First recorded whisky distillery reopens 500 years later

Records show King James IV allowed the production of 'aqua vitae' at Lindores Abbey.

Whisky: New £7m visitor centre. <strong>Tina Norris</strong>
Whisky: New £7m visitor centre. Tina Norris

The site of Scotland’s first recorded whisky distillery has reopened more than 500 years after it entered the history books.

A new £7m visitor attraction has opened next to Lindores Abbey, near Newburgh in Fife, on Thursday.

Author and whisky fan Ian Rankin was the guest of honour as the distillery was brought back to life.

The first written evidence of whisky distillation relates to the historic abbey, which now lies in ruins.

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Records show that in 1494 Friar Jon Cor of Lindores Abbey paid duty on malt to King James IV to make 1500 bottles of “aqua vitae” – the water of life.

The global whisky industry recognises the date and the exchequer roll from 1494 sits in the National Records of Scotland.

The ruined abbey, which dates back to 1191, sits on the grounds of Drew McKenzie Smith’s family farm.

He decided to revive it as a distillery after reading about its historical connections.

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The site played other roles throughout Scottish history, and was used by William Wallace as a resting place after the Battle of Black arnside.

A new visitor centre will tell the abbey’s story, focusing on the agriculture around the time of Friar Jon Cor.

Tasting: Custodian Drew McKenzie Smith (centre, left) and Ian Rankin (centre, right). Tina Norris

Distillation will begin in October, using 100% Fife barley, and delivery of a limited edition run of 1494 bottles of single malt will take place when distillery manager Gary Haggart declares it ready.

Mr McKenzie Smith said: “Opening Lindores Abbey Distillery, at the spiritual home of Scotch whisky, is a special day for my family, colleagues, and the whisky community around the world.

“Twenty years ago, when I first read that the earliest written reference to Scotch whisky distillation in Scotland cited Friar John Cor of Lindores’ commission by King James IV to turn eight bolls of malt into aqua vitae it changed my life and gave me the purpose and ambition to preserve Lindores Abbey for generations to come.

“The late, great whisky writer Michael Jackson wrote of Lindores Abbey that ‘for the whisky lover, it is a pilgrimage’ so we are honoured today to share our vision for the future and the award-winning Lindores Abbey single malt whisky which will safeguard this tranquil site of historic significance for generations to come.”


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