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Gareth Reid

Whisky distiller (Kingsbarns Distillery)

in distiller

Who are you, and what do you do?

Gareth Reid, whisky distiller at Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, Scotland.

What hardware do you use?

Making whisky is a fairly analogue process, so my interpretation of hardware would be steam for heating, water for cooling and pumps, valves, hoses and pipes for moving various liquids around. And of course the most important piece of hardware - the oak casks that the whisky matures in.

Each week we make seven batches of single malt whisky, which in around ten years will fill about 10,000 bottles.

Our daily process is to mash 1.5 tonnes of malted barley to make 7800 litres of wort. Scotch malt whisky must only be made with malted barley. We soak the malted barley in water at specified temperatures, so the barley's own enzymes (normally used for germination) convert the starches to fermentable sugars. We then ferment this to make our wash which is 8% alcohol.

We then distill this in our copper wash still to concentrate the alcohol. The vapour from the still is condensed and collected and mixed with the heads (foreshots) and tails (feints) from the spirit distillation, producing about 4500 litres of a product called low wines, which is around 23% abv.

Next, we make the new make spirit, which is the unmatured spirit which will become whisky. The low wines are distilled in the copper spirit still and the distillate from this run is cut into three parts; heads, hearts and tails. The rate of distillation and the percentage alcohol of these cut points play an important part in determining the character of both the new make spirit and the final whisky.

The heads and tails contain undesirable compounds and flavours, so they get redistilled as part of the low wines in the next day's distillation. The heart of the run is collected as new make spirit, which is diluted with water to 63.5% alcohol. We then transfer it to oak casks to be matured. Most of our casks are ex-bourbon casks from Tennessee and Kentucky, but sometimes we use port or sherry casks.

The whisky has to mature for at least three years and one day in order to legally be called Scotch Whisky, but it's generally 10 years plus.

All of our spent barley goes to a farmer for cattle feed and our liquid by-products are used for fertiliser.

And what software?

We have a degree of semi-automation in the brewhouse, which makes our lives a bit easier! We can control some of the valves and pumps using a mimic on an HMI, which saves a lot of running around. The brewhouse can also run through preset programs, meaning we can put a brew through with minimal input, allowing us to get on with other things. The best thing is that we can empty spent grain from the mash tun by pressing a few buttons on the mimic, which is an untold luxury for anyone who has ever dug out a tun by hand!

What would be your dream setup?

Air conditioning. In reality it would be too wasteful but distilleries and breweries are always too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter!