Silent Season at a distillery – to a lot of summer visitors – normally means disappointment. They hear we are not producing whisky and think: no yeasty fermentation aromas, no fruity new-make spirit and certainly no magical experience of their favourite dram being made right before their very eyes.
Silent Season has been tradition for centuries, when farmers themselves produced whisky right after the barley harvest in September. Since the busiest farming months were always April – September, it was only natural for their stills to fall silent during that time.
And while it’s nice that tradition prevails, the Silent Season is just as essential today as it was back then, just for different reasons.
Actually – this summer – you would probably never guess the main reason. To protect their water source! Distilleries require phenomenal volumes of water to produce single malt whisky. If you calculate the water from the spring (for the whisky itself) and the water from the river (for general production purposes – washing and cooling) it can take up to 400 litres to produce just 1 litre of spirit! So discerning distilleries will take a Silent Season during the driest months of the year to allow their water source a chance to replenish.
And if you’re a whisky fan, Silent Season is actually a brilliant time to visit a distillery. It’s simply the only time of year when most distilleries have the time and concentration required to complete necessary repairs. Have you ever seen the roof being lifted off a Listed Building to allow an enormous, brand-new copper still to be lowered into place? Pure copper stills, hand-crafted by our local tradesmen from Forsyths? Or have you observed craftsmen replacing wooden wash-backs which are over 9m tall with a 50,000l capacity; again, crafted locally by the likes of the Speyside Cooperage? If the answer is no, then start going to distilleries during Silent Season, it’s amazing what you can see and learn.
And if this hasn’t convinced you and you just happen to visit a distillery when the Silent Season is on, not to worry. The process happening in the warehouse is responsible for up to 60% of any single malt’s end flavour. And nothing much changes in the warehouse during Silent Season, just lots of casks containing lots of whiskies evaporating before your eyes as always.
Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky.
Hopefully that will make you feel a bit more philosophical about the summer we had.