Innovation in whisky is rare. True innovation, I mean. (Not the kind that is often heralded in press releases but doesn’t amount to much.) And I understand why. Especially in Scotland. They’ve got a good thing going. Why mess with it? Not to mention the regulations, which don’t always allow for much wiggle room.
And yet, it’s those Scotch whisky regulations that inspired Founder and Managing Director Ian Palmer to build a distillery that could be called truly innovative. And to launch a whisky that certainly stands out from the crowd.
The distillery I’m talking about is, of course, InchDairnie. And the whisky is RyeLaw, one of Scotland’s first-ever rye whiskies. Ian Palmer’s philosophy is based on one sentence in Scotch whisky’s Technical File, which reads:
“Scotch Whisky means a whisky produced in Scotland that retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation.”
From it, he and Distillery Manager Scott Sneddon distilled (pun intended) three pillars, internally referred to as the “3Ms” – materials, methods and maturation. Within those parameters is where the two engineers went to work. Not surprisingly, InchDairnie has become an engineer’s dream.
When I visited InchDairnie at the end of April, Scott’s tour was as in-depth as I’ve ever experienced. I remember thinking: “My mate would love this!” You guessed it, that friend is an engineer. He, Ian and Scott could probably talk for days about all the details that went into designing InchDairnie. Me? I listened, and tried to absorb as much as I could, but have probably forgotten 75%, if not more, of what was explained.
Nevertheless, here are the two important details pertaining the production of InchDairnie RyeLaw:
InchDairnie is one of only two distilleries in Scotland to use a mash filter. (The other being Teaninich, while Waterford in Ireland also famously uses a mash filter.) This apparatus acts like a series of tea bags being squeezed by a balloon, extracting every last drop from the mix of grist and water. According to Scott, the concentrated cereal characteristics and sugars, when fermented and distilled, deliver a light, floral, cereal-led spirit.
The wash still at InchDairnie has, unusually, two condensers. The second distillation of RyeLaw takes place in a bespoke Lomond still. The neck contains six internal rectification plats with bubble caps. This, of course, allows for much more reflex than in a traditional pot still. For RyeLaw, it produces an alcohol with an ABV of 72%, comparatively low versus continuous column distillation.
So that’s the method. But what about the materials? The current supply chain of InchDairnie ensures all their future whiskies will use Fife-grown products only. However, this first-ever release of InchDairnie RyeLaw – distilled in 2017, bottled last year and released just recently – is made from rye grown in Easter Ross up in the north of Scotland.
InchDairnie RyeLaw is made from 53% malted rye and 47% malted barley. A rye-specific yeast was used, “which results in lower yields, but higher flavour.” As for the maturation? Casks were sourced directly and to particular specifications. The first edition of InchDairnie RyeLaw matured in new oak casks (char No. 3) from the Ozark Mountains.
Finally, InchDairnie produces a slew of different new makes. Some destined for blenders, others will one day be bottled under their own brand, such as KinGlassie, a peated whisky due to be released in 2025, and PrinLaws, more of an experimental range expected in 2027. Plenty to look forward to. But for now, the InchDairnie RyeLaw will have to tide us over. Let’s have a look.
InchDairnie RyeLaw (46.3%, OB, 2022)
Nose: Vanilla, and lots of it. More candy-like and not so much vanilla beans. Also fudge, toffee, Werther’s Original and the like. But… it’s not just a vanilla bomb. On the contrary. It’s rather elegant. There’s a serious amount of cereal-esque touches, along with light floral notes, cedarwood, some cinnamon and a whiff of cherries. Taste: More viscocity than I expected, but I’m not sure if this is a signature trait of the new make, or the result from maturation in new casks. Either way, on the palate is where the pepper-y rye spices becomes more noticeable. Also just a touch of cinnamon, some orange zest, vanilla, sugar icing, and cloves. Finally a hint of oak char. Finish: Medium length. The spiciness lingers, but there some sweetness peeking through as well.
Not your average rye whisky, that's for sure. The InchDairnie RyeLaw brings together elements of the unexpected. In some ways it is more a crossbreed of bourbon and rye whisky with a few drops of single malt. Would that be fair to say? Yeah, I think so.
At an RRP of £110 it's not cheap, albeit much more affordable than Arbikie's first rye whisky. RyeLaw is also not as expensive as Bruichladdich's rye release. Still, it's quite steep. Especially for a product that doesn't have a built-in audience.
Scottish rye whisky is still a new category and consumers don't know what to expect. I don't think winning single malt drinkers over will be easy. And RyeLaw also doesn't fit the traditional flavour profile of rye whisky. I hope it finds an audience, but can't help but fear it'll be an uphill struggle. Then again, nothing good ever comes easy.