Worm Tubs

July has started very well indeed. Not only are days warm and nights long but events at the club have been going from strength to strength. On Wednesday 10th July the club met once again at The Bottlescrue in St Pauls for a geeky night of whisky fun. The theme for the night was distilleries that use worm tub condensers, of which there are more than you might think (or at least there are more than I personally was expecting). The previous Campbeltown Festival tasting was always going to be a hard act to follow, with a quite ridiculous line up of drams. However, as usual the club’s members rose to the challenge and produced a fantastic lineup of whiskies, which was sure to offer something to everyone and spark some interesting conversations.  

I imagine most people likely to read this will be fully aware of what worm tubs are and what effects they can have on the spirit, but just in case anyone hasn’t come across them before, I’ve borrowed the following from scotchwhisky.com:

“Today most distilleries use ‘shell and tube’ condensers, consisting of a copper ‘shell’ containing a hundred or so small copper tubes. Cold water runs through the tubes so that when the hot vapour hits them, it turns back into liquid. As there is a huge amount of copper in this system, so the heavy elements are once again removed.

The other way of condensing is through a worm tub. This is the traditional method of turning vapour back into liquid. The ‘worm’ (the old name for a serpent) is a coiled pipe sitting in a bath of cold water. There is less available copper in this system than in the shell and tube condenser. Result? Less efficient removal of these heavy elements. 

It’s important to emphasise that some distilleries want to make a heavy new make style. It is part of their character.”


Around a third of all Diageo malt distilleries still use worm tubs and a good number of other companies also still recognise the job they do, and have avoided switching over to shell and tube condensers.

It was a great turnout on the night, with old relationships continuing to grow and some new faces joining in as well. The format was slightly different to usual in that instead of going through each dram as one group, we all worked our way through in quite an organic way, leading to different tasting orders between smaller groups. This led to lots of different discussions and it was wonderful to see people enthusing and debating the various drams. In order of how they were laid out from left to right we had a distillery exclusive from Royal Lochnagar matured in European oak. This led into a 13yo Pulteney from Cadenhead’s, which certainly lived up to the first tasting note on the bottle, “huge toffee”! These first two were both very pleasant but neither was a great example of an influence from the worm tubs. That started to come through more in the next two drams which were both from Mortlach. The first, the new official release 16yo and the second a 25yo from Adelphi. Both sherried and demonstrating pleasant savoury notes. Along with the Pulteney the 25yo made up my top two drams of the night and I believe quite a few other members felt the same way. Next up was actually used as a warm up dram for the night and was the 10yo Signatory bottling from Edradour, a nice way to ease into the tasting. As we continue round we come to three bottles from Craigellachie, one of the distilleries that pushes its worm tub credentials more than some others. The first was 1999 distillate, finished for two and a half years in Palo Cortado sherry casks, the second was the 12yo fire release from Douglas Laing and to finish we had another Douglas Laing bottle from the Private Stock range filled with spirit from a single sherry butt distilled in 1995. All three were tasty but my personal pick would be the 1995 Private Stock bottling, classic sherry goodness. The final dram in the lineup took us back to Edradour, but this time it was their peated spirit “Ballechin” that took centre stage. A Whisky Barrel exclusive aged for 12 years since 2005 in a refill sherry hogshead. It was a powerful whisky that seemed to have benefited from the worm tub influence. Full list of drams below…

  • Royal Lochnagar Distillery Exclusive Bottling 48.0%
  • Old Pulteney Candenhead’s 13yo 2006 54.7%
  • Mortlach 16 Distillers Dram 43.4%
  • Mortlach Adelphi 25yo 56.0%
  • Edradour Signatory Vintage 10yo 2006 46.0%
  • Craigellachie Palo Cortado Finish 1999 46.0%
  • Craigellachie Old Particular Douglas Laing Fire 12yo 53.9%
  • Craigellachie Private Stock Douglas Laing 1995 23yo 56.0%
  • Ballechin Signatory Vintage 2005 12yo 61.5%

It was a really fun and interesting night, and although the theme for the evening was quite geeky, the actual event was just good fun with everyone getting involved. Thanks to those who supplied bottles, the club only works as well as it does because of the generosity, good spirit and engagement of the membership. Looking forward we have the Buffalo Trace event lined up for the 17th July and I’m sure it’ll be another great night.


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