With maturation it’s angels, and with still lyne arms it’s angles. All too often on distillery tours have I witnesses the sage nodding which results from the announcement of the precise incline of this sometimes-insignificant looking pipe. Whether horizontal or steeply inclined, the construction and style of lyne arms / lye pipes / swan necks has a significant impact on spirit quality. The angle of the dangle is important.
In the simplest terms, lyne arms are sections of copper tubing which connects the vapour chamber of the still via its head to a condensing system. In most distillery this takes the form of modern shell and tube condensers, but in some notable exceptions the lyne arm terminates into a more traditional worm tub (which is also always a talking point). Arms can be constructed and installed in three ways – horizonal, rising upwards or angled downwards. And each has an important impact on both the processes which take place within still as well as the end profile of the produced spirit.
Lyne arm angles affect reflux. An arm angle which exceeds 90 degrees prohibits congeners and results in a lighter style of spirit with condensed materials flowing back down into the base of the still to be heated up once more. Conversely a steeply descending arm will see the alcoholic vapours rapidly completing their journey and cooling down quickly. Spirit produced using this style of lyne arm can include significant ‘carryover’ of congeners and natural oils and these result in a heavier style of spirit.
At some distilleries, the process is not quite so simple – including at today’s review subject Strathmill. This distillery, and others such as Glen Grant and Ardbeg, employ the use of a ‘purifier’ on the spirit still (second distillation). This piece of additional apparatus – which usually looks like a squat copper drum and sits between the still head and condenser – is an additional form of cooling device. It reverses some distillate from the lyne arm back into the neck to produce more reflux. Thus, naturally heavier spirit gains the potential to become much lighter composed. But why would you do this? Why would you setup your stills to make heavier spirit and then also lighten it before collection?
The answer lies throughout the preceding production processes and in the underlying profile that is both crafted and indeed sought. And in the case of distilleries such as Strathmill which possesses a naturally grassy style, the use of still purifiers adds an oily weight, which combines well with the underlying spirit character. I guess you could almost thing of it like radiator balancing. There’s a very specific amount of heat that’s desirable.
Boutique-y’s sixth batch from Keith-based Strathmill is a 21 year old edition of just 401 bottles – presumably a marriage of two ex-bourbon casks. It’s bottled at 47.7% and is available from Master of Malt for £89.95.
Nose: Cut apples, gooseberry and lemongrass are enveloped by strong maltiness from porridge and freshly harvested barley. Whilst in the glass, additional grassiness develops alongside floral honey and gentle touches of cask-influenced vanilla. Dilution presents Weetabix as well as a wider array of fruits – underripe pineapple and grapefruit juice.
Taste: Opening on sweet, sugary malts – like the saccharine kids breakfast cereals of the late 80s (guilty as charged). Apple syrup and cider apples are joined by strawberry laces and shaved chocolate, whilst split vanilla pods, nutmeg and dusty charred oak develop. Water adds interest with an additional spicy kick of ginger and cinnamon sitting alongside a softer aspect from vanilla-imbued pastry cream.
Finish: Medium to long in length with syrupy apples and drying but still sweet vanilla-centric oakiness.
Batch 6 of Boutique-y Whisky’s Strathmill can best be described as safe. There’s neither broadness, nor depth, nor complexity here, but what there is perfectly satisfactory. There’s a strong sense of distillate character here with plenty of maltiness and cereals (and I like that), but at the same time the composition when taken as whole just feels rather innocuous. Pleasant and amenable throughout – but likely quickly forgotten once Advent is over.
For an alternative selection of notes and thoughts you best bet is to visit Sorren at OCD Whisky
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