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Today we’re exploring the role of the whisky spirit safe.
Certain things in and around distilleries have over the years become symbols of our national drink. Think of the pagoda roof or pot stills, reproduced in logos and graphics, captured in countless photographs. But, somewhat paradoxically, the one thing most distillers would consider to be the true beating heart of a distillery – the centre from which all other activity radiates – is a mysterious and inconspicuous glass and metal box. The spirit safe.
In the days gone by every distillery had excise men working on site. That shows you how closely monitored legal production of Scotch whisky has always been. But no excise man could oversee all activity at a distillery at all times and therefore the crucial task of collecting low wines and cutting the spirit run had to be done under lock and key. A clever invention that the spirit safe was, it allowed distillers to remotely direct the flow of low wines, foreshots, the heart of the run and feints coming from the stills into appropriate receivers. A system of levers let the operators take samples, read the density and the temperature of the distillate and, crucially, look at it to judge the perfect moment the collection of the precious liquid should start and stop.
Even though today the industry is regulated and controlled in very different ways, the spirit safe remains one of the most important places in any distillery and operating it is every stillman’s bread and butter. No wonder stillmen get attached to the spirit safes, care for them and maintain them to the highest standards. The spirit safe here at Pulteney has always been our pride and joy. And yet, nothing lasts forever. Although for years, the distillery’s old spirit had made sure the right cut of spirit goes into Old Pulteney, time had taken its toll – and it was time to replace it.
As you can see, it’s a fine-looking piece of equipment, built by Blairs of Glasgow. But you might be surprised to learn that it’s not brand-new. In fact, this spirit safe was originally at the old Glenflagler distillery in Airdrie.
When this lowland distillery closed in 1985, the spirit safe had only been used for 19 years. And, as Old Pulteney’s distillery manager Malcolm Waring says, “in terms of whisky, that’s nearly new! We’re looking forward to using it for many years to come.”
Now it’s properly installed, the replacement spirit safe looks completely at home after its long journey North.
In addition to this, the copper on the stills has been newly- lacquered. So with gleaming stills and a new mash tun, the distillery is looking completely ship-shape for a busy year in 2013.
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