Production

Dalmunach’s octagonal spirit safe

We investigate the many sides of this essential piece of kit
By Jonny McCormick
Outside the Dalmunach Distillery
Outside the Dalmunach Distillery
Not content to settle for unveiling a standard commemorative wall plaque, the organisers of the opening ceremony for Dalmunach Distillery in 2015 were determined to rise to the occasion.

Firstly, the dignitaries were conducted around the facilities to admire the mighty twelve tonne, valley bottom, stainless steel mash tun made by Briggs of Burton, which spans 9.5 metres in diameter. Next, the guests inspected the sixteen 59,000 litre stainless steel washbacks lined up in a double row.

Following the welcoming speeches and press photos, the main party stepped down into the vaulted and spacious stillhouse, congregating around the centre where a white silk parachute drape cloaked an object the size of a small car. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stepped forward to perform the official duties and duly scissored her way through the royal blue ribbon and let it fall to the ground.

Suddenly, the cover twitched and then swished up and away into the roof space, pulled by unseen hands, the flapping shroud mimicking the propulsion of a startled jellyfish. Ta-dah! As the applause faded, guests drank in the impressive view now revealed: new make spirit gurgling through Dalmunach’s gleaming octagonal spirit safe. Master distiller Alan Winchester beamed with pride. In a stroke, Chivas Brothers had increased its distilling capacity on Speyside by 10 per cent.

A drone’s eye view over the Spey valley reveals how the footprint of Dalmunach Distillery is shaped like a sheaf of barley. After Glenlivet, it’s Chivas Brothers’ next largest distillery on Speyside. Light floods into the stillhouse through huge picture windows that look out over the warehouses of the demolished Imperial distillery, one of the integral design features that acknowledge the site’s distilling heritage. Whereas the stillhouse at most malt whisky distilleries are configured with an alignment of stills in a linear or parallel fashion, Dalmunach has installed its Forsyth-built stills in a circular arrangement around the focal point of the spirit safe. Eight stills running for eight hours condensing into an eight-sided chamber. Even the contours of the 30,000 litres tulip-shaped wash stills and the 20,000 litres onion-shaped spirit stills are another nod to the legacy of the stills from Imperial Distillery.

An octagonal spirit safe arrangement is not unique in the Scotch whisky world – the timber-clad specimen in Ailsa Bay Distillery is another well-known example. Spirit safes are seldom the main attraction in the stillroom, their boxy appearance like some steampunk fish tank rigged with jutting brass protuberances from tap handles to chunky padlocks.

They should lose out to the visual majesty of the copper pot stills every time, but not here. While the functionality of the Dalmunach spirit safe is no different to any other distillery’s kit, that is, the low wines and spirit condense and trickle through the globular glass bowls and flow into the receiver tanks, this one has an aesthetically pleasing adornment incorporated into every one of its multi-faceted sides. A riveted, brass framed window below the safe gives access to a view of the spirit cascading over a sheet of undulating copper, like the ripples of a riverbed. Sure, some might say it’s nothing more than a decorative embellishment, but as the little waterfall of clear spirit splashes over the shiny surface, it encapsulates the elements of distillation like a living sculpture.

All in all, it’s a rather mesmerizing piece of kit.
The still house at Dalmunach
The still house at Dalmunach
A detailed close up of wash still No.4
A detailed close up of wash still No.4
A detailed close up of wash still No.4
A detailed close up of wash still No.4
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon