The Borders Distillery team leader, Caitlin Heard, on her working day with the Hawick business
It’s a struggle getting out of bed but thankfully my partner is also up at that time - he’s a farmer. After a cup of tea, I’m out the door.
We work twelve-hour shifts three days on, three days off, from 6am until 6pm. Six weeks out of nine I’m in the distillery, the other three I’m at the warehouse. At the distillery, the first job is to switch on the boiler and heat up the tanks, then start the mash (mixing hot water and barley to convert starches into fermentable sugars) or distillation. If I’m at the warehouse, I could be preparing casks or filling and stacking them. We stack six pallets high, which requires learning how to drive a forklift – like a go-kart but not as fast.
Biology and chemistry were my favourite subjects at school and both have been hugely helpful in understanding the distilling process. Fermentation is an amazing biochemical procedure that occurs when we add yeast to the sugary mash liquid and the yeast enzymes turn the simple sugars to alcohol. It lasts for between 72 and 84 hours and after that we can distill our spirit, called New Make. Every drop uses barley from 12 local farms and we use it to cask for Scotch Whisky or for our gin and vodka. I’ll eat breakfast on the job, so I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the washback or stills while munching on a pastry. When the head distiller is in, we’ll have a catch-up.
We run distillery tours Tuesdays to Saturdays and take turns to host groups. I enjoy meeting people who are interested in what we do.
Once the first mash or distillation is complete, we start on a second. It’s warm in the still room at the best of times but this summer the temperature reached a whopping 50 degrees and we had real challenges drawing cooling water from the Teviot with the level being so low this year.
We empty the tanks and turn off the boiler. While the distillery is operational seven days a week, our mash tuns are deep cleaned once a month and our stills four times a year. I’m a pro with a power washer – there’s nothing as satisfying as transforming a mash tun that was caked with flour. I wondered how I would ever clean it after an adventure making rye single grain spirit, but we got there in the end and I love what we’ve made despite the suffering involved. The rye has a delicious spiciness to it that compliments the sweetness of our malt and it’s just been bottled.
We usually get an early finish around now, so I head straight to the horses that my partner and I own. I bring them in from the field and usually go hacking over the hills. I give them their dinner and leave the yard around knowing they’ve been fed and are tucked in with their stable rugs on.
My tea will be waiting for me. Then it’s a shower and into bed with my heated blanket, ready to watch Netflix before setting my 4.30am alarm.
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