"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, 25 August 2010

Saucel Distillery, Paisley

My next destination was Paisley to visit the site of the old Saucel Distillery, once one of Scotland’s largest in terms of production volume. Barnard describes the distillery as being located in the suburbs of Paisley but, like so many of the Glasgow distilleries, the site has been absorbed by outward growth and is effectively now part of the town centre.

From Wishaw to Paisley via the M74 and M8 is relatively easy, soon to be even easier (possibly) when the M74 extension is completed in 2011(ish), although the arguments about increased air pollution in South Glasgow hark back to the old days of the Gorbals which was just north of the route the extension now takes.

However, Wishaw to Paisley via Hamilton and East Kilbride is, at first, a tortuous journey on roads I don’t know (especially when the A726 splits into two completely separate roads eventually reconnected after either 3 miles on the A727 or 3 miles on the M77!), but a journey that is ultimately rewarded by fine views west across the Gleniffer Braes and Renfrewshire valley. I don’t know this part of Scotland very well but I am beginning to understand the affection that Barnard had for the area.

The site of the distillery was on the banks of the River Cart close to Paisley Abbey, which those Monks who rested at Tambowie were heading for in their pilgrimage. Barnard describes the distillery as a large work that “occupies nearly both sides of King Street”. The old NLS maps over a number of decades mid-19th century all show Saucel Brewery on the north side of King Street with the distillery on the south side, but the businesses were likely connected and founded together in 1793. The maps show malt houses, kilns and spirit stores on both sides of the street.

Espedair Burn and old chimney from thread mill
The water source was initially the Espedair Burn which ran through the grounds behind the brewery, but that burn became polluted, this time from nearby dye works, and so a separate reservoir was built in the hills beyond Paisley and water channelled to the site. The old burn still runs by the site, now through culverts into the River Cart. Dyeing was a major business in Paisley, connected to the thread mills and weaving that the town was famed for.

Barnard doesn’t mention the Ardrossan canal which passed the distillery on its south corner but which was closed by an Act of Parliament in 1881. Heavily in debt, and the route all the way to Ardrossan never completed, the canal was used to transport goods and sightseers between nearby Johnstone and Glasgow Central Station before railways took over. Ironically, the canal was filled in and its path from Glasgow to Paisley is now a railway which has a dead end at Paisley Canal station beside the old distillery site!

When Barnard visited, the distillery was in the top five production volumes in Scotland, about 1 million gallons p.a. (although still dwarfed by Port Dundas’ 2.6m gallons). There were 20 Washbacks and 18 Pot Stills plus a Coffey Patent Still.

The distillery was taken over by DCL in 1903 and there is report of a fire that destroyed the production facilities in October 1915 (Ulf Buxrud, 2000) but spared the warehouses. Barnard had noted that “precautions against fire are very complete, every floor having a plentiful supply of water laid on with the necessary hose attached” and the cause of the fire, whether bombing during the war or otherwise, is unknown. No, I am not about to take on another newspaper trawl, but if anyone has any more information on the demise of this once great distillery then please feel free to add a comment below.

Bingo at Saucel and Anchor Mill appartments
King Street is now Saucel Street (a new King Street now lies to the west of Paisley town centre) and no trace of the distillery or brewery remains, not even by name as Saucel was a name for the district before the distillery was built. The last warehouses were, like Clydesdale, demolished in the 1980s. Apartment blocks now fill most of the grounds and a bingo hall stands where the main distillery buildings once were.

Clydesdale Distillery, Wishaw

Before my journey heads to Campbeltown (via Greenock, Cowal and some of the best driving roads in Scotland) I need to mirror Barnard’s visits to some other (lost) distilleries along the Clyde Valley, 2 smaller distilleries and one very large one.

The first of the smaller ones was Clydesdale Distillery at Wishaw.  Barnard does not describe how he travelled from Glasgow to Wishaw, although he does mention the town is “fourteen miles from Glasgow, on the Caledonian Railway”, Wishaw station a short distance from the distillery.  Had he travelled by horse and carriage he would likely have gone via the old ‘London Street’, now downgraded to the B7078 alongside which the M74 now connects Glasgow to the M6 (and London) at Gretna.

A valley in Clydesdale
Barnard describes the valley of the Clyde where “…woods, orchards and fruit gardens combine to give this district the well-known designation of the ‘Garden of Scotland’.”  This designation has actually been used for various agricultural areas of the country and is today more commonly associated with East Lothian (home to Glenkinchie Distillery), the Carse of Gowrie between Perth and Dundee and also the Howe of the Mearns on the east coast between Brechin and Stonehaven, home to Fettercairn distillery and also birthplace of Robert Burns father, William, who was a market gardener in the Mearns before moving to Ayrshire.

The Lanarkshire area around the Clyde still has a strong farming and specifically fruit growing presence, and as you head south-east out of Glasgow and pass between the old industrial towns of Hamilton, Motherwell and Wishaw you emerge into the open rural landscape of Clydesdale, full of tumbling streams, open meadows and soft rolling hills.  Very different to the stark cliffs and bold mountains of the familiar highland landscapes, but beautiful for being verdant and peaceful (in contrast to the industry downstream) - a garden within Eden.

New Lanark, World Heritage Site
Barnard only briefly mentions the celebrated Falls of Clyde which are upstream near the World Heritage Site of New Lanark.  These are not specifically marked as an attraction on the 19th century NLS maps but are recorded as a series of ‘linns’, an old Scottish word for waterfalls/pools.  I don’t know if he ever visited the falls himself, unlikely on this journey but maybe on one of his returns to the area in later years, but he missed a treat if he didn’t come here.

Corra Linn, Falls of Clyde
The Clydesdale distillery was on the south edge of the estate of Wishaw House.  The House was demolished in 1953 and the policies that once “came up almost to the very gateway” of the distillery are now a golf course and housing.  On the west side of the estate the famous Ravenscraig steel works were built in the mid 1950s, just after the house was demolished, and it became one of the largest steel works in Europe before it closed in 1992.  At the time of Barnard’s visit there were numerous other iron and steel works in an area that held a long tradition in these industries.

The distillery was established in 1825 by Robert Montgomery, the then Lord Belhaven who was a local businessman and owner of Wishaw House, and by the time of Barnard’s journey it was one of the largest pot still only distilleries in Scotland.  It had four granaries, eight malting floors and three large kilns which were heated by peat from the nearby Greenhead moss.  This moss has now been converted into a nature park with walkways, trees and small lochs; off the paths the ground is still spongy and likely still developing new moss layers below the dense vegetation.

The mash tun was one of the larger ones that Barnard witnessed at 24 feet wide by 6 deep and holding 69,000 litres.  There were two Morton’s refrigerators and four huge washbacks at 82,000 litres each.  The description of the stills is intriguing - Barnard records that the Wash goes “through the four Stills which are of the plain Pot kind with a capacity of 5,500, 3,500, 2,650 and 1,000 gallons respectively” (25,000 litres down to 4,500) … “and it may here be mentioned that the whisky in this establishment undergoes three distillations.”  Triple distillation was more common then, particularly in the Lowlands, but could the distillery also have been set up for possible quadruple distillation with those decreasing pot sizes?

Barnard separately notes that there is “an extensive apparatus on the premises for distilling water for reducing purposes.”  The distillery would not have been supplied by those Loch Katrine waters much celebrated by Glasgow distilleries, and the Clyde waters would not be considered clean enough being as they were downstream from various power plants and mills, including the extensive cotton mills at New Lanark.  The water used for distilling whisky was from the nearby Cambusnethan peat-moss, the burn from the moss diverted through the grounds of another nearby estate, that of Coltness.  Cambusnethan moss still exists, surrounded by housing, but Coltness House was demolished in the 1980s and the estate also now built over with housing.

