A visit to Lindores Abbey Distillery


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Where it all began?

The late Michael Jackson (not that one) was one of, if not the most beloved and respected beer and whisky reviewers in the field, until his untimely death in 2007. In his evocative writing, Jackson once described Lindores as a pilgrimage for whisky lovers. When he wrote those words, there was only a crumbling ruin where the Abbey once stood but those making the journey today, are rewarded with far more than a site of historical interest.

Lindores was a 12th century Abbey on the outskirts of Newburgh, in Fife. Its historical significance to Scotch whisky stems from a note in the Royal exchequer rolls of 1495 that reads ‘To Brother John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae, VIII bolls of malt.‘ This one solitary note tells us that the monks of Lindores were distilling Aqua Vitae, the “Water of Life”. It is the earliest written record of the practice in Scotland.

Lindores Abbey was sacked in 1559 by John Knox, with much of its stonework redistributed throughout Newburgh in the years that follows. Today, it lies in ruins, although the scale of the place can still be imagined by what remains. The task of its preservation falls on local landowner Andrew Mackenzie-Smith. Inspired by Jackson, Mackenzie-Smith conceived of building a distillery on the site and in 2013, work began to convert some old farm buildings that stood adjacent to the abbey.

In late November, a happy coincidence saw me bound for the Kingdom of Fife and a relaxing weekend in St Andrews. Since I was passing, I couldn’t resist stopping by Lindores for a look around. Immediately you can see that the distillery and visitor centre have been finished to a high standard and the pot stills in particular, resident next to floor to ceiling windows that overlook the ruined abbey, are a site to behold. It’s here, beside the trio of gleaming copper stills, gazing out upon the crumbling walls of the abbey that the weight of history begins to sink in. In 2017, distilling will return to Lindores, some 522 years after John Cor and his brethren operated their own still on behalf of the King. 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 were silent but I was informed by my excellent 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 still an enriching experience and warrants 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 known distillers. Nowhere in this country, perhaps the world, will you get a better sense of history and the place Scotch whisky holds within it. Like the man said, it’s a pilgrimage.

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