"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, 29 September 2010

Lochead Distillery, Campbeltown

Around the corner from Dalaruan lay Lochead Distillery, beside the site of Parliament Square, where once there was the courtyard to the parliament of James IV mentioned in my last post.  This was another distillery name with reference to local history as the old English name for the area around the bay of the loch was Lochhead (sic) at the time it became a Royal Burgh in 1609, a name still in regular use until the mid-19th century (Stirk, 2005).

Lochead was another of the distilleries opened in Campbeltown just after licensing was introduced.  It was ‘built’ in 1824 as a conversion of an old mill and surrounding houses, and Barnard observes “an air of antiquity…time has indeed dealt leniently with its old stone walls and fences.”  It is possible that illicit stills were previously run in some of the houses, benefiting from their location beside the mill. There was a small stream running through the works into the loch, and the Lochead burn that flowed past once powered the old mill.

Within Barnard’s short description of the distillery two points stand out.  First, he reports that the mash tun is “said to be the largest in Campbeltown” however, unlike most other distilleries, he doesn’t state the actual size.  These are generally from 14/15 feet down to 10/12 feet in diameter and from 5/6 feet down to 4 feet in depth for Campbeltown distilleries.  Lochead does appear to have a slightly higher washback capacity than the other larger distilleries, yet all this doesn’t transpose into higher capacity through its two regular pot stills.

The second point of note are the coolers which he describes as “in the open, and stretch right across the burn.”  The detailed NLS map from 1865 shows two worm tubs and one large rectangle on a platform that crosses a lade.  The rectangular object may have been a worts cooler of the type mentioned at Springbank and Dalintober and Lochead also had a Morton’s refrigerator.  On the opposite bank a few yards upstream we can see on the map the three worm tubs at Dalaruan, one for each still there and decreasing in size accordingly.

Worm tubs at Lochead and Dalaruan (Source: National Library of Scotland)
In 1868 the building of a new church was completed right next door to the distillery, on the grounds of Parliament Square, and the United Free Church moved here from other premises in town.  Expansion of the distillery in the late 1890s under new owners included the building of a large new warehouse on the other side of the church which became sandwiched between the two.

The front of this warehouse still stands between two tenement blocks but behind is derelict ground.  Like many of the distillery buildings that were abandoned after the 1920s collapse in the industry the roof was removed by the owners to avoid paying rates on the property.  This practice has inevitable led to the deterioration and subsequent demolition of much of Campbeltown’s distilling heritage, but like all the other distillery buildings that remain in Campbeltown today, in whatever form they now take, this street frontage is now Category B listed.

Further expansion just after 1900 saw the construction of a four storey malting facing Kinloch Park in place of the ramshackle buildings that had stood there before.  This was a bold structure as can be seen from this early picture, with the front of the church just visible on the left (picture courtesy of Historic Kintyre).

Lochead maltings c1900
The distillery was bought by Benmore Distilleries Co in 1927 and Lochead ceased production in 1928, the year before they transferred to DCL.  I can’t find evidence of what the buildings were used for subsequent to this although a 1971 picture similar to the one above shows the exterior of the maltings largely unchanged.

Tesco now on site of Lochead maltings
The maltings were eventually demolished to make way for what was first a WM Low supermarket, now owned by Tesco.  The church was demolished in 1984 after falling congregation numbers made it unviable and that site is now the supermarket car park; the old Parliament by now a faded memory.  The main front of the supermarket incorporates the lower floor of the old maltings as can be seen by comparing the two photos above, the shape of the roof a small nod to the past.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dalaruan Distillery, Campbeltown

The name of this distillery has its origins deep in the history of Scotland.  Barnard states that it “takes it’s name from Dalruhadhain, the old royal name of the place”, a reference to the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada that was centred on Kintyre.

St Columba's 'footprints', carved to
commemorate his visit to Kintyre in 563AD
There is a long history of human settlement on this peninsula, back to the Neolithic farmers who first cleared the land over 5,000 years ago.  Kintyre’s first connection to the Gaelic speaking world can be traced back to around 300AD.  The origins of Dalriada lie in Ireland which is only 12 miles across the North Channel and a relatively easy crossing for the sea-fairing ‘Scotti’ people, who may have come here to claim land.  Later came St Ninian, celebrated as Scotland’s first Saint and who brought Christianity to Kintyre, and later still both St Kieran and St Columba visited the area.

Dalriada is one of those old names of place, like Alba and Caledonia, that inspire feelings of pride and independent spirit in many Scots.  However, the feelings they inspire are often based on selected elements of our history that are over-romanticised and glamorised.  Barnard almost falls into this trap in his introduction to Benmore Distillery - “Dalruadhain, the ancient capital of Scotland, where kings and nobles were wont to assemble, and whose streets and courtyards were thronged with gallant courtiers and armed hosts” – which hints more at the late medieval castles and palaces of England rather than the forts and farm huts more typical of ‘Scotland’ in the first millennium.

Although the exact origins of distilling in Scotland are still uncertain, it is possible that the practice was brought here by monks from Ireland, perhaps those accompanying the Saints mentioned earlier.  There were many illicit stills in the Campbeltown area before licensing was introduced in 1823, perhaps a legacy of these past visitors, and this influenced the early 19th century boom in the industry in the town.  Dalaruan Distillery was part of this boom and was founded in 1824.

Townsend (1993) tells a wonderful story of how the founder, Charles Colvill, “once had to share a hotel bed on Islay with a visiting excise officer who told him at length about the whisky industry on the island.  Charles gave up being an itinerant Cartwright and turned to distilling, with considerable success.”  The distillery was mainly funded by a local banker, David Colville (who also set up Dalintober with Peter Reid), and had a steady history for a century before production ceased in 1922 and the buildings and stock were put up for sale in 1925.

Barnard notes that the distillery had been expanded just a few years prior to his visit.  He provides a concise run through of the buildings and the distilling process, including the exact dimensions of each of the four malt barns.  I wonder now how he got all these measurements – did he carry a measuring tape or rely on the knowledge of the managers he spoke to?  It is common now to hear about the volumes of the mash/wash/still equipment but how often do we concern ourselves with the length and breadth of each room when on a tour?  Perhaps this was a product of the Victorian industrial era, when engineering was a major factor in the growth of the Empire?

However, one benefit of Barnard recording this level of detail is that it helps to show when distilleries may have been expanded.  In the 1925 sale document for the distillery the wash still is described as 4,027 gallons and the distillery capacity as 3,400 proof gallons per week.  This contrasts to a still size of 2,750 gallons and output of 2,150 per week when Barnard visited forty years earlier, showing further expansion of the distillery following that which occurred in the few years prior to his visit.

After closure and auction of the buildings the immediate use of the site is unknown but by 1938 a new housing scheme had been completed on the site.  This new scheme of terraced housing was known as Parliament Place, referencing the parliament buildings that King James IV had built to help arrange affairs and assert his authority in the area and which stood just south of where Dalaruan Distillery was later built.

New housing at Dalaruan
Parliament Place has now been demolished as the build quality was poor and within the last two years new housing has been built on the site.  When trying to find evidence of Dalaruan I spoke to some residents who thought I was perhaps looking for an old house where I had been born or had lived.  They were surprised to learn that their homes were on the site of an old distillery and I left a copy of one of the NLS maps with them to show their neighbours.

It seems that the history of distilling in Campbeltown is more and more being erased.  Where once there were five distilleries within a 200 yard radius of where these residents now sat enjoying the late summer sunshine, now there is almost nothing save another block of 1930s housing named after Glenside.  This was not what I had expected to find in a town once known as “the land of Whisky”.  Still, many more sites around town to visit…

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ardlussa Distillery, Campbeltown

My visit to Campbeltown was met with the most glorious late summer weather.  This idyllic spot was basking in sunshine and the blue skies in my photos have not been Photoshopped on later, as suggested by a few friends!  Barnard was there in mid-summer and experienced mixed weather during his two week stay.  On the day of his trip to Ardlussa Distillery, a ten minute walk from his hotel, the weather was rather more ‘Scottish’ and waterproofs and umbrellas were required before “defying the elements”.

In a very early post on this journey I briefly contrasted the different means of recording our respective adventures - Barnard likely with fountain pen and paper, perhaps writing at a bureau in his hotel room each night and posting copy to London; myself with a laptop and providing worldwide access at the touch of a button.  Visual recording offers a further contrast in style and I wonder what Barnard would make of Photoshop?  His book contains a number of etched illustrations of distilleries, their settings, and some of the internal workings.  In his introduction he thanks the artists who produced these, Messrs. Walker & Boutall, who were perhaps companions on parts of his journey, and their work is invaluable to us now.

