One of the great secrets of Rosebank’s unique style of single malt whisky was its use of worm tub condensers. This is set to continue because without those worms, it just wouldn’t be Rosebank.
The worm is a serpentine coil of copper that is as old as distillation itself. It was used by Scotland’s earliest distillers to condense the alcoholic vapours coming off the still back into liquid with the help of cold water. For whisky smugglers it was their most precious piece of distilling equipment, and was something to cling on to if ever they were raided by the Excise and had to run for the hills. By the 19th century worms had grown longer and were installed in large wooden tubs outside every distillery.
Rosebank Single Malt was always a uniquely beautiful whisky in the way it was produced. It was the only distillery that used both the classic Lowland technique of triple distillation and traditional wooden worm tub condensers. That was true of the original Rosebank until it closed in 1993, and it will be true of the resurrected Rosebank that is about to be built. On the outside the new distillery will look strikingly different and modern, but at its heart the whisky-making process will remain the same.
Depending on the temperature of the water and the flow of the condensing spirit, worms tend to produce a robust flavoursome whisky with more body and texture. But they are expensive to make and maintain, and they require considerable skill to operate effectively. With the advent of modern shell & tube condensers which are cheaper and easier to run, most of the whisky industry abandoned worm tubs for good. A few distilleries stubbornly refused to move with the times, including such iconic names as Springbank, Talisker and Rosebank.
In the case of Rosebank the decision did seem somewhat contradictory. If triple distillation produces a lighter, cleaner spirit, why would you want to move in the opposite direction with a worm tub? Was it due to some rose-tinted nostalgia on the part of the original owners – or was it a counter-intuitive stroke of genius? Possibly the latter given what a deliciously complex single malt Rosebank was and will continue to be. There are many other factors, not least maturation, but worm-tubs are definitely part of what makes Rosebank special which is why they are here to stay.