up inside the still. 'Sweetening' the flavour profile of the new make spirit, removing some of the more sulphurous elements present in the brew. Over time the scouring action of hot gases inside the still cause certain areas of the vessel to wear out faster than others. In areas of high scouring such as the top of the still, where the vapours meet the swan neck, up to 2mm of copper thickness can be lost over the life time use - normally around 15 to 20 years.
Stills are of course themselves highly crafted objects, the matching of function and form is almost sculptural itself. As the shape and size of a still directly affects the character and flavour profile of the new make spirit it produces there has developed a huge variety of designs, unique to each distillery. The stills of Glenfiddich are particularly small so as a comparison we also managed to take a look at William Grant and Son's other two distilleries, Balvenie and Kinnive, allowing Isidora to begin to understand the range of forms and sizes stills can take.
This was further reinforced with a special visit to Forsyths of Rothes, a family owned business based a few miles from Dufftown. Forsyths are one of Scotland's principle coppersmiths serving the distilling industry internationally. Our visit by special arrangement allowed Isidora and Rhonda the opportunity to see an age old craft in action. Although modern technology is now employed at certain stages of production. The vast majority of the process involved in transforming a sheet of metal into a ready to function distilling vessel still requires a high degree of traditional handcrafting and finishing. And so with same techniques and tools being used today that would have been know to the companies founder Alexander Forsyth when he began his apprenticeship in the 1890's.
As well as checking on the progress of new stills currently being made for Glenfiddich. We were also able to see a number of other finished stills ready to be installed at distilleries both home and abroad. Being given this rare opportunity to see such a group of stills assembled together really brought home the diversity and beauty of these objects.