The last part of my travelogue was about cask filling. Now the Spirit has to mature for a long time in the warehouse to become Scotch Whisky. As you know at least for 3 years in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres. Other Whiskies (e.g. Bourbon) have different requirements.
For me it was a great experience to taste a Whisky directly drawn from the cask in the warehouse. But of course there are many reasons to get this wonderful stuff into bottles.
Springbank Whisky School – Bottling
The last step in whisky production is bottling. At Springbank also the Whiskies of Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, Cadenhead, are bottled. A lot of very rare casks of other distilleries can be found in the Springbank warehouses because Cadenhead is owned by J & A Mitchell & Co.Ltd, the owner of Springbank distillery.
For me and Freddy, the bottling hall was our first department we had to work in. When we arrived there, we were shown the bottling line. Springbank has two lines and a total capacity of 5000 bottles per day. On the Monday morning we started our job after the health and safety briefing. The whisky that was just bottled was a 25 year old Glenlivet (Cadenhead Small Batch) in Cask Strength.
I think you can imagine the feeling: Being a real Single Malt Fan and seeing a bottling line full of bottles which cost more than 150€ each….
But I can tell you, the magic is diminishing bottle by bottle if more than 100 have passed your station.
To finance my livelihood during studying Mechanical Engineering in the 1980’s, I worked in a dairy. I worked two night shifts per week in the milk bottling. It was interesting to see that the process in the Springbank bottling hall was very similar to what I remembered.
Starting with a big vessel made out of stainless steel, the whisky is pumped through a filtering system (picture two in the following gallery) and then being transferred to the pneumatic driven filling system. I have to mention, that the filtering system does no CHILL-FILTERING. It’s just a mechanical filter to remove dirt or wooden chips coming from the casks. Spingbank does no chill-flitering at all! The filtered whisky then reaches a smaller vessel serving the bottle filler. The filling system installed at Springbank fills four bottles at a time. Before going to real bottling the staff has to calibrate the filler. The used filler at Springbank is a “Level Fill filler”. This kind guaranties the same “height” of liquid level for each bottle. This is what a whisky drinker expects when looking at the bottle. The bottle has to have an adequate level of whisky. Normaly the customer wouldn’t check the real content of a bought bottle – as long as the level is high enough he will trust in the volume of the bottle. But this is slightly different with the tax men. Tax has to be payed for LPA – Litres of Pure Alcohol. In 2014 it was 29.22£ per litre. And filling a few thousand bottles a day, could mean wasting a lot of money, if the filling process isn’t accurate.
The 3rd and 4th picture show the calibration.
Gallery from bottling hall – click to enlarge the images….
Needless to mention that Springbank does not do any Caramel colouring. The Whisky is bottled like it comes from the cask – merely reduced to the alcohol strength printed on the label. This is done by adding water coming from Crosshill Loch. Whisky coming from Springbank is bottled with an alcohol strength of at least 46%. With this strength a non chill filtered Whisky will not go cloudy when adding water.
There are a lot of people working in the bottling hall. When the manager of Springbank Distillery were looking for a new bottling line in 2013, they decided not to install a fully automated line. Of course, from an economic viewpoint, this would make sense. But not for Springbank. They really want to employ as many people as possible. Every bottle passing the bottling line is handled 8 times before it is in the box!
That’s it about Springbank Whisky School – Bottling. The next post will be about our wonderful warehouse tasting.