Glen Mordor Strikes Back!

Roseisle Distillery

A malt whisky distillery that looks like a fancy Japanese hotel? Yup. It’s Roseisle, ladies and gentlemen. Also known as Glen Mordor or the Death Star.

Diageo is a huge company and a lot of us have issues with them. They enrage maltheads by keeping most the best juice for blending, they annoy us with their weirdly priced special releases… but above all they drive us up the wall with their tendency to keep their cards to their chest. What I learned during my recent trip to Roseisle, however, is that we (bloggers) annoy them almost as much as they annoy us. How? By occasionally writing absolute bullshit about how and why they do things.

Luckily, instead of suing us or planting bombs in our cars, they invited the bunch of us over to check the new plant out, listen what they have to say about it and ask difficult questions.

Roseisle Mash Tuns

Since the plans to build Roseisle were announced, all sorts of public comments and accusations have been made. Someone wrote that they were going to put in lots of different pot stills imitating those in other distilleries in shape and size. The purpose of that would be to make various styles needed for blending which would free up capacity in places like Talisker or Cardhu to lay down more stock for single malt bottlings. I even liked the idea but it turned out to be absolute rubbish. What’s more, a few people wrote and said that once Roseisle was up and running, Diageo would shut down a few small distilleries which are now part of the Flora & Fauna range. When we all met up the night before the visit and the topic cropped up over dinner, it was quickly decided that the ‘Death Star Question’ would have to be asked and answered honestly in order for the Diageo–commentators dynamics to change.

To cut the long story short, Nick Morgan (head of malts at Diageo) kindly asked the question for us during the main briefing on the day and some pretty dramatic scenes followed. By speculating we had hurt their feelings, it seems, and were told we didn’t have a clue what we were talking about. We were ensured that the company fought hard for every malt distillery out there and there were no plans to close any of the currently operating plants. It was exclaimed repeatedly that the sole purpose of Roseisle was to increase company’s capacity in Scotland in order to further develop the blended whisky category. If that is the case, and I have no reasons to believe otherwise, they had every right to be pissed off with some of the comments, I guess.

Furthermore, Roseisle’s spirits do not mimic any other distillery and are not being made to replace anything. Why plural? The distillery is set up in a way that allows it to use part of its 12m litre capacity (they intend to make only about 10m) to produce light, grassy and floral spirit and part to make heavier, more sulphury and waxy variety. How? It’s quite simple really. Some of the stills are equipped with two condensers, one copper and one stainless steel. Proportion of the spirit condensed in the latter is deprived of the desulphuring effect of copper and is therefore much heavier, not unlike sprit condensed in a worm tub. At the time of writing no heavy variety has been distilled yet.

The light new make spirit (which will be the main bulk type made in the plant) is subtle and grassy with light sweet floral esters at the back. According to Diageo’s blenders it resembles Glendullan and is likely to mature into similar style of whisky. In a few years it is likely to join the Flora & Fauna range so they won’t be making any secrets of what it actually tastes like.

Roseisle Stillhouse

For the record I shall add that Roseisle is equipped with 14 pot stills set up in two rows in a spacious, light and cathedral-like stillhouse. The stills are fed by 14 gigantic stainless steel washbacks and two lauter mash tuns operating as a pair. All this is operated electronically from a control room situated, somewhat unusually, right in the middle of the distillery building. Roseisle operators even have portable control pads which were described as ‘just like iPads but with actual purpose’. One more thing I should add here is the bioenergy plant on which I got fed much more information than I would like and which can be shortly summed up as a massive concentration of ovens, pipes and tanks that help to save the planet.

That’s it. They really make whisky from barley and not dead babies there, the plant is operated by humans and not Cylons and in terms of output it’s not even going to be the biggest in Scotland.

What do you think? Are you convinced?

Lucas

Roseisle Distillery 1

Comments

  1. Good article. I suppose if the whisky is good, then it’s all that really matters. or is it? Part of the charm of whisky is its production – its Heath Robinson style crafting. This for me has lost all of the magic that makes malt whisky what it is.

  2. What effect Roseisle will have on the Scotch malt landscape can only be guessed at. Time will tell.

    But this passage I found most interesting:

    “…but above all they drive us up the wall with their tendency to keep their cards to their chest. What I learned during my recent trip to Roseisle, however, is that we (bloggers) annoy them almost as much as they annoy us. How? By occasionally writing absolute bullshit about how and why they do things.”

    Perhaps the Diageo people will finally learn that these are two the sides of the same coin. If you don’t tell is how and why you do things, we are forced to engage in wild speculations, some of which may even be bullshit…

  3. weerscal,

    Very true! But if you think about blended whisky, the bulk component of it – grain spirit – has long been made in plants that look more like powerhouses than distilleries;) The purpose of Roseisle is just that, to make whisky for blending.

    And as you said, as long as it’s good…

    The most important thing for me is that they leave the traditional distilleres alone and let them do their thing.

    Lucas

  4. Oliver,

    We tried hard to put this across when there. I think there are some cracks in The Wall;)

  5. You have to admit, it would be cooler if the plant was operated by cylons…

  6. Peter,

    Number 5′s?

    :D

  7. this place gives me the creeps. this is whisky or a fucking space ship?

    i dont like it!

  8. I’ve been past this place a few times in the past by accident when up in the area. I always thought it was a distribution centre or something!

  9. They all seemed modern once… just wait 200 years and you’ll see;)

  10. Roseisle is not open to the public, though, is it? Maybe if it had been we, the whisky aesthetes, would have a very different facade, perhaps vaguely Auchroisk-like in architectural vernacular, or The Glenlivet, to appreciate. I rather think, however, that Diageo deserve some credit for resisting this temptation and doing the distillery equivalent of calling a spade a spade.
    Roseisle typifies modern distilling: pagoda vents? Obselete if you are malting commercially. Nice stone dunnage warehouses? Inefficient use of space. These traditional features do denote the history of a distillery and distilling, however, once inside most of your other well-established plants they are now slimmed-down, sterile facilities, too.
    Roseisle, with its ‘Japanese hotel’ quality, all the better reflects the visage of whisky-making in 2010 – and not only that undertaken by Diageo. If we don’t like it then it is solely the present state of the industry with which we are taking issue. I suggest we get used to it.

  11. If they’re not making whisky out of malted babies, I’m not buying any!

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