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 in whisky circles 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 it’s stonework redistributed throughout Newburgh. Today the Abbey lies in ruins with the burden of it’s preservation falling on local landowner Andrew Mackenzie-Smith. Mackenzie-Smith had long dreamt of bringing whisky back to the site and in 2013, work finally began on converting an old farm building, adjacent to the Abbey, 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 new copper stills, 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, were their eyes to rest upon this new 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 it’s arrival.
So while a Lindores Abbey single malt remains a long way off, a visit to the distillery is enriching enough to warrant the journey. Go. Go and admire the new distillery. Walk amongst the stones of the Abbey. Breathe the air once inhaled by Scotland’s earliest known distillers and walk the paths they once trod. Nowhere in Scotland, perhaps the world, will you get a better sense of history and the place whisky holds within it. Like the man said, ‘For the whisky lover, it is a pilgrimage‘.