Whilst the sight of a pagoda is synonymous with the production of whisky, most of the kiln rooves you’ll see at distilleries nowadays are just for show. This is not the case at Dunphail. Our iconic pagoda performs the essential task of creating the updraught necessary to pull the heat, and sometimes peat smoke, up through our germinated grains, completing the process of transforming barley into malt.
Operating and maintaining a distillery kiln takes considerable skill. The process not only determines the eventual yield of alcohol that is possible - it also shapes the character of the malt which will go on to be crafted into whisky. At Dunphail, this process is intrinsic to our values and passions – we relish the opportunity to actively sculpt the profile of our malt, by hand, in order to create whiskies which are entirely driven by flavour, character and quality.
Before we can commence the kilning process, the germinated barley (known as green malt) needs to be transferred from the malting floor up into the kiln. We do this through the use of a conveyor. The barley is manually guided into the base of the conveyor where a rotating helical screw steadily moves it from the floor up into the kiln.
Once within the kiln, the process of spreading starts all over again. The damp barley is dispersed evenly across the kiln floor. This floor is perforated with thousands of holes. These holes are large enough to allow the heat (and sometimes smoke) from the kiln below to rise through the floor – but small enough to prevent any grains from falling through.
The height of the grain bed within the kiln is crucial. The spread barley requires a precise and controlled amount of heat in order to reduce its moisture level (arresting the germination process). This exactness is also essential to ensure that the grains possess a very high level of consistency – no matter where within the kiln they lie.
For unpeated runs, our kiln is fired using a carefully judged amount of anthracite and a hot air blower. For peated runs we utilise a combination of dry and wet Highland peat – building and stoking the fire using the dry peat and then creating the all-important ‘peat reek’ using the wet.
Initially the kilning process dries the surface moisture from the barley, by increasing its temperature. Once the surface moisture of the barley has been driven off (known as ‘break point’) the overall kiln temperature can be increased to around 75 degrees centigrade. It is during this second phase of kilning where the malt’s flavour profile is shaped and a range of sweet, biscuity and malty notes are created.
The pagoda roof (known as a ventilating cupola) that sits atop of the kiln creates an area of negative space and thus produces an updraught that extends throughout the height of the whole building. This updraught draws the heat from the kiln, up through the bed of barley and out via the ventilation panels. The ‘hood’ of the pagoda reduces the air resistance around the panels and ensures that the hot air or smoke is evacuated evenly and without the interference of the weather. I.E. that the kiln operates consistently – all year round. Similarly to malting it is hard, labour intensive work. However, its influence on the properties of our malt is significant. And it is through this application of a time-honoured, traditional process that we are not only defining character of our single malt whisky, but also preserving an important craft of the past.