I first tasted Edradour a little over a year ago. It made a good initial impression, which piqued my interest enough to at least take a look at their website. They pride themselves on doing things the old-fashioned way and are still using much of the Victorian era equipment that has been in the distillery since its early days.
The website makes reference to their use of a Morton’s Refrigerator and claims it is the last working one in the industry, but they don’t mention what it does or how it works. I did have an idea though.
After the mashing process (where the grain steeps in hot water), the wort (the resulting liquid) must be cooled from roughly 160°F to around room temperature before being transferred to the washback. If this step is skipped, the yeast will die when it is added to the still hot liquid. The modern method employs a counter-flow chiller (or a plate chiller), where hot wort enters from one end and cold water enters from the other. The two liquids are kept separate, but coaxial tubing (or alternating channels between the plates) allows heat to be transferred between them, cooling the wort and warming the water. The oldest method of cooling the wort was to place it in a large, shallow, open topped tank, where the temperature could drop sufficiently over night, when the large surface area was exposed to the cooler nocturnal air.
The photos above show the remnants of the old cast iron cooling tank and the modern (thought slightly dated) chiller at Springbank. My suspicion was that the Morton’s Refrigerator was either a different name for the open-air, shallow tank (they are called coolships in the beer industry), or some intermediate technology between that and the modern chiller.
I’m certain I will return to Scotland some day, and when I do Edradour will be near the top of my list of places to visit. The distillery is said to be quite picturesque and is easily accessible, being located just 60 miles north of the midway point between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I would love to see the Morton’s Refrigerator and the rest of the vintage equipment in action, but as my return to the land of heather and peat is not immanent, I’ll have to resort to a Google search to learn more for now.
Edradour (pronounced edra-dower, rhymes with power) claims to be the smallest distillery in Scotland. With their capacity a little over 100,000 liters of pure alcohol per year, Edradour is on par with Kilchoman, which began distilling late in 2005. Since then three new Scottish distilleries have come online with significantly lower capacities.
The distillery had gained a bit of a dodgy reputation after struggling with consistency issues for many years, but that era came to an end in 2002 with a change in ownership. This was when Edradour was purchased by the independent bottler Signatory, and a former Laphroaig distillery manager was brought in to steer the ship and straighten things out.
As for the mysterious Morton’s Refrigerator, I had to do little digging but I finally found the information I was looking for. It turns out that this was an intermediate step in technology between the large, shallow cooling tank and the modern chiller. It is essentially an open trough, set on a slight angle, which the wort flows through. There are pipes in the trough, oriented perpendicular to the flow of the wort, which carry cold water. Heat is transferred from the wort to the water through these pipes.
The Morton’s Refrigerator at Edradour dated to 1934 (it may not have been the original; the technology had been around since at least the 1880’s). But after 75 years that cast iron unit had reached the end of its useful life. It would have made sense to replace it with a modern chiller, but the owners chose to hold on to tradition and commissioned a stainless steel replica of their retired Morton’s Refrigerator.
Thanks to the Whisky Cyclist Blog for letting me borrow their photos of both the original unit and its replacement.
Now that I have that mystery sorted out, it’s on to the whisky.
The rich nose is made up primarily of malt and sherry notes.
On the palate it is slightly nutty with dark fruit elements well integrated into the malty core. The slightest hint of a floral note (or perhaps it is mint?) adds depth, and it has just enough heat to hold one’s attention right through the pleasantly long finish. Very lightly peated malt is used, but the other flavors carry enough intensity that the smokiness is all but hidden.
It’s weighty, but not cumbersome. Overall, a single malt that is well made and quite enjoyable.