Etching of Dundashill Distillery in Barnard
In some cases these may be the only record that remains of how certain lost distilleries once looked, for others they give us an opportunity to compare then and now.  A classic example is the illustration of Dailuaine Distillery which was etched 3-4 years before the pagoda roof mentioned in my last post was added; or the sheer scale of the enterprise that once stood at Port Dundas and Dundashill.  While an etched illustration offers far more subjectivity than my 12 mega pixel Sony provides, the idea of using software to ‘touch-up’ a personal rendering of a scene in ink would have seemed surreal, perhaps almost insulting to a Victorian artist.

There is no etching of Ardlussa Distillery (and I only have one picture as there is nothing left to see) however Barnard does provide his usual run down of the processes and dimensions of the operation.  He describes the distillery as one of the newest in town, built in 1879.  It was in fact the last distillery to open in Campbeltown until Mitchells refurbished Glengyle and re-opened it in 2004.

The Ardlussa Distillery Company was founded by James Ferguson & Sons who also owned Jura Distillery at the time of Barnard’s visit, having rebuilt Jura in 1876.  Ardlussa is also the name of a small hamlet and bay on the east coast of Jura, perhaps where the owner had his home?

Details to note from Barnard’s report include a description of worts being pumped from the Mash Tun to a “number two Mash Tun in the roof, which vessel discharges the draff by gravitation”.  I had seen this before at Springbank and wonder now how widespread the practice was.

For someone so obsessed with facts and figures there is an anomaly in Barnard’s recording of the wash still, which is reported, without further comment, as 18,000 gallons (82,000 litres)!  He had also stated that the Hazelburn wash still, at 7,000 gallons, was “the largest in Campbeltown” so was this a mistype for Ardlussa?  Given that the spirit still is quoted here as 3,560 gallons could he have meant 8,000 for the wash still?  Townsend (1993) quotes the volume as just 8,000 without further mention, Udo (2005) thinks it may have been a type setting error and suggests 8,000 as a more realistic figure, although all of our guesses still make it larger than Hazelburn.

Alas, we may never know the truth as the buildings were all demolished long ago.  Ardlussa was sold to West Highland Malt Distilleries in 1919 but stopped production in 1923 and became another 1920s closure statistic.  An attempt to sell the venture in 1924 as mainly a bonded warehouse and malting failed to attract any buyers.

In 1936 an attempt was made to use the bonded warehouses as part of a new venture by way of blending and bottling.  Barnard had described the two bonded warehouses as possessing “handsome arched roofs, requiring neither pillars nor central supports”.  These facilities must have been attractive to investors who were expecting casks “to arrive both from Islay and the north” and were also targeting supplies from the recently increased production at Glen Scotia as well (Stirk, 2005).

Last remains of Ardlussa
Once again this was a short lived venture as ample warehousing was available elsewhere in Campbeltown.  The bottling plant may never have operated and it is uncertain when exactly this venture folded.  A picture in Townsend (1993) shows major buildings still standing in 1971 but these have since been demolished and the grounds are now used as a goods yard for a building contractor.  The picture here shows the only remaining building (in the middle ground), purely as a record of my visit.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Benmore Distillery, Campbeltown

After his walk across the park Barnard arrived at the Benmore Distillery which he describes as the “first of the three new distilleries in Campbeltown”.  It opened in 1868 on Saddell Street and was the first new distillery to be built in the town after a hiatus of around 30 years.  There were actually four opened during a decade from then, Glengyle, Glen Nevis and Ardlussa the other three.

Barnard says that “its outside appearance resembles a public building… a Manager’s house on the right hand side of the gateway”.  The entrance was through an archway into a courtyard and you can still see this today, with the old house beside it.  The name once stood proud above the archway but only the word Distillery is obvious now, the letters for Benmore either chipped or almost worn away.

Benmore Distillery Sign
The Malt Barn was said to be largest in Campbeltown and the kiln beside it was described as “a lofty building 48 feet square”.  This building stands proud in many old pictures of the town.  The shape of the roof today suggest that at one time a pagoda top was built but this would not have been in the original design.  The first pagoda roof was designed in 1889 when it was added to Dailuaine Distillery in Speyside