You would be forgiven for considering that whisky-making was invented by Roald Dahl.
Worts, washbacks, worm tubs, muggle-wumps; all of them sound like phrases which were lifted straight out of a sensitivity-censored copy of The Twits.
Muggle-wumps apart, they’re all phrases that lose a little bit of their weirdness with repeated listening to. After which, once in a while – normally when heard by means of another person’s ears – a diminished phrase or phrase regains all of its potent weirdness and smacks you within the face.
Worm tubs. They sound actually fucking bizarre!
When the subject of tubs got here up at a tasting occasion final week, I re-realised simply how odd they sound. And I additionally realised that I’d by no means actually paid a lot consideration to them earlier than. I had a tough thought and an image in my head however not sufficient information to confidently mansplain the condensing course of to my mildly girlfriend. My response to her query “what are worm tubs?” – spoken loud sufficient for the fashionable and well-informed barman to listen to – was to smile and switch to face the larger boy who duly answered the query for me. Pitiful.
The gist of the pourer’s patter was that worm tubs – the standard technique for turning spirit vapour again into liquid throughout distillation – are an endangered species, having been largely changed by newer “shell-and-tube” condensers – which sound loads like mediaeval contraception gadgets – throughout the vast majority of Scottish distilleries.
He wasn’t unsuitable. It seems that solely ≈10% of producers nonetheless use worm tubs however – attributable to a resurgence in conventional whisky-making strategies – they’re making a little bit of a comeback with new distilleries. Each Brora and Ballindalloch (lately reactivated and releasing whisky, respectively) opted for the extra conventional worm tubs for his or her spirit condensing duties.
To correctly assessment one of many whiskies we tried on the tasting – a worm tub-inspired Craigellachie 13 Bas-Armagnac Cask end – and to have the ability to casually drop my newfound information into dialog with my girlfriend, I wanted to study worm tubs.
For extra on the previous, learn on. The latter went a little bit one thing like this.
WTF is a worm tub?
It seems that my information of the whisky-making course of is what we’d name patchy. Like a pub bore speaking politics, I are inclined to repeat what I do know and gloss over the finer particulars of the huge quantities of stuff I don’t. However, having performed some analysis – which even concerned scanning an actual e-book – I can now confidently add the condensing course of and related equipment to the small however rising listing of issues I believe I find out about whisky.
So, what’s a worm tub? Consider a coiled copper snake trapped inside an enormous dim-sum basket stuffed with chilly water. Alcoholic vapour – generated from heating spirit in a linked pot – is force-fed into the snake’s mouth by means of a tube. As the recent vapour passes by means of the physique of the submerged snake the chilly water within the dim-sum basket cools it down and it returns to liquid type. The condensed liquid then flows out of the snake’s tail right into a field that retains the spirit protected from muggle-wumps. It’s all very Roald Dhal.
Shell-and-tube condensers carry out the identical job, however their design means there are extra copper tubes involved with the spirit. Extra copper contact ends in a lighter, fruitier type of whisky. Worm-tub whiskies are usually heavier and meatier.
By the way, the selection of condensing technique can have a huge effect on the ultimate product. In 1985, Dalwhinnie determined to switch their authentic worm tubs with the cheaper, easier-to-maintain shell-and-tube varieties. The change had such a marked impact on the brand new make spirit – presumably not in a great way – that they reverted to worm tubs in 1995.
With the (sturdy) science out of the way in which, we will flip to the whisky.
“Impressed by our worm tubs, we’ve sourced casks from different producers of oak-aged spirits who additionally make use of worm tubs to make their liquid wares” reads the blurb for the Craigellachie Bas-Armagnac Cask End launch.
Which, in a world of tenuous, marketing-led cask-finish connections, seems like a reasonably good rationale to me. The one query left to reply is whether or not it labored or not.
Craigellachie 13 Bas-Armagnac Cask End – Overview
Color: Pale straw.
On the nostril: The very first thing that got here to thoughts was burnt apples and bonfire toffee. It’s obtained a meaty, barely sulphury odor that’s definitely not disagreeable. Cinnamon and cloves are current, and all of it works collectively fairly properly. I discovered it a little bit extra advanced, with added depth, in comparison with the usual Craigellachie 13.
Within the mouth: The thick, oily meatiness you’d count on kicks issues off. A little bit of the complexity current on the nostril is misplaced at first, with among the extra delicate notes – like cinnamon and citrus fruits – taking time to chop by means of the heavier flavours. There’s much less sulphur than anticipated and a barely smoky underbelly which builds within the mouth. The end is brief and leaves an fascinating rubbery aftertaste which is way extra interesting than it sounds.
Roald Dhal did good. It’s not going to blow your thoughts however It’s a pleasant spin on an entry-level whisky that gives one thing a bit totally different from the usual Craigellachie. And at £55 it’s moderately priced, within the present local weather no less than. It is going to be fascinating to see what comes subsequent within the Cask End sequence – a muggle-wump-inspired experiment maybe?
Picture courtesy of @thirsty_foodie, who joined us on the tasting occasion and fantastically captured the whiskies and the night.