Aqua Vitae at Lindores Abbey

whisky barrel

Lindores Abbey is the location of the 1st recorded sale of whisky in 1494. For too long I’d thought Lindores was in the Scottish Borders (borderlands with England) rather than Fife (north of Edinburgh), an egregious error. The talented Jamie @tobytentoes set me straight then connected me with Andrew Lennie at the newly opened Lindores Abbey Distillery so I could learn more about what’s been discovered at the site.*


But first I had to figure out how to get down to Lindores from up in the highlands where I’d be beforehand. The Scotch network is the best. Thanks to Willie MacDougall, former Distillery Manager at Talisker, Oban and other places, I’d met Barry Johnston, a coppersmith who now owns Speyside Taxis. Barry had already told me about some of the many stills he’d built and repaired around Scotland & beyond. But I didn’t know he’d worked on Lindores’ new stills until he quietly mentioned it as he dropped me off.

andrew explaining

Of course I told Andrew and we cajoled Barry into checking out the stills he had built. THAT was amazing. I’m no Pollyanna. I like asking my own questions (ask anyone who has endured my taking notes on all sorts of arcana). But there is a beauty to listening to other people converse about work they love. Something about excellence gets me in the feels.

What has this to do with spirits and cocktails? Barry makes the copper stills in which whisky is made. Coppersmithing is loud, hard work. It’s also gorgeous artistry. Stills are beautiful, ranging from gold to red to brown to patinated green, glowing and dull – sometimes all on the same curve. Andrew is an ambassador for a distillery self-consciously built as a living museum to the history of aqua vitae, the water of life. Listening to Andrew and Barry talk about these gorgeous vessels was akin to how I imagine some might feel at a racetrack listening to an auto engineer and a driver.

And the particular path that led to the moment in these pix started at Jamie’s bar when he made me some first rate drinks and I shared some samples I had brought.

THAT is the history and culture of drink in a nutshell; that is what I work on.

Lindores is now both a brand new distillery and a working museum. Discovered on the grounds in November 2018 was what may be the oldest whisky still in the world. Tests on grains from the site are consistent with it having been used to distill barley in the 13th or 14th century. It isn’t clear yet how far back the still might date.

on the grounds explaining

Lindores is a small operation, working toward using all locally grown barley. Typically, new whisk(e)y distilleries have a choice between sourcing spirits or selling gin until they have aged stocks. Lindores has chosen different path: they have decided to make what the Abbey would’ve made in the middle ages: Aqua Vitae, an unsweetened spirit infused with herbs & spices grown on the grounds. Think unsweetened cousin to Chartreuse and Benedictine.

Lindores continues this theme with an apothecary where visitors can try a hand at mixing herbs into its new make spirit & bottling their own samples. Since I was geeking out over the newly discovered still when I visited, and enjoying seeing the copper stills with my coppersmith friend who drove me, I didn’t get a chance to try the apothecary. But I urge anyone who can to do so —  then tell about it! And I hope Lindores Abbey Distillery figures out a USA distributor soon because their aqua vitae is glorious — both on its own and in a cocktail.