All Scotch whisky distilleries are not the same. Wherever and whenever you visit, the distillery will make a big deal out of the unique qualities that their particular apparatus makes to the whisky making process. The Kit is a new, regular feature where we'll look in-depth at a single piece of equipment used in the production of Scotch whisky. It could be a vintage tool used by a cooper, a peat-cutting implement, a historic drum malting, or a cask stencil, but this is where you come in. We are looking for your help to pinpoint interesting pieces of kit from across Scotland so that we can share them with Whisky Magazine readers around the globe. Next time you spot some nifty, jaw-dropping piece of distillery equipment, drop me a line at email@example.com or tweet us @Whisky_Magazine #whiskykit. You never know, your suggestion may be selected to feature in the next issue!
To kick us off, we're heading to Glenturret Distillery, near Crieff, Scotland's oldest distillery and home to The Famous Grouse Experience. However, we're not here for the catchy jingles and dancing game birds. We're here for the kit.
Glenturret Distillery maintains the last hand-operated mashtun in Scotland. We're not talking about manually operated pumps here; this is difficult, arduous work. Their stainless steel mashtun was built by Forsyth's of Rothes, and holds 1.1 tons of grist, the milled malted barley. This is mixed with 5,200 litres of sparge from an overhead spout. Now, think of traditional open-topped mashtuns where the rakes, like bent TV aerials, crawl slowly through the mash, and contrast that with the lauter tun, where the rigid blades cleave through the mash to churn up the grist and help the sugars to dissolve into the worts. Then marvel at the mashtun at Glenturret. Everything is done by hand using a long wooden rouser, made by Ian Renwick, the distillery's production supervisor. It's hot, physical labour, pushing down hard on the mashtun's wire mesh floor to separate the heavy, settling elements in the bed and stir them up into the foaming, soupy liquid. The rouser is 2.5 metres long, ending with a slotted, rake-like head drilled with perforations. Gripping the rouser with both hands makes your forearms ache and hardens the muscles around the shoulders, leaving you defenceless against the sweltering, rising steam.
The mashman stokes with the rouser multiple times each mash, for 8-9 minutes intervals, during the first, second and third waters. Even once the worts are drained off, the hard graft is not over. There is no self-cleaning system to rinse away the residue, instead the mashman dons a pair of wellies and climbs down amongst the remnants of the spent grist known as draff. Armed with a long-handled shovel, he must channel the sodden draff and marshal it down the draff port where a revolving screw deposits it into a waiting trailer.
We salute the Herculean effort made by the mashman, the gondolier of Glenturret, as we hail the last hand-operated mashtun in Scotland as one serious piece of kit.