Site of Clydesdale Distillery maltings and kilns
The distillery had ten large stone warehouses holding 3,500 casks and Barnard notes that the Cooperage had “upwards of 100 Sherry Butts just imported from Spain”.  The annual production at that time was 773,000 litres and the scale of industry here must have been an impressive sight as you arrived on the Caledonian Railway line from Glasgow that passed by at an elevation before reaching the station.  A separate siding ran into the grounds of the distillery to supply the extensive granaries with barley.  Further warehouses were added to the site in the 1890s.

Site of Clydesdale Distillery and warehouses
Clydesdale distillery was one of the five founding members of Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd (SMD) in 1914 but then closed in 1919.  At that time DCL began using their warehouses (Udo 2005) and SMD was ultimately absorbed into DCL in 1925.  The warehouses continued in use for a few decades but the last buildings were demolished in 1988.  The site of the granaries and kilns is now an Aldi supermarket and car park, the adjacent sites of the main distillery buildings and warehouses also now occupied by various retail stores and a McDonalds.  No reference to the old distillery remains in the area.


Friday, 20 August 2010

Tambowie Distillery Update – No Smoke without Fire

I reported last week on my visit to Tambowie Distillery and was left with a question mark over the date for a major fire that destroyed the distillery. The fire is commonly remembered as being during the First World War, possibly 1914, yet a poem first published in 1905 reflects a similar story being told. The poem is the earliest recorded mention of local characters arriving on the scene carrying various containers to fill with whisky, and then being found sleeping off the effects in the open air.

I first encountered the poem in an on-line copy of the Milngavie & Bearsden Herald (MBH). Tambowie Distillery was located about 2 miles north-west of Milngavie and MBH republished the poem in 2006 as part of a series looking back at life in the area during the last century. It was they who first raised the question about the dating of the fire:
“The fire is usually said to have happened during the years of the First World War, however the poem featured on this page describing the blaze appeared in the Herald long before that.”

Alas, no answer to this anomaly was presented and so, in humble service to you dear reader, I set to investigating. A few phone calls, hours of book research and many yards of microfilm later we are closer to the end, but not quite there. With the kind assistance of Sharon and her colleagues at the Brookwood Library in Bearsden I have unearthed further information, although a completely clear picture of the final years of the distillery does not yet develop.

The key to this mystery was tracing the inspiration for the poem which was published on Friday 10 Feb, 1905. That was the easy part and I found the answer on a microfilm copy of MBH from just one week earlier. If you can’t quite read the copy in the picture to the right (click to enlarge) it reports “One of the most serious outbreaks of fire which has ever taken place in this district was that which occurred on Wednesday [1 Feb] forenoon at the bonded warehouse…”.

The report goes on to describe that of the 2000 casks stored in the warehouse (some for “a very long period”) only 20 were saved, with the remainder and the building completely lost to the fire. The fire brigade were forced to abandon saving the fated warehouse in a bid to stop the fire spreading to another bonded store nearby “which the burning whisky was running up against”. Gulp!

What the report does not mention is the casks being broken open and poured into the burn to stop the fire spreading, nor does it mention people turning up to ‘save’ some of the whisky in pans and cans. Looking through copies of MBH during the weeks afterwards finds no evidence of widespread drunken behaviour. There was only one charge for being drunk and disorderly in another village, and fines for people having the audacity to ‘play football in the street’ and ‘leaving a horse and cart unattended’. Some people, eh?

So this leaves the possibility that the latter part of the poem contained poetic licence to create an amusing story. Or perhaps MBH didn’t initially want to report those events for fear of tarnishing the reputation of their good townsfolk? Ironically, the poem was published immediately below the minutes of a meeting of the nearby Maryhill Temperance Union (it really was!). Indeed it is noted that reports, minutes and many, many letters regarding the Temperance Movement formed a large part of MBH reporting that year!

A more humdrum possibility is that those good townsfolk were legging it up the road with cans, bottles and frying pans to use as water carriers to help extinguish the fire, and the unknown author of the poem (signed only as J.G.B.) used this to create a more light-hearted image. Then again, once you have toiled to help reduce the fire to embers, and you find yourself standing next to a burst whisky cask with an empty container in your hand…

Whether truth or otherwise, the story within the poem’s ending became part of local legend in 1905 rather than during WWI as reported elsewhere. This still leaves another strand of the investigation to complete though. It is necessary now to look for evidence of a separate fire in 1914, or later in WWI, to see exactly when the more commonly remembered incident took place and also to see how it was then reported.

Thankfully, MBH was a weekly publication printed on just 8 pages, the first page always being solely made up of adverts (including 3 regular weekly adverts for blended whiskies all claiming to be “the best” or “second to none”), plus one page each for sports results, book serialisation and school reports. So it only took me the one full hour of eye straining, back breaking scrolling through the entire microfilm for 1914 to establish that there was no fire reported at Tambowie in that year, unless it was during the last week of the year and therefore not reported until 1915, but I had to admit defeat for the day at that point.

It is possible that I missed the report as it was an eye straining exercise and headlines were often small and just in capitals at the beginning of a sentence, rather than a bold typeface floating above. However, I did notice reports of other fires in the area, often headed in a bold typeface and generally described as “Exciting” (sic). I am sure that a fire destroying an entire distillery would meet that criteria and that I would have spotted the report.

Now, as archaeologists will tell you, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The precise dating of a second major fire at the distillery is still under question as most reports only mention ‘during the First World War’. Alas, this means that the microfilm for 1915 to 1918 must also be searched. Sob! Do either of my readers happen to live in the Bearsden area and have too much spare time on their hands…?

Evidence of the fire in WWI would also help answer another question that is troubling me. If a report of this later fire does indeed mention local chancers characters collecting whisky from the burn in any container they could muster, were they acting on impulse, or was the notion first planted in their uisge addled brains by that evocative poem from ten years earlier? The Temperance Union may have written a letter or two about that!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Whisky Fringe - The Whisky (and some Rum)

Some of my reflections on an amazing weekend of whisky sampling are in a separate post below, now it’s time to mention the whisky. This blog is not intended as a whisky tasting forum, although to record my journey through the whisky industry without occasionally mentioning my thoughts on the product would leave this record incomplete.

Continuing with my earlier prophesies, I had hoped to be surprised by some wine finished whiskies this year, even just one standing out above the herd, and I was, and it was just one.

Thankfully no Tokaji to distract me (you know how you can sometimes go back to something bad, hoping, believing it was just a one off and has to be better the next time…) but a few others just didn’t work for me either, notably the white wine finishes. However, the newly released Benriach 17yo Rioja carried a subtle blend of floral notes, vanilla and a dry finish from the Rioja coming through. Yum, this one’s a grower I think.

In a further hint that finishes are perhaps going to dominate some sectors for many years to come a couple of distilleries were offering new spirit that had only been in ex-wine casks. Glenglassaugh’s ‘Blushes’ has matured for just six months in casks previously holding Californian red wine, which somehow impart what I thought was a smoky, almost peaty dryness to the spirit. I then tried their ‘Peated’ spirit (which has a lovely smokiness drifting over the light fruitiness of the spirit) to remind me what smoky and peaty actually mean!

When Barnard visited Glenglassaugh in 1886 it was producing 80,000 gallons per year and was “said to be steadily gaining favour in the market”. After years of growth, then closure (1907), then a new distillery built beside the old (1959) which was itself then mothballed (1986), the stills starting producing again in December 2008 in a welcome return. With flavoursome spirit and new ideas to try the new owners will hope to gain favour once again.

