Earlier in the year I had the great pleasure of visiting Knockdhu distillery ( the home of Ancnoc ) and was greeted by an incredibly knowledgeable chap by the name of Gordon.. Yes the manager himself showed me round and his enthusiasm was second to none.. So when I started this series I just had to make sure I got Gordon involved..
A day in the life .. Gordon Bruce.
A typical day at Knockdhu.
The first thing that struck me about this is there’s no such thing as a typical day. That’s one of the things that helps to keep life interesting.
The most attractive thing for me at the Knock is the people who work here. It’s almost unheard of these days to find people looking forward to getting to work, enjoying what they do and heading home happy. The spirit is great, I like to think this is reflected in the finished product.
Normally up for seven. The healthy breakfast option of two double espressos and a cigarette set me up for the morning. Commute is one minute on foot, two minutes if it’s a bonnie morning you can’t help but stand for a minute looking down on the distillery.
First port of call is the mash house and tun room. As a manually operated site we’re in a far better position to be proactive to changes in raw material quality. It would surprise you how much malt from the same barley variety and same supplier can change in the space of a week. A news with the operator and check over the night shift logs can tell a lot. Human feedback is far preferable to following trends on some computer programme, this lets us decide if any tweaks/ changes are required for the next mash. Next up is a good sniff around the tun room. Fermentaion and the smells and flavours produced here are often such an over looked part of the process. Lift each wash back lid and waft up to follow how esters are forming as the fermentations progress. We’ve also been trialling different yeast strains, fermentation efficiency, speed and ester formation are all affected. A quick visual and temperature check combined with a few smells are a good indication of how well things are working. My better half is critical if we’re ever out for a meal, I smell everything, “stop it, you’re like a bloody dog” is the normal light hearted rebuke (I hope it’s meant in fun).
A quick check in the still hoose, mainly looking at distillation temperatures, volumes and times then to the office. A diary check to see what’s/ who’s planned for the day.
Kettle on and fire up the computer. It’s my mission in life to drink my own body weight in coffee each day. With my dislike of computer systems it sounds slightly ironic that I left school (in 1981) to study the things, ach they’ll never catch on!
The usual variety of emails; reminders from folk that I was supposed to do something for, accounts queries, marketing stuff, visit requests, etc.
As a team we’ve achieved some pretty cool things at the Knock, particularly around carbon reduction, energy efficiency and yields. Have taken to leaving a note pad and pen bed side so when that 02:46 moment of inspiration hits you it’s there in ink in the morning. An hour on the ‘phone to a potential product supplier following up on one of these events leads me to think we may be on to something. After getting more detail it’s back to the mash house to check pipe diameters and area dimensions. Result, another new toy in the pipeline (literally).
We now have a tour guide to meet and greet the ever growing volume of distillery visitors. A tour hosted by a guide who’s memorised a script isn’t a great experience. Our guide, Lorraine, has taken things a few steps further. During quiet spells she’s been on shift with the operators, she can mash in, charge stills, etc. A blether about different production techniques between Lorraine, Ally (the hardest working assistant manager in the land) and me (over more coffee) adds to her understanding. This will be passed on to visitors so time well spent.
Scoot home for a sandwich, maybe take the dogs for a quick walk.
The whisky industry is fairly unique in the fact that we’re very good at sharing production information with each other. It doesn’t become (too) competitive until sales and marketing become involved. A short call to an “opposition” distillery manager for a catch up and discussion over production. It’s also good to keep in regular touch with our raw material suppliers, feedback to malt and yeast suppliers is good for them as well as us.
Another wee irony is that despite living in the north of Scotland we can struggle for water. A run up to the hill springs confirm all is well. We’ve changed the plant lay out so that each drop of water we draw from the springs is now used three times, it’s best to pre-empt any issues though. A wise old distiller advised me “to plan my breakdowns”.
If the weather is decent it’s a race to see who can get to the mower first. Ally cheated this week, sneaking in on a Sunday afternoon.
Home, dinner, catch up with the paper, dogs out for a walk. Back across to see night shift coming in at 22:00, half an hour on site and barring night time call outs that’s it for another day.
Many thanks to Gordon for taking time out of his busy schedule to take part in this series.. Hope to see you again soon..