Round the Bend

Round the Bend

Trying to make sense of the pipework in the Talisker stillroom could drive you round the bend

The Kit | 26 Jan 2018 | Issue 149 | By Jonny McCormick

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There are enough metallic twists and turns here to remind you of a child’s giant buzz wire game. At most Scotch whisky distilleries, the lyne arm or lye pipe leaves the head of the copper pot still and conveys the vapours from distillation to the condenser. Talisker has two wash stills with a capacity of 14,706 litres; tall necked beauties with a modest little boil ball at the base, each section of the still given a lick of pillar box red paint where it’s joined together. Parked to the left are three squat low wines or spirit stills that hold 11,024 litres, all manufactured by Abercrombie & Co of Alloa. The stills have been oil-fired since 1972, introduced a decade after the distillery reopened on 1 September 1962 following the devastating fire that started in spirit still No. 1 in November 1960, when coal fires were used to directly heat the stills.

The wash still lyne arm exits at almost a right angle and heads straight for the back wall of the still house. At the last minute, the pipework takes a sudden sharp downwards turn, manages to pull level and then dives straight through the wall. The contours of Talisker’s curious U-shaped lyne arm have been likened to the distorting effect of a capacious backside sitting on a wire fence. A kinked lyne arm has been part of the distillation set-up at Talisker Distillery since 1830. Look closely, and you can see that it’s really a Y-shaped bend, with a thin purifier pipe snaking away from the lower apex of the main pipe, and burying itself back into the belly of the copper pot still. This pipe prevents entrainment, letting any heavier condensed elements run back down into the still for re-distillation; only vapours can successfully negotiate the chicane.

By comparison, the dumpy low wine stills rise with a tapering wick, leading to a straight lyne arm on a gentle downward angle that ploughs directly through the wall without hesitation or deviation. In order to satisfy the curiosity of what lies beyond, you need to step outside. There, you will find Talisker’s worm tubs waiting for inspection. These look like five circular infinity pools built of larch, steam rising into the island air. On the right, the three lyne pipes of the low wines stills plunge into the water, angled on to the surface like the heads of a family of lionesses lapping at a watering hole. Contrast that with the serpentine U-bend emerging from the wash stills; this rears up beyond the wall, flips 180-degrees like a springboard diver and submerges deep beneath the surface with barely a ripple. Look closely, and slithering deeper into the gloom, the girth of the huge copper coils of the worms can be glimpsed. The copper spirals round and around underneath the cooling water, the spirit condensing inside the lumen of the worms and trickling back for collection.

February is silent season, the month when the worms undergo their annual maintenance. Worms have a working lifespan of 12 to 15 years on average, though the last full replacement at Talisker occurred in 1998. To make the task easier, the whole system is fitted to a metal frame that can be lifted out in one piece: each coil is built in three sections, making it easier for Abercrombie to replace individual sections. To experience the full glory of this kit, then make sure you book on to the two hour tasting tour available on week days from April to October and view the Talisker lyne arm and worm tubs for yourself. Talisker wouldn’t taste the same without them.
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