Kilchoman have also been experimenting with their spirit, this time in Madeira casks. Their new General Manager, John MacLellan, tells me that they have great hopes for their spirit lending itself to some wine style finishes. This is an early indicator of what the peat in the spirit can stand up against, and also of what the future may hold? Does Kilchoman Farm receive enough of the Gulf Stream warmth to plant its own vineyard? Just a thought.

Alas, there were no other red or white wine finishes that I enjoyed so I tried a few Port finishes to keep the wersh at bay. I skipped Arran’s new Amarone finish to try their Port instead, which carried Arran’s light fruity nose but with a warmer, almost cordial like finish. [I did remember to try the new Arran 14yo again - same notes as last time, same forgetfulness when it came to adding water. Doh!]

Glencadam and Tomintoul are not whiskies I know too well but they both had 12yo Port finishes on the same table so a comparison made sense, with the Glencadam lighter and well balanced, the Tomintoul a bit more complex with creaminess to the palate but then a drier finish.

My wine finish adventures over, I turned my attention to whiskies I had marked as new and/or must try. Duncan Taylor were first up with a unique chance to try a ‘before and after’ with an Imperial 1997 (54%), which was then cocooned in an ex Sherry Octave for just three months. The pre Octave spirit, once you got past the alcohol, was, as you might expect, grainy with vanilla and some fruitiness. From the Octave it was sooo much sweeter with orange dominant. Nice to compare the outcome of a higher wood to spirit ratio against the earlier non-finished whisky.

At the lighter end of Islay the new Bunnahabhain 12, now up from 40% to 46.3% and now non-chill filtered, was a pleasing surprise from a whisky I don’t normally go for. I may suggest this one to Islay novices who want to paddle their kayak into that island’s smoke veiled waters, through which many are called by the Sirens and never return, and where many others are driven from the peaty shore.

At the peatier end of Islay was a unique ‘Heart of the Corryvreckan’ from Ardbeg. This was a sample of the main ‘element’ in the whirlpool I guess we could say, the spirit matured in French Oak casks, but in this case allowed to stay in for a wee bit longer and not married with any ex Bourbon cask Ardbeg, as the standard bottling is. This glorious whisky was my second place for the weekend and reminded me why Corryvreckan is currently my favourite Ardbeg, not a bad effort given the company it keeps in the warehouse, where I fear it was once bullied by the rich intensity of Uigeadail and the now vanquished Araigh Nam Beist.

Staying with peaty, an Old Pulteney 19yo which had been matured in ex-Laphroaig casks since birth was rich and interesting (although their stunning 17yo is more memorable). In an earlier post I was bemoaning the style of some recent peaty Speysides that have appeared, and a few peated Highland whiskies I had not previously encountered are available as well. My final prophecy, come almost true, was in the form of a Highland whisky I don’t remember tasting before - the Ardmore Traditional, at 15ppm, was smooth and balanced and I will look out for it again. It shows it can be done well if intended at conception, rather than as the offspring of a marketing ‘accident’.

I briefly mentioned in my Reflections post below that the new Longrow 18yo was my favourite whisky of the weekend - sensational whisky with something for everyone in the mix. Incidentally the Longrow CV has been one of my top three for this year so far and I never got to try the last 18yo they produced, so I am deliriously looking forward to this one being bottled next year.

Stop me before I drool but after the Longrow and the Corryvreckan, and almost stealing that second place, was the Douglas Laing Glen Scotia 1992 OMC, packed with vanilla and peach, with a sweet taste evaporating to a drier finish. I think I may have found a use for one of my Royal Mile Whisky vouchers.

A few others to mention – the Balblair 2000 was light and easy with nicely balanced fruit and vanilla but I am still cherishing my favourite whisky from the 2008 Fringe, the 1989, which won the Spirit of the Fringe award that year. St Georges' Chapter 6 (unpeated) was too young to be lighting any fires but I am still keen to try the peated Chapter 9 - my Barnard journey will, I guess, take me to Norfolk eventually. The Wemyss 'Spice King' was a tasty wee treat with lots of peppery Talisker in the mix and the Compass Box 'Hedonism Maximus' added lots more orange to the coconut that I love in the standard Hedonism.

Then it was confession time at the chapel, the Rum Chapel that is, which I visited for the first time with the benefit of having two days over which to sample. My thanks to Cap’n Dave Broom and to Chris for my introduction to this murky spirit which was a pleasant surprise amongst the whisky flavours that were arguing on my palate. I tried four rums overall and Dave seemed happy when he finally selected one I truly adored, Pere Labat Rhum Agricole, and just in time before us punters were made to walk the plank at the last bell.

And that was it. Yes, I sampled too many whiskies and my meagre notes will not do justice to some of them. That is both the joy and the challenge of a festival such as this – are most of us going to stop just when the flavours of whiskies number 5 and 6 begin to blend into each other on your exhausted palate, or when the evaporation of spirit dripped on your fingers affects your nosing? At a dedicated nosing - yes, at a festival - unlikely, and I hope that our hazy licensing regulations do not become enforced in a way that denies this choice to the many responsible, adult patrons who simply wish to sample, enjoy and share the scope and complexity of this amazing product.

Overall a great range of whiskies that were either new releases, new to me, or so new they haven’t actually been bottled yet. I have added a few to my list of ‘drams to share’ and I now continue my journey in Barnard’s footsteps refreshed, inspired and with my spirits high.

I hope you will join me again soon to explore Campbeltown.

Whisky Fringe - Reflections

I am not normally given to prophetic visions but it would appear that a few of my hopes and expectations from last week have come to pass. The first, and most obvious, is that writing this post has indeed blended into Tuesday, and hoping to complete my thoughts yesterday was indeed optimistic.

When Barnard visited Yoker Distillery he described seeing in one room “an eight-day clock of the last century style”. I have got to get me one of those! An eight-day clock would be particularly useful on whisky tasting weeks, when a day or two often seems to go missing (“I’m on a whisky diet. I’ve lost three days already!” – Tommy Cooper, genius).

To my dismay it turns out that an eight-day clock is not the same as an eight-day week, it just means that you wind it less frequently than the normal daily requirement for clocks of the 18th century. Ah well, no excuse for being late at my keyboard then!

I was quite surprised at my weary state yesterday. Yes, it was two afternoons of sampling (plus a few relaxed beers in between with pleasant company) but most samples provided were, sensibly, no more than a 10ml measure. This was ample to gain a good impression of the range of whiskies I wished to try and spittoons were used for the remains of those that I thought to be wersh (but more on those wine finishes later).

I also spent many happy moments discussing Whisky Story with those employed in the industry and those just curious about my journey, and consequently found my nosing glass running dry on a few more occasions than I might otherwise have desired. However, the fuels for this blog are inspiration and information and neither were in short supply, so I’m not going to grumble about the occasional drouthy moment.

I have been hoping that some of our older distilleries have archive material that may offer a parallel record of Barnard’s visit to them, something to compliment his notes. I am grateful to all those who offered contact details for me to follow this up, although my early enquiries hint that records that far back may be harder to find than a peaty Lowland whisky.

My journey will soon take me to Campbeltown and I am encouraged to hear of a revival of interest in this historic whisky town, home to 21 distilleries when Barnard visited but now only 3. Barnard spent a fortnight there and I now think my earlier estimation that I would only need three days is a little light. The Longrow 18yo, not released until next year, was my favourite whisky of the weekend and I look forward to visiting Springbank and finding some history to contrast with Barnard’s experience of the town.

