once utilised to take daguerreotypes of hackney carriages and passing Zeppelins with. I
There are two still types, usually, and they are used in succession. They are both just
big kettles, heated by peat or anthracite direct flame in very traditional distilleries, or by
gas- or oil-fuelled jets, or steam pipes, elsewhere. The first is the wash still; the alcohol in
the mixture boiling away inside the still turns to a vapour before the water in the mixture
does and rises to the top of the still to depart through a pipe called the Lyne arm. The
vapour is cooled, becomes liquid and then goes to the second still, the spirit still, where
the same process happens all over again.
The liquid that's sent from the wash still to the spirit still is called low wines; what's
left in the wash still after it's finished its distillation - not a pretty sight or smell, as a rule
- is called pot ale. Sometimes that gets added to the cattle cake too. Still no happy heifers
After both stills have done their bit comes a sort of testing cabinet called a spirit safe
(also quite glamorous, in a brassy, glassy sort of way) where the distillers do some fairly
basic chemistry experiments to decide which part of the resulting stream of clear liquid
they're going to use. You can't use everything that comes out of a still; the first stuff to
come out is overly strong and contains too many chemicals you wouldn't want to swal-
low, while the last bit is sort of all weak and pathetic and gets sent back into the wash still
to try again.
That first part is called the foreshots, the good bit is the middle cut and the last bit is
the feints, though sometimes you'll hear them referred to as the head, heart and tail.
There's a big rectangular tank involved at this point which receives the spirit and is
imaginatively called the spirit receiving tank (another unsung container - still unfair),
then it's off to the cask-filling bit.
Now, you could keep the spirit in bottles, ceramic jugs or even well-cleaned oil drums,
but at best it would stay just as it was when it was first poured into the container (at
worst it would eventually go off). The wood makes the difference. This may have been a
class thing; in the old days poor people kept their whisky in bottles or flagons or a pail or
something; the better off would have had empty casks in their cellars because they could
afford to buy stuff like wine and sherry in that sort of bulk, and using the emptied barrels
to store whisky in must have seemed a prudent and canny idea.
These days the casks used for malt whisky are usually exbourbon barrels brought
in from the States, often broken down into their individual staves (the curved side bits,
shaped a bit like these parentheses) and circular ends, to save transport costs. The barrels
are reassembled in Scotland and the flavour of the bourbon adds an extra depth to the
developing spirit/whisky. Sherry casks provide an even more salubrious environment for
young and impressionable whisky as it matures, but they cost more - about £250 a throw