"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

1 - Background

Alfred Barnard
Starting in the summer of 1885, Alfred Barnard, who was then secretary of the London wine and spirit journal Harper’s Weekly Gazette, set out to visit every whisky distillery in Great Britain. He expected his journey to take around two years and he visited 129 distilleries in Scotland, 28 in Ireland and 4 of the 10 then licensed in England.

His notes on each distillery were serialised in Harper’s and at the end of his trip they were published together in book form in January 1887. The book has been reprinted several times in recent years as the whisky industry, and whisky tourism in particular, has enjoyed a period of growth and interest.

Barnard travelled with different companions and met kind hospitality at the distilleries he visited. At each one he recorded detailed descriptions of the whisky production, the equipment used, water sources, the size and volume of buildings, machines and vessels, and the general arrangement of the processes in place in each distillery.

Barnard also recorded notes on some of the hotels and inns he rested in, the means of transport he used and his views of the countryside he passed through on his epic journey. It seems clear from his writing that he enjoyed the journey perhaps as much as the distilleries he visited.

In 1985, on the centenary of the commencement of Barnard’s journey, Philip Morrice embarked on a similar venture and visited all the then licensed distilleries in Scotland and Ireland. Of the 129 that Barnard visited in Scotland, 59 had since closed and 51 new distilleries had opened. Morrice did not visit the sites of the closed distilleries but did write descriptions of the 121 that existed in 1985/86, including a number not then in production.

Your blogger
I have been enjoying malt whisky since the mid 90s and after visiting around 20 distilleries over a few years I decided to take time out to visit them all and expand my knowledge of the industry and its history. This whisky blog will record my journey in Barnard’s footsteps.

I am always delighted to meet visitors to Scotland and I enjoy helping our guests to see more of God’s own country, and share a few drams along the way.

Robert Burns is one of my heroes and I hope to explore his life and legacy on a separate, parallel journey that I intend to record at some time as well. I first learned Burns’ Address To A Haggis in 1987 and many haggii have fallen to my sword since. Burns liked ‘a wee drappie’ and also wrote a fabulous poem titled Scotch Drink which inspires this blog as well.

Blog Bibliography (in progress):
Both Sides of the Burn (The Story of Yoker), The Senior Pupils of Yoker Secondary School (1966). Bell, Aird & Coghill Ltd, Glasgow.

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011, ed. Ingvar Ronde (2010). MagDig Media Limited.

National Library of Scotland, Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895, available at http://www.nls.uk/maps/townplans/index.html.

On the Trail of Robert Burns, John Cairney (2000). Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh.

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram, Iain Banks (2003). Century, London.

Rothes 2001 and 'Oor Young Days', The Rothes Book Group (2001).

Scotch Missed: The Lost Distilleries of Scotland, Brian Townsend (1993). Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd, Glasgow.

Spirit of Adventure, Tom Morton (1992). Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh.

The Distilleries of Campbeltown, David Stirk (2005). Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd, Glasgow.

The Scottish Whisky Distilleries (For the whisky enthusiast), Misako Udo (2005). Distillery Cat Publishing.

The whisky distilleries of Scotland and Ireland, Philip Morrice (1987). Harper Publishing.

The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, Alfred Barnard (1887). Harper’s Weekly Gazette. (The edition that will accompany me on my journey is from 2008, by Birlinn Ltd).