All quiet now on the still house front

1.25pm, Thursday 1st September, Yalumba Still House, Eden Valley Road, Angaston, The Barossa

As I’m writing this, the boiler has been turned off, and the remnants of the last distilled malt charge are cooling in the pot – and will be flushed out in the next couple of hours. This was the already-distilled malt charge spirit that had been going through the double distillation to capture the magic ‘heart’ of the run, destined to resurface in bottle in about 10 years time as Smith’s Australian Malt Whisky.

I was just having a chat to Zimmy the spirit whisperer up in the kitchen, and it looks like the boys’ serious 24 hour attention to the ‘old girl’ – as the 80-year-old pot still is affectionately called – was very worthwhile. They ran the double distillation really slowly, and from 8 am yesterday morning until about 10 am this morning – at 2 litres per minute – most of the spirit coming across was clean as a whistle. This means that only toward the very end did Zimmy cut the slightly oily ‘tails’ out as they appeared. This is good, because it means that there will be about 6,000 litres of 50-odd % v/v strength spirit that will go into barrel to age gracefully into Australian Malt Whisky. Then, after you take into account what soaks into the timber, plus the ‘angels’ share’ – what evaporates over time – then we should with any luck end up with at least 5,000 bottles of Smith’s Whisky in 10 years or so. Not sure where I’ll be at the time, but you can be absolutely sure that all being well – at least one bottle will have my name on it!

So as the boiler gets packed away, the herb garden returns to normal, and the pot still goes back to sleep until next time – it’s worth remembering that once upon a time – from 1890 to 1915, The Barossa was known as The Vineyard of The Empire, and our major job as a winegrowing region was to produce massive amounts of fortified wines for the British Empire in all her corners of the world. Every still in the Barossa would have been humming night and day, and it would have been spirit, sherry and port left, right and centre – with lashings of excellent brandy and whisky produced on the side. So it’s nice to keep that tradition alive and fire the old girl up every few years, and by the way that Smith’s Whisky disappears off the shelf pretty much as it’s released … we’re not the only ones who think that way. Here’s the view of the stillhouse this afternoon as the whole thing winds down – not a lot has changed bar the landscaping in the garden over the last 100 years.

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