Legendary whisky writer Michael Jackson once described Lindores Abbey as a pilgrimage for the whisky lover, yet at the time his words were written there was little but a ruin where the Abbey once stood. Those who make the journey today however, are rewarded with far more than ‘just’ a site of historical interest.
Lindores was a 12th century Abbey on the outskirts of Newburgh in Fife. Its significance to whisky fans stems from a note in the exchequer rolls of 1495 which reads ‘To Brother John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae, VIII bolls of malt.‘ This single note tells us the Lindores Monks were making Aqua Vitae – the Water of Life – on behalf of the King and thus cements the Abbey as the earliest known distillation site in Scotland.
Lindores was rather tragically sacked in 1559 by John Knox, with much of its stonework redistributed throughout Newburgh and today, the site lies in ruins with the burden of its preservation falling on local landowner Andrew Mackenzie-Smith. Mackenzie-Smith had long dreamt of bringing whisky back to the site and in 2013 this dream took a significant step towards becoming reality when work began to convert an old farm building into a fully functioning distillery.
In late November, a happy coincidence saw me bound for the Kingdom of Fife and I couldn’t resist stopping by the Abbey for a look around. The distillery and visitor centre have been finished to a very high standard and the still-room in particular, complete with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ruined abbey, is a site to behold. It is here, standing by a trio of gleaming copper stills and gazing upon the crumbling walls of the abbey that the weight of history begins to sink in. Here, in 2017, distilling will return to Lindores, some 522 years after John Cor and his brethren operated their own still. One can’t help but wonder what those monks would say now, were they to catch site of this new, modern distillery.
At the time of my visit, the Lindores stills lay silent but I was informed by my passionate guide John that their license was en route and testing of the new equipment would begin upon its arrival.
So, while a Lindores Abbey single malt remains a long way off, a visit to the distillery is an enriching enough experience to warrant the journey. Go and admire the gleaming new distillery. Wander amongst the stones of the Abbey and walk in the footsteps of Scotland’s earliest distillers. Nowhere in this country, perhaps the world, will you get a better sense of history and the place whisky holds within it. After all, it’s like the man said, ‘For the whisky lover, it is a pilgrimage‘.
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