Gleaming pot stills are a timeless and iconic image of the whisky industry. There’s always been a certain romanticism surrounding them but none more so than when crafted by a family-run firm with a long tradition of coppersmithing such as Forsyths.
Now world leaders in the supply of distillation equipment, Forsyths’ history dates back to the 1890s when Alexander Forsyth was apprenticed to a Speyside brass and copperworks. Following the completion of his apprenticeship Alexander remained with the firm, first as a tradesman and then as a foreman, before purchasing the business in 1933. Then named A. Forsyth and Son, Forsyths is now in its fourth generation.
While Forsyths continues to employ the traditional hand hammering techniques of their forefathers, they have always had an eye to the future too. Upon returning from service in the Second World War, Alexander’s son Ernest (better known as “Toot”) took over the running of the business and quickly introduced new welding techniques to replace the traditional riveting process. These days technological advancements continue to make the manufacturing process both more efficient and less labour intensive and enable Forsyths to make stills in all shapes and sizes while retaining superior strength and durability.
Originally only operating in Scotland’s whisky industry, Forsyths’ main business remains the replacement of worn parts of equipment at local distilleries including Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet. However, Forsyths now also offer a huge range of services - including distillery design, turnkey solutions, site installations and commissioning - to producers of all spirits all across the globe.
Fundamental to this global expansion is their Hong Kong office which opened in late 2018 in response to growing demand in Asia-Pacific. While all manufacturing remains in Scotland, the sales, engineering, and maintenance hub in Hong Kong is ideally located to be more accessible to, and better able to support, customers in the region.
With a large existing market in Japan - and one that particularly appreciates tradition and reputation - Darren Hosie, Business Development Manager for Asia-Pacific, describes the country as a “happy hunting ground.” It has also proved to be a market where their new semi-modular distilleries are proving popular. Fabricated, wired, and piped in Scotland, the distillery equipment is also pre-built before being disassembled and packed into 40ft shipping containers. Akin to an over-sized Lego or Meccano set, this compact and efficient system also significantly reduces installation time on site.
Forsyths have also recently completed work on the highly anticipated Komoro Distillery in the foothills of Mount Asama in central Honshū (the main island of Japan). Operated by Karuizawa Distillers, Inc. the innovative Komoro Distillery opened in the summer of 2023.
Komoro’s two unusual onion-shaped copper pot stills with their heavily descending long lyne arms take pride of place in the distillery, visible from almost every vantage point. It’s not just the shape of the stills that are different though, Komoro also reverse the usual process in which the first distillation is bigger than the second, to ensure - as master blender and founder Ian Chang explains - that the cycle is “very small and very continuous.”
Priding themselves on taking a client-led approach to all their projects, Forsyths work directly with start-up companies to identify their specific needs and offer everything from the supply of individual stills, fermenters and mashtuns to process design, turnkey services, installation, and commissioning.
Forsyths describe every project as unique but there’s no denying that Komoro’s was particularly pioneering. Nonetheless Chang describes working with them as nothing short of exemplary.
“From the outset, their professionalism, industry knowledge, and commitment to understanding our specific needs at Komoro Distillery were apparent. The HK office provided us with tailored solutions that perfectly aligned with our project's unique requirements, ensuring a seamless and efficient process from start to finish.
Their expertise in distilling equipment, coupled with an intimate understanding of the nuances of the Asian market, made them an invaluable partner in our venture. The support and guidance we received throughout our project were instrumental in helping us achieve our goals, ultimately contributing to the high quality of our products.”
Elsewhere, in Asia-Pacific demand is growing. Forsyths have already installed two large plants in China and have a further two distilleries in the planning stage. They are also receiving a growing number of enquiries not only from China, but also from India where Forsyths admit their equipment has been prohibitively expensive, but now hope to benefit from the long anticipated free-trade agreement between India and the UK.
While other markets - such as Vietnam and Australia - probably need to mature before Forsyths can make significant headway, you can already find Forsyths equipment on every continent making everything from bourbon and brandy to rum, tequila, and vodka. With their Hong Kong office going from strength to strength it seems certain that number will continue to rise.