It’s funny how enjoying a single malt can lead you down a path that will inevitably change your life forever but for Tony Reeman-Clark, it was that dram that set him on the path to not only opening his own distillery but eventually to making his own whisky.
“I got into whisky almost by accident,” Reeman-Clark confirms. “Whisky seemed to be the only drink that gave me a head-ache the morning after, but after I tried a really good single malt, I awoke to no headache.
“The analytical side of me wondered why, while the not so sensible side said ‘keep drinking until you find out’.
“Eventually through research into the different methods used to produced different styles of whisky I realised it was all down to the ‘cut-points’ in the spirit distillation.
“From there I had to learn more and my growing love for whisky, combined with the romance and the history, all started me on the road to creating Scotland’s smallest distillery.”
The aforementioned distillery would be Strathearn, which was launched by Tony in 2013 and lies a couple of miles west of Methven near Perth.
Described as Scotland’s smallest distillery, Strathearn is considered to be the first micro-distillery in the country and has the capacity to produce just 30,000 litres of spirit, a feat matched only by Abhainn Dearg on the Isle of Lewis.
Described by Reeman-Clark as a dream come true, Strathearn came about after a discussion at the Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh (after a tasting of course), in which someone stated “it would be nice to have our own distillery – wouldn’t it?”, a rhetorical question which Reeman-Clark was eventually able to answer several years later.
“I can’t even remember who it was that said it – but here I am 7 years later with a distillery.”
The Perthshire Distillery has released a range of popular gins but has just recently become a fully-fledged whisky distillery in its own right as it reaches the three year old mark with its maturing spirit, something that Reeman-Clark and his team have been looking forward to since the distillery was first set up.
Matured in small octave size (50 litre) casks, the team say their whisky has a traditional and distinctive flavour, while both peated or non-peated malt spirit has been used, as well as a variety of wood, ensuring each new batch of whisky produced will be totally unique
This new found love for what Reeman-Clark calls craft distilling couldn’t have been better timed, as Scotland, and the rest of the UK, embraced the trend of hyper-locality, ditching bigger massed produced brands in favour of smaller, local producers.
The Strathearn founder said: “It is so good for Scotland, “It is the craft beer revolution all over again. The incredible sale of our first Scotch just showed the interest around the world in the provenance of Scotland and its distilling heritage.”
A huge fan of innovation, craft-distilling means more to Reeman-Clark than just producing spirit in smaller batches it also allows him to explore just what’s possible not only in terms of gin and whisky – Strathearn’s premier products – but also in pushing the boundaries for other spirits and what’s possible in terms of what spirits can be made in Scotland.
“We’ve made malt and gin spirits of all types; distilled cider into Cider Spirit,” which, frustratingly for Reeman-Clark, can’t be called Cider Brandy. “As well as Genever, peated Genever and most recently Rum.”
“It is a serious business but we also like to have fun.”
Perhaps most interestingly, Reeman-Clark and his team have even experimented with their own whisky, using newer types of wood such as chestnut and cherry instead of oak to mature their spirit, something that has traditionally been frowned upon and which, in terms of legality, prevents the resulting whisky from being labelled Scotch whisky.
A contentious issue that has forced the distiller to find his voice in an industry filled with much bigger players.
To help make himself heard, Reeman-Clark decided to group together like-minded producers, founding what would go onto become the Scottish Craft Distillers Association, a new organisation formed to encourage the growth of craft distilling in Scotland by “assisting the development of member companies”.
“Lots of people, who are like me, a little eccentric – some may say mad – were looking at the big distillers and thinking it was time to bring out new and interesting spirits.
“Heriot-Watt were extremely helpful, and with them we decided to get a group together and we were mobbed with applications.
“We all helped each other and being the first, I was able to break down a lot of barriers and help. Combined, we had a single voice which made a big difference.”
Keeping himself busy seems to be a common theme with Reeman-Clark, who, as well as helping new craft distillers such as the Wester Spirit Co – who are set to release a new Scottish spiced rum, stated that the Strathearn team are working on a “couple of other spirits that will be another first for Strathearn”, is now keen to help other distilleries get started not just in Scotland but in his words, “all over the world”.
Firstly though, his next big challenge is to finally “take his wife on holiday” and switch his phone and laptop off.
“She’s suffered enough and never believes me that the distillery just down the road from our holiday retreat is just a coincidence.”