I was delighted to meet up with Bill and Mark from Glasgow’s Whisky Club. Their helpful advice was appreciated and I look forward to attending Glasgow's Whisky Festival in November, which they are organising. I will be well into my journey by then and a day out of my schedule to relax and enjoy another great range of whisky will be timely and welcome.  I hope to have invented a true eight-day clock by then.

I also had a delightful conversation with Christine and Bill who have visited 90 distilleries, using all kinds of public transport, and no doubt ‘shanks’s pony’ as well. They have yet to travel by horse and trap though, something I am keen to do as well given this was Barnard’s common means of reaching distilleries. It would be the norm for him, and on occasion even a burden to be joked about (more on this when I reach Bowmore distillery) yet it seems somewhat romantic to us in this day, a treat to look forward to. Christine, if you are reading, please let me know when you realise this dream, I hope I will too.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Whisky Fringe - Anticipation

Whisky Fringe this weekend. A fantastic celebration of new releases and old favourites from a number of distilleries and independent bottlers, all brought together by Royal Mile Whiskies. This event has been held during the Edinburgh Fringe since 2002 and this year sold out in record time back in May. I am lucky enough to be attending for my third year.

The venue for this celebration is the Mansfield Traquair on Broughton Street in Edinburgh. Consecrated as a church in 1876 the interior of the building was provided with quite stunning murals, colourfully and vividly painted by Phoebe Anne Traquair between 1893 and 1901. After years of neglect the murals were restored to their former glory by a team led by Historic Scotland between 2003-2005. Now known as ‘Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel’ the interior of this building is quite inspiring and a wonderful setting in which to share a dram or two with old friends and new.

The programme has been sent out in advance and there are some rather innovative whiskies to look forward to, as well as a return for the ‘Rum Chapel’. Cask finishes as a concept would be unheard of in Barnard’s time; it wasn’t that long since people had begun to realise that the casks they were transporting their spirit in were adding new flavours to the spirit and reducing the fieriness of the alcohol. Producing specialised batches, sourcing vineyard specific barrels and double maturation are more recent trends permitted by the explosion of interest in Single Malt bottlings in the last few decades.

Finishes to look forward to this year include Rioja, Claret, Port, Rum, New Oak, Sauternes, Moscatel, Chardonnay and Madeira, as well as the usual range of sherry maturation and/or finishes. Truth be told I have yet to find any wine finished whisky I really like (some port finishes do it for me though, the Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition a firm favourite) but I am hoping to be surprised this year. Duncan Taylor’s ‘Octave’ experiment with ‘a few months maturation with larger wood to spirit ratio’ for a 1997 Imperial looks interesting, if not one for the purists.

The return of peated whiskies to the Speyside production lines in recent years also harks back to times when peat was abundant and unprotected and used as the main source of heat in kilns all across Scotland, long before railways opened up the highlands to supply the more efficient fuel supply of coal. As an Islay fan I am struggling to accept these. Some of them seem a little unbalanced to me, with the peat phenols added somewhere in the process because someone feels they have to, because that’s what people are talking about or desiring, but the end product often seems forced rather than the peat being an integral, balanced part of the complexity. Again, I wait in hope to be surprised this weekend.

The inclusion of whisky from St George’s (The English Whisky Co) for the first time will be a bit different for some attendees; Barnard had a choice of ten English Distilleries to visit and picked four to provide a flavour of what they were like. St George’s is the only current distillery in England and was opened in 2006 with their first spirit run in December of that year. Chapter’s 6 and 9 of their unfolding story to be sampled this weekend.

Suntory and Amrut are the overseas whiskies represented this year, although a couple of bourbons and those rums are in the mix.

I am attending both days this year for the first time. With acknowledgement of the responsible, paced sampling recommended by our governments and health boards I hope to bring you more thoughts and reflections on Monday, but if that blends into Tuesday then you will understand why. Barnard may not have understood the fuss.

Tambowie Distillery

After visiting the west side of Glasgow, Barnard made just one stop to the north, at Tambowie distillery near Milngavie. For some reason he didn’t visit Glengoyne (then named Glenguin) until the following year when touring central Scotland. After Tambowie he heads south of Glasgow and then on to Campbeltown.

Sylvan scenes at Tambowie
I arrive at the road up to Tambowie Farm on a warm, sunny day, perfect for surveying the surrounding land for evidence of this long gone distillery. Barnard describes the scene from here as picturesque and sylvan and the same is true today, with the Strathblane Hills to the northeast, Mugdock Park and Lennox Forest stretching across the valley below.

What is not included in the view as Barnard claimed, and clearly subject to that bit of ‘poetic licence’ that is prevalent in much of his writing, is Loch Katrine, some 25 miles north and hidden beyond forests and the massive slopes of Ben Venue!

The NLS map shows a short side track leading to the distillery and today this leads to pleasant, landscaped grounds and the home of Murray and Sandra (and their bonkers pet dog) who all welcome me and provide me with more of those moments that make this trip a pleasure.

Murray describes some of the old foundations that they know are under the recently filled in hollow, where once the burn ran down through the distillery grounds from an artificial dam on the slopes above. The dam, marked on NLS maps from c1850, created a small reservoir to catch water from the Tambowie hills to provide a dependable supply for the farm and distillery. The burn is now piped through the ground but still spills out beside a small bridge near where it would have exited the distillery grounds.

Garden works have revealed a few small, concrete pedestal statues that have been pulled from the ground. They are rather worn and moss covered but two of these appear to be in the style of Roman or Greek Goddesses, perhaps representing Ceres, goddess of agriculture and grain; or the Romano-Celtic Arnemetia, a water goddess (‘aqua vitae’ from another time); or perhaps Egeria, an ancient Roman Goddess of springs, sacred knowledge and inspiration!

Sandra advises that local history records this place as a stop off for Monks on pilgrimage to Paisley Abbey, which was founded in the twelve century and raised to abbey status in 1245. Looking around the landscape you can understand why. Tambowie sits below the foothills of the highlands and beyond the end of old droving roads through the glens that would be well known to Rob Roy MacGregor, much celebrated in these parts. The stream from the Tambowie hills would be a blessing after a long walk and from nearby the view would be unbroken across the Clyde Valley to Paisley, and the object of their pilgrimage.

Rob Roy lived in the Trosachs area north of here 100 years before the distillery was founded in 1825. A significant character in Scotland’s history, in part due to Sir Walter Scott’s 1817 novel Rob Roy, he was a cattle herder and drover for much of his life. On his travels south to the major cattle markets he may also have made use of the old smugglers cave that Barnard describes as being used as one of the distillery warehouses. The same novel also introduced us to a character by the name of Bailie Nicol Jarvie, now the name of a blended whisky produced by Glenmorangie.

The distillery grounds today
The only visible remains of the distillery are now a small wall behind the cottage and a brick platform beside the burn. Some rubble appears in the burn and likely dates to the distillery time as well. The cave has been filled in, its location lost long ago. The Manager’s and Excise man’s cottages do still remain beside the grounds and are occupied to this day.

Sandra introduced me to Albert and Margaret who live in another cottage on the track and more history comes my way. Albert has a folder of notes on local history and very kindly copies some pages for me take away.

Within these pages, and in other records of the distillery, are details of a fire during the First World War. It is noted that the Manager and Excise Man broke open the casks of whisky and allowed it to pour into the burn downstream, presumably to reduce the fire hazard in the warehouses. Word of this reached nearby Milngavie and soon various characters were turning up with any container they could carry and filling them with Tambowie’s finest before it became too diluted. Many of them were apparently found in the two days that followed, sleeping off the effects in the woods.

