Hello, I am Tim Foster and I am the Apothecary here at Lindores Abbey Distillery. Like most people, when I went to my first interview at Lindores, I had no idea what an Apothecary was either… so I thought I’d start by explaining what I actually do!
What is an Apothecary?
Monks didn’t have Pharmacies. If they took ill they relied on the wisdom of an Apothecary. As learned scholars, Apothecaries studied the medicinal and healing properties of herbs and spices. One such famous Apothecary from times gone by is Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury Abbey. Cadfael learned about the medical uses of herbs and spices from the Saracens and Syrian Physicians whilst on Crusade in the Holy Land. He brought this knowledge back to the herb garden at the Abbey and practiced on the local community.
We know from historical texts that the Monk’s at Lindores Abbey were multi skilled and up to all sorts. They were musicians, calligraphers, artists, fruit growers, brewers and apothecaries. We know that they also produced spirit from malt (like we do today for our Whisky), but unlike today they were not making what we call Whisky. Instead they were making ‘Aqua Vitae’ – the water of life. So called as they believed it had healing powers. When mixed with herbs and spices ‘Aqua Vitae’ took on additional healing powers, which the Apothecary used to treat ailments. This practice has become modern medicine.
So, what does the Lindores Abbey Apothecary do? My biggest project so far has been to develop a modern ‘Aqua Vitae’ using herbs that grow at the Abbey, along with spices and fruits. Whilst I cannot claim any medicinal benefits, I can assure you it tastes great. I can be found working away on new ideas in the Apothecary, trying out all kinds of fun and exciting new ‘Aqua Vitae’ ideas.
Who is the Apothecary?
A self-confessed Whisky obsessive, I quit a well-paid job in software sales to pursue my dream. Back in 2016, I handed in my notice and went travelling around South America, getting engaged to my wife to be along the way. When I returned I enrolled at Heriot Watt University to study a Master of Science in Brewing & Distilling. At the same time I also took at job at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and became a member of their tasting panel.
Heriot Watt is the world’s best institution to learn about brewing & distilling. Luckily for me I also live in Edinburgh so it made perfect sense. I’ve learned about everything from barley, to milling, mashing, brewing, distilling, bottling and packaging and everything in between. It turned me into a total Whisky geek (not that I wasn’t one already) and hearing about an opportunity to join the spiritual home of Scotch Whisky… how could I resist?
As you’d imagine, I have a fairly big interest in alcohol. Given half the chance I will happily chat for hours about Single Malts, Craft Beers, Artisanal Spirits and mixology. However, hailing from the Lake District I’m also obsessed with the great outdoors. A keen hillwalker and dare I say it ‘mountaineer’, I get out into the mountains as much as possible with my fiancé and our Border Collie Pippa. I’m also a cycling nut, love running in the fells and swim for my sins… I even combine the three when I compete in Triathlons.
The question I get asked the most is, “Do you make gin at Lindores Abbey” and the simple answer is no!
Gin was introduced to the UK around the time of William of Orange in the 1600’s and derives its name from Genever, which is the dutch word for Juniper. The legal requirement for Gin is that it is a spirit drink of no less than 37.5% abv with a predominant taste and aroma of Juniper.
The historical reference to spirits production for Lindores Abbey is dated 1494. Which roughly speaking, predates Gin in the UK by some 100 or so years. Having studied historical texts, relating to the types of plants which grew in and around Newburgh and Lindores Abbey, I have yet to find any reference to Juniper. That’s not to say it didn’t grow here, just that I have no evidence.
The Monk’s at Lindores Abbey would have been experimenting with all kinds of herbs and spices, in a bid to create the ultimate elixir or water of life. They would have distilled everything they could get their hands on, not just beer from malt, but most likely pear wine, apple cider and plum wine into spirits. They would also have used whatever plants were in season at the time.
The Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae, contains no juniper. It does contain a carefully selected and blended mixture of herbs, spices and dried fruit. This is much more akin to the style of spirit that we may have found back in 1494.
If you would like to know more about what an Apothecary does, why not join us for an Apothecary Tour, which I run myself? These experiences offer a fantastic chance to get ‘hands on’ in making your own delicious version of Aqua Vitae, using herbs, spices and spirit essences.
Spaces are limited and need to be booked – but make great hen or stag parties as well as corporate events or team building sessions.