When I visited the Gorbals and the Adelphi Distillery site I noted the many pubs recorded in that area on the old maps; Milngavie also appears to have had an excess of pubs per population in the past. Nigel Orr’s history Milngavie, The Village (2002) notes the more liberal licensing laws than in Glasgow and no less than ten pubs in the village in 1896. He also notes the opening price for a gallon of Tambowie Malt Whisky as 2s 10d. That equates to roughly £76 a gallon today, £11.70 a bottle or 42p for a measure.

There appears to be a historical anomaly regarding the fire. In 2006 the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald published a short report on the distillery as part of a series of reports looking back at the history of the area. Under the heading ‘The old spirit of Mulguy’ they included the following poem that was reportedly first published in the Herald in February 1905. Now this either means that there were two separate, major fire incidents at the distillery within 10 years, or that, as I will discuss below, sometimes history is not as it seems.

The tragic end of John Barleycorn
"Mulguy" enjoy'd her morning meal
With something like repose,
When forthwith came that frenzied peal —
''Fire! Come! Get tackle, hose!''
''Tambowie's Whisky'' swells fou' strong —
See yonder flames rear high;
Needless to sound the dinner-gong,
'”Fire! Fire!” each one did cry.

A thousand voices rent the air
As up the spirits went,
Whilst greater, grander grew the flare
Which none could circumvent.
As the boy stood 'midst ''the battle's wreck
Whence all but he had fled,''
So stood ''John Barley'' - (by the neck),
Held fast, with feverish dread.

Envelop'd thus with smoke and flame
He bravely met his death.
When out his life's-blood trickling came,
Each witness held his breath —
All, save a few, who carried cans,
And some with empty bottles,
Whilst not a few used frying-pans
To quench their thirsty throttles.

Thus perish'd ''John'' — his ebbing veins
Distill'd through ''Quaint Mulguy,''
But, reckless of his burning pains,
Were those who drain'd them dry.
The loss is great, his mourners weep,
And mingle with the crowd,
Still, those who drank his life's blood sleep
Outside without a ''shroud.''

A wonderfully evocative poem from an unknown poet, however, the published date of 1905 throws up a question about the common recollection of a fire in 1914. Udo (2005) doesn’t mention a fire but does give a closure date of 1914. Various books, web sites and online forums record the fire as 1914, and the distillery was finally closed in 1920, the walls then being cannibalised to provide material for new road building nearby.

Is this a case of ‘remembered’ history v ‘factual’ history? After the horrors of the Great War many people had memories to forget and so, over time, other memories are often placed out of context or out of sequence. It is said that we remember many more enjoyable and interesting experiences than we do those events that disturb or disappoint us. Could this be a case of facts being lost with time and memories of a local event propagating to fill a gap, a time for which people prefer not to recall their actual experiences, or was the earlier fire forgotten amidst the consequences of the later one?  History becomes legend, legend turns into myth (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings)…[Update - further investigation can be found on this link].

Tambowie in 1896
As well as historical notes, Albert also gave me a copy of a map of the farm area from 1896 which shows the distillery buildings as they then stood. This is a real bonus as the NLS map at this level of detail, from c1850, has been torn through where the buildings would be and the layout cannot be determined from it.

This presents another historical anomaly I may have to deal with on the tour. Maps, like the rest of our history, are subjective objects open to interpretation. It is known that in the past it was not uncommon practice for some maps and books to be defaced by those who found record of things that didn’t meet with their approval. Thus, record of certain churches would be erased by those of a different denomination, and record of distilleries, breweries and public houses removed by those of certain religious or temperance persuasions. Some buildings would not even be recorded by mapmakers if their own beliefs stood against the purpose of those establishments.

Has the NLS map been deliberately defaced or just damaged by accident? In this case the latter does seem more likely as the name Tambowie Distillery is still clear beside the tear, and vandalism would surely wish to remove the whole record. Perhaps the NLS don’t have a better copy from that period to scan into their digital resource.

Like most of my other ‘distillery’ visits so far, this one has also found only memories and stories of the past; the object of my own pilgrimage, unlike those monks of old, no longer visible to draw me forward. Yet compiling this tale has given me new insight into aspects of our past that will help shape my writing as my journey moves on round Scotland.

My thanks and best wishes to Sandra and Murray, Margaret and Albert, and to Drew at the farmhouse who granted me access to photograph the dam and reservoir. Margaret, I hope you do find a special occasion to open your bottle of Tambowie Malt (a recent ‘Pure’ malt bottling under the old name from the Vintage Malt Whisky Company). Slàinte, enjoy!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Arran 14yo launch

Slight detour from my trip today but for a very good reason.  I'm back into Glasgow for the world launch of Arran's latest.  Their delightful spirit has now been resting for 14 years and they are bringing the first cask of their 14yo Single Malt to Òran Mór in Glasgow tonight.

In a throwback to the days of yore, and remembering Arran's long tradition of whisky production, the distillery are bringing the cask by boat from Lochranza to Glasgow Quay. Then, in a scene that Barnard would not have blinked an eye at nor took a photo of on his Sony Cybershot, the cask will be transported to the bar by horse and cart, there to be cracked open for the assembled worshippers.

Horse and cart deliveries were the norm when Barnard visited Glasgow, transporting casks by boat and barge also common sights; organising a world launch via Facebook invites a mystery.  I wonder how Barnard even organised some of his distillery visits, telephones still being thin on the ground in the 1880s.

Anyhow, back to the Barnard trail tomorrow, suitably refreshed after tonight I expect.  I hope to provide an insite into new discoveries regarding the old Tambowie Distillery, plus a quiet journey across southern Renfrewshire.  And then there's Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh to look forward to this weekend. Oh boy!

James and Euan with the Arran 14
Update - great sample of the Arran 14 yo then. Kudos to Euan for carrying that wee cask not once, but twice round the Oràn Mor last night. Deserved a dram so he did. Anyway, some people asking for tasting notes, so aside from telling you to try it yourself at Whisky Fringe (oh yes, it will be there, along with the new Arran cask finishes), here goes my first sampling note of the tour:

Bottled at 46%, ncf, bright copper colour.
Nose - the Arran notes are there, vanilla, some fruit, orangey, or more mandarin like, and banana or is it just a shadow of old wood mustiness there in the background, like you get in many 20-30 yo whiskies? Maybe.
Palate - spicy and salty to start, cinnamon and nutmeg, the mandarin is still there with a touch of mellon. Good round mouthfeel.
Finish - stays in the mouth a short while, nothing deeper though. The mellon grows to dominate later in the dram, holding off the sea spray.
Overall - I was too busy picking out flavours to remember to try it with water. That fruit stays around for a wee while along with the salty tang at the front of the mouth. Despite that early hint of mustiness there is also something, um, young about this dram. Some people maybe expecting a real big hit from this, given the progression of the Arran, but its maybe flattened out the curve a bit now. Arran are aiming for 10, 14 and 18yo as their core range in time, not sure the 14 will hold off the popularity of the 10 though. But I need to try it again at the weekend, with water this time (please remind me).

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Littlemill Distillery (and the end of part 1)

Still buoyed by my earlier visit to Yoker, I headed west from Auchentoshan towards the small town of Bowling, once home to Littlemill Distillery. I wondered what I would encounter at my final stop of the day? Would I find something to inspire me as at Yoker, or, like Provanmill and others before, would there be nothing left to remind us that once there stood a distillery that exported as far as India and the Colonies?

Littlemill distillery was established in 1772 (Udo, p317) so was one of the oldest recognised distilleries in Scotland. Alas, after closing as recently as 1994 there was nothing left aside the name, once more enshrined on a road sign. The site of the main distillery buildings is now a modern apartment block, although they have restored and included two old distillery towers as part of the building.

Across the road, where the warehouses once stood, is now waste ground being readied for building. The crumbling walls of an old house still stand here, perhaps once the homely environment for a distillery manager, or perhaps the functional formality of an excise office, but now just a shell to be renovated or demolished. Do we know, or care anymore?

Wharves and wreck at Bowling
Bowling town is as quiet as the stills are now. Barnard describes “charming landscapes not unlike Richmond on Thames…and the Bowling Bay, with its wharves and shipping, giving life to the scene”. The charming landscapes are still there in the view across the Clyde to Erskine Park and the Kilpatrick Braes on the north side of town. The lively wharves and shipping are gone though, Bowling Bay now home only to an old wreck, the wharves silent and decaying, the Clyde flowing serenely past, empty.

Littlemill Place and Erskine Bridge
The railway station was there in Barnard’s time; the long sweep of the Erskine Bridge, bringing goods by van and truck, was not. The Forth and Clyde Canal, completed in 1790, has its Clyde end at Bowling Harbour. This great waterway across central Scotland was once a major transport route for goods and people. Port Dundas and Dundashill distilleries were also connected to the canal at the end of a channel running through northwest Glasgow. There too Barnard had described a scene of “great commercial activity”.

All silent now. Where once the fires of kilns and boilers burned bright, fanned by the great winds of industrial change, now the last candles lit in memory flicker and die in the gentle breeze of a whispered ‘ah’, as the cork of an old favourite squeaks out from the neck of a bottle, memory of the contents flooding back to olfactory senses, knowing this can’t last forever.

Where has our great ‘water of life’ gone from this industrial heartland of Scotland? Eight distilleries into Barnard’s list and only one, Auchentoshan, remains in production to this day. A little despair creeps back into my heart. Where in the west of Scotland is the activity, the innovation, the noise of humanity, the support for communities, the wee drappie for four generations of skilled workers, from Coopers to Welders – what have we left to show for all this spirit, damn it!

Yes, there are high volume distilleries in the area - Strathclyde in the city and Loch Lomond in nearby Alexandria, neither there in Barnard’s time and all far larger outputs than even Port Dundas in the 1880s. Both, however, look soulless, producing mainly grain whisky for in-house blends and with no visitor facilities.

I will discuss these, and the more recently closed Dumbarton Distillery, in an upcoming post. For now my Glasgow tour has come to a close and I go on with heavy heart.

I will soon be visiting Campbeltown, once home to the highest concentration of distilleries on the planet, so that should cheer me up a bit, no?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Auchentoshan Distillery

Barnard’s visit to Auchintoshan (sic) was, in his own words, hasty. He dropped in on his way to Littlemill and my visit today was also brief. I have twice before been on a tour round this smart distillery and this day I felt a need for new experiences.

Colourful expressions at Auchentoshan
I do recall receiving a warm welcome on both previous visits and the staff are very informative, so I wanted to visit again to check a few details from Barnard’s brief description (13 lines). First, he stated that the distillery was founded in 1825 however this is confirmed to me as 1823, the year it was first licensed, although there appears to have been an unlicensed distillery here for a few years before then.

Barnard also records the water source as the Cochna Loch (actually ‘Cochno’ Loch) in the nearby Kilpatrick Hills. This has long since been replaced by water from Loch Katrine which makes Auchentoshan unique as being the only Lowland distillery supplied from a water source in the Highlands. The cooling water is taken from a small reservoir in the grounds that is formed from an old bomb crater. Auchentoshan stands at the opposite end of Clydebank from Yoker and largely escaped the bombing during the 1941 blitz, although their website does note that three warehouses and over a million litres of whisky were lost!

(R-L) Wash, intermediate and spirit stills
A more significant change appears in the distillation process. Barnard records two “Old Pot Stills” but the distillery has always practiced triple distillation, even in Barnard's time. A third still was installed in the 1920s to provide wash, intermediate and spirit stills, lifting the spirit to a much higher % than the double distillation practiced at other distilleries. Until the 1980s distillation was ran on a traditional basis to a spirit of 84% and was then replaced with a ‘balanced distillation system’ producing spirit around 81%, which is then diluted to 63.5% for casking.

Once a more common practice in Scotland, particularly in the Lowlands, and still common in Ireland, Auchentoshan is now the only Scottish distillery that triple distils fulltime, a few others use the process occasionally or partially. The higher strength of new make spirit produced prior to being diluted helps to achieve a lighter and smoother final product.

The different spelling of the distillery name is also peculiar. The distillery was perhaps founded as ‘Duntocher’, named after a nearby village, but then changed name to the spelling Auchintoshan which is Gaelic for ‘corner of the field’. This appears to have been changed to Auchentoshan in 1834 (Udo, 2005, p39) and this is the name recorded on the NLS map surveyed sometime between 1848-72, with the same spelling applied to the nearby estate house. Barnard, however, uses the old spelling in his account in 1885.

This is the first distillery on my journey that a) is still in production, and b) is open to the public. A new visitor centre was opened at the distillery in 2004 and you can enjoy their fine malt whisky here after a tour. Whisky tourism was unknown in Barnard’s time, although he could be described as the first known distillery bagger and perhaps the inspiration for some distilleries to open their doors to visitors.

Whisky tourism is now a useful diversification for many distilleries trying to recoup some cash flow while their product lies sleeping for many years, and also to attract new people to their whisky. Visitor centres, tutored tastings and open days all provide new opportunities for distilleries. If you want to find out more about Auchentoshan and triple distillation then I can recommend a visit and tour, or head over to the second Auchentoshan Festival which takes place on Saturday 28 August this year.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Glasgow Part 6 – Provanmill Distillery

Like Camlachie and Yoker the location for Barnard’s next visit was then a quiet rural setting “a few miles north-east of the City of Glasgow” on the high road to Stirling, and the site is now on the very edge of the expanded city, with the busy junction between the M8 and M80 motorways nearby.

The NLS map from c1850 records it as Mile-end Distillery, further down a track from the actual Provan Mill and about a mile from the small village of Millerston. It was originally licensed in 1815 as Milltown and changed name to Provanmill in 1860 under new owners.

The Molendinar Burn at Provanmill
Provanmill was another distillery citing Loch Katrine as a water source, although the main water used was from nearby Hogganfield Loch, presumably by way of the Molendinar Burn which ran from the loch, through the distillery grounds and eventually through Glasgow to the Clyde. Of interest here is that further down this burn was the site where St Kentigern (aka St Mungo) founded his church in the 6th century, which went on to be the cornerstone for the development of Glasgow.

The burn can still be seen beside the site of the old distillery, where it has been turned into a water feature in a play park before being piped underground. From here to the Clyde it runs through pipes and Victorian brick tunnels that can be seen in this link if you like that sort of thing.

The distillery was closed from private ownership in 1922 and demolished in 1953. Littlehill Primary School was then built on the site but that too is now gone. It was closed in 2004/05 after consolidation of schools in the area and was then vandalised and burned down in an arson attack in June 2008.

The site of the distillery and Littlehill School
The site is now home to a family day centre. One member of staff recalls the distillery being here before it was demolished. I am allowed to take pictures of the area but requested to avoid the centre as there were children playing there. A further sign of change from Barnard’s time when children from as young as five would work in farms, mills or coal mines and concerns for their rights and welfare were only just starting to be given thought by the state.

The 1874 Factory Act required that no children under ten should be employed in a factory but this was not properly monitored until stricter controls were introduced in 1911. Prior to 1874 no children were expected to work more than 10 hours a day!!! The 1880 Education Act required all children aged 5 to 10 to go primary school.

The recent use of the site for education and child welfare reflects changes in society that were just taking root when Barnard visited the area. On the site of the old Provan Mill now stands the Molendinar Community Centre. Where once young children worked they can now go to play.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Glasgow Part 5 – Yoker Distillery

My trip to Yoker was one of those magical days that help to make a venture such as this a joy to be part of.

I was in an uncertain mood at first as I approached Yoker. Uncertain of what I would find there, if anything, and uncertain if visiting the sites of these long gone distilleries (almost half of Barnard’s list) was going to be of any real value at all. How unnecessary my worrying turned out to be!

Barnard describes his route “…through the prettiest suburb of Glasgow, and our journey was a pleasant one. Just before we reached our destination we noticed an all pervading odour of Whisky in the air, and were not surprised shortly afterwards to see the buildings of the Distillery…” Barnard later describes Glasgow as “only six miles off”. His journey was by train from Queen Street station, the line to Yoker having been opened just three years earlier and with a siding that extended into the grounds of the distillery.

Yoker has since been absorbed into Glasgow City, just as the Camlachie of my previous visit had been, and now stands on the boundary between Glasgow and Clydebank. My drive along Dumbarton Road no longer presented the prettiest of suburbs, and the all pervading odour coming through the ventilation of my car was a seaweed smell from the old docks along the Clyde. The buildings of the Distillery are, sadly, long since gone.

Yoker Parish Church
Yoker Parish Church
I soon found the site where the distillery had once stood, at the corner of what is now Hawick Street and Dumbarton Road. I parked beside Yoker Parish Church and am immediately curious about the church as it’s not recorded on the NLS map I had researched. I decided to enquire further about its history and the parishioner volunteers who were tending the grounds directed me inside to where a coffee morning was being held. I was soon introduced to the minister, Reverend Karen Hendry, who informs me that the church was founded in 1895 and there was no record of a church on the site before then.

On hearing the purpose of my visit the very engaging Rev. Hendry began to find ways to keep me on the premises. An offer of coffee was tempting after my long drive from Edinburgh but I had just arrived and was keen to explore the area first. I promised to return later for a coffee and then I was informed about a book that may help my research into the area. Both Sides of the Burn (BSotB) is a history of Yoker, written by the senior pupils of Yoker Secondary School and published in 1966. Intrigued, I consider looking in a local library to find it, make my excuses, and head out to find evidence of the distillery.

Yoker Distillery
The Burn mentioned in the book is the Yoker Burn which previously ran through the distillery grounds, the distillery being built at the point where it met the high water mark of the Clyde. This is marked on the NLS maps as “The highest point to which the ordinary spring tides flow”, however the burn is now directed to the Clyde via underground pipes. The distillery also had a large circular reservoir for filtering water from the Clyde, so large (90 feet in diameter) it is marked as a structure on the old NLS maps.

I recall the smell from the Clyde earlier and am glad to read that it was Loch Katrine water that was used for the actual distilling; yet another distillery celebrating this water source by Barnard’s time. Before then, the distillery being founded earlier than 1770, the Yoker Burn and local wells were the main water sources (BSotB, p30).

The distillery was owned by the Harvey family, in various legal forms, from 1770. Hawick Street was once known as Harvey Street and the family had been farmers here since 1740, the distillery being built to utilise the excess grain production in the region. The story of Yoker recounted in BSotB indicates that the distillery was the fundamental driver for the growth of the village. It quotes from an 1820 publication “the little village of Yoker remarkable only for its large distillery” (BSotB, p31). The NLS map from around 1850 shows few buildings other than the distillery and dairy. The village growth came later, joining with the outward growth of Glasgow as the ship building industry grew along the newly dredged Clyde.

The Harvey family also owned the Dundashill Distillery in Glasgow and Yoker received its malted barley from there. Yoker was one of the largest distilleries in Scotland in 1885, producing 600,000 gallons (2.7m litres) a year, mostly grain whisky but they also had “one of Stein’s Patent Stills for the manufacture of malt whisky”. Now I always assumed that Stein’s stills, like Coffey’s later ones, were only used for producing grain whisky, but it appears I may be wrong? The whisky produced was sent to Glasgow warehouses for blending or was sent to Ireland from the docks at Broomielaw (BSotB, p30).

Barnard also describes a rather murky business going on in one warehouse which:
“contains a Patent “Ageing Apparatus," where new Whisky is subjected to an immense pressure of heat. This process is said to have the power of destroying the aldehyde or fieriness of new Whisky and converting it into a mature spirit of three to five years old. This patent is at present in its infancy, but arrangements are being made to work it in this Distillery on a larger scale.”
I have been unable to trace any further mention of this rather dubious practice but arguments about accelerating the maturing process still continue to this day. A topic for another time though.

Once again recalling the earlier smell of seaweed as I had driven through Scotstoun I found an interesting reference in BSotB. Yoker became home to a substantial chemical industry in the late 19th century, at one time being home to a factory known to locals as “the seaweed” and producing “half of all the iodine used in Britain” (BSotB, p103) together with a range of other acids and chemicals. Interesting, because for some reason, for Yoker distillery alone, Barnard was moved to state that “no acids have ever been used in the distillery”. Peculiar.

The Cooperage
The distillery was closed in 1928, another victim of DCLs rationalisation after being sold to them in 1925. Modern apartment blocks now stand on a courtyard named ‘The Cooperage’, continuing a tradition of naming streets, where distilleries once stood, either with the distillery name or based on a particular function undertaken at a distillery.

Across the road from the main distillery site is now ‘Yoker Business Park’ which is basically just a Scottish Power depot. This is where Mr Harvey once had his home and where the dairy attached to the distillery may once have stood. The cattle were fed on the draff produced by the distillery and the butter produced in the dairy “fetched the highest price in the market”.

North of the depot is Yoker Bowling Club. Barnard describes “a large bowling green, kept up by Mr. Harvey for the use of the men in the Distillery and the village.” My enquiries at the clubhouse confirm that this green has been on the same site since 1850. It is well kept and well used to this day.

Spiritual enlightenment
Yoker Bowling Club
After taking some photographs I returned, as promised, to the church coffee morning in search of refreshment before my journey continues. As I am driving today my preferred refreshment of a large dram of something with a phenol count above 25ppm was not an option, and this being a venue where another kind of spirit is worshiped the chances of a dram were unlikely in any case. Rev. Hendry advises that they are having enough trouble trying to get a licence for a bingo night, never mind a drinks licence. She very kindly treats me to a much needed coffee (thanks again), my dram on ice for now (not literally my friends, don’t worry, I knows the rules!).

My day was about to get another lift. During my walkabout, Rev. Hendry had been busy searching the church bookshelf and had found a copy of Both Sides of the Burn for me. Inspired by this kind gesture I began flicking through the pages looking for details to take note of and am told to take the book with me and return it another time. As we drink our coffee I am introduced to some members of the congregation and am made to feel very welcome as I interrupt their soup and sandwiches. I now regretted turning down the Reverend’s earlier offer of some cake as we discuss Yoker, whisky trips and the church situation.

I ask if the Harvey family were still landowners or residents in the area. At this moment we are timeously joined by the Session Clerk, Jim Shaw. Jim has a wealth of knowledge on the area and advises that the family no longer live here however, at the church’s centenary fifteen years ago a gentleman named Harvey, a descendant of the distillery owners, arrived from Bristol to visit them.

Jim also recalls that it was the Harvey family who arranged for the stunning stained glass window, its bold, azure colouring glimmering brightly in the morning sun, to be installed in the north end of the church, the original windows having been blown out during the blitz which destroyed Clydebank in 1941.

Details of my journey spark some interest and a few other distilleries in the area are mentioned to me, Glengoyne and Auchentoshan included. Jim, I hope you can get the Rev to agree to that minibus trip for the parishioners (I may be responsible for started something here. Oops!).

At this point the Reverend advises that they do a wonderful sausage roll and would I like one? I am beginning to get the feeling that she is trying to ensure that my nourishment today goes beyond the ‘spiritual’ kind. I recall something from my Sunday School years about ‘being led astray’ but somehow forget if that was meant to be a good thing or a bad thing - I could get to like it here.

Regrettably I need to take my leave. I had planned to visit a total of four distillery sites that day and I hadn’t counted on any of them being quite as absorbing and pleasingly delaying as Yoker had been. I recall the final verse of a favourite poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Sadly, I say my goodbyes and promise to return with the book sometime soon.

The last elements of the old distillery, the bonded warehouses, which remained across the way from the church after production had ceased, also suffered during the blitz bombings and never recovered. It is said that in less than two hours, whisky worth more than £1m went up in flames (BSotB, p32). Now, nothing remains of the grand old venture the locals knew as Harvey’s Distillery.

The stills may be silent, the bricks may be gone, but the spirit lives on in memories and stories.

My very best wishes to Karen, Jim and the congregation at Yoker Parish Church. If you, my loyal reader, are passing through Yoker at any time then make sure it is on a Wednesday and drop in to the church for their weekly coffee morning. A warm welcome awaits you.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Rumblings from the Cask – Dram 2

My return from my first day in Glasgow is met by a phone call from one of those witty chums mentioned in an earlier post:

‘Hey, how’s it going.’
‘Not too bad, just back from a whisky trip to Glasgow.’
‘So how much whisky have you had?’
‘None, the distilleries I visited were…’
‘None?!!! How many distilleries did you visit?’
‘Four, but three are long since closed and…
‘Let me get this right, you visited four distilleries and didn’t get to sample any whisky at all?’
‘Yes, but…’
‘You’re not very good at this! It’s going to be a long journey.’

Humph! The point I was trying to make was that of the four, three are long gone and the other one, Port Dundas, is a grain whisky industrial monolith with no visitor facilities and is in the process of closing down. A far cry from the sampling rooms and tourist friendly visitor centres that have grown up around our more photogenic distilleries in the hills and glens.

Said chum has a point though (at this point I pour myself a large dram of Lagavulin to make up for my earlier shortfall). If you’re going to embark on a whisky tour then whisky should be found or at least accompany you along the way. Barnard knew this and from the outset carried a flask to share with friends and those he met on the way (see Glasgow Part 1 – Arrival).

My well travelled hip flask
I am even more despondent when I realise that I had not even considered taking a hip flask for that day in Glasgow (although the drunk on the bench in George Square was keen to share a fine Buckfast Tonic Wine with me – sweet, medicinal but with a smooth, rounded taste.  The Buckie that is, not the tramp, he was medicinal and musty, with a smokiness that lingered on the nose far too long after passing ).

My next visit to Glasgow is even less likely to produce any whisky sampling notes as I have now acquired a shiny new set of (old) wheels with which to travel round Scotland in. Day trips to local areas will not lend themselves to sampling when having to drive back home, longer journeys when resting up overnight will, I hope, be more fruitful.

I do resolve to ensure that a hip flask will, from now on, accompany me at all times on the journey, even when I am unable to partake of a dram myself.

Whisky related suggestions for a name for my shiny new silver wheels are welcome, a Whisky Story blog T-shirt to anyone coming up with a name I actually choose to christen the car with.

Glasgow Part 4 – Loch Katrine Distillery, Camlachie

Moving to the East End of Glasgow I arrive at Camlachie where Barnard visited his fourth distillery, Loch Katrine. Not to be confused with Loch Katrine Adelphi (Glasgow Part 3), the Loch Katrine Distillery at Camlachie also drew its water from that loch by the time of Barnard’s visit.

It was originally opened as Camlachie Distillery in 1834 and drew water from the Camlachie Burn that ran past the distillery. The distillery was renamed Whitevale a year later and is recorded on an 1858 map with just the name ‘Distillery’.

The Loch Katrine pipeline to Glasgow was opened in 1859 and the distillery name was changed to Loch Katrine in 1870. It appears under this name on the same 1893 map that records the Adelphi distillery also as Loch Katrine. The availability of abundant fresh, clean water to a heavily industrialised and overpopulated city was certainly something to celebrate and be identified with.

By the time of Barnard’s visit to Camlachie the “pretty village, and its then sylvan stream much frequented by anglers” had already been absorbed into Glasgow city which was expanding rapidly. The distillery was surrounded by overpopulated tenements and industrial works and the sylvan stream of the Camlachie Burn was no doubt now heavily polluted from the waste of poor sanitation and the Camlachie Chemical Works on the opposite bank to the distillery.

In the 1800s the Highland and Lowland ‘Clearances’ and potato famine in the highlands forced tens of thousands of people off the land and into the towns and cities of the central belt. Many Scots emigrated to America and Canada if they had the means to pay their fare; many others were attracted to Glasgow in particular, as industrialisation created a need for labour.

Celtic Park (Paradise)
In Ireland the potato famine and political uprising had a similar effect on the population. Many Irishmen were also attracted to the ready employment in Glasgow and large Irish communities began to grow in the East End as their families followed. Celtic Football Club celebrates its Irish heritage and was founded in 1888, with Celtic Park football ground opening in 1892, just a few hundred yards east of where the distillery was. Celtic was founded as a charity with the purpose stated as being to alleviate poverty in Glasgow's East End parishes.

The Loch Katrine Distillery was closed in 1920 after being sold to The Distillers Company although the bonded warehouses remained until 1980. Camlachie was one of a number of areas that later became central to another of Glasgow’s failed housing experiments with the building of tower blocks in the 1960s, some up to 30 stories high, to re-house people being moved from the old tenements.

A discussion with friends on some of the areas of Glasgow I planned to visit threw up some cautionary words on what I might encounter. The stereotyping of certain place names led to a comment it was suggested I might end up using in this blog if I wasn’t too careful – “Over here used to be a distillery, and over here used to be my laptop!”, which may then have been destined for Paddy’s Market, except that was closed down by Glasgow Council in 2009 after concerns about associated crime - a ‘crime ridden midden’ was the Council’s poetic description.

'Over here used to be a distillery'
Not a bit of it! The location of the old distillery is now a pleasant housing estate with children playing in the street and no-one took any notice of me as I took photographs of the area and wandered around trying to get my bearings on where the distillery buildings once stood. The Forge shopping centre to the north-east of the location, built on the ground once occupied by the massive Parkhead forge in Barnard’s time, is one of the largest retail complexes in Europe and was packed with shoppers at 2pm on a Tuesday when I visited.

The East End of Glasgow is starting to emerge from its imbalance of social deprivation and vast areas between Camlachie and Dalmarnock are now being redeveloped for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and hopefully a legacy beyond then. Opposite Celtic Park the new Indoor Sports Arena and Velodrome are rising from a wasteland that will also become home to the Athlete’s Village. These are long term ventures and the Village will be transformed into housing after the games.

My first day in Glasgow, and of this tour, draws to a close and I return to Edinburgh inspired and full of ideas. Time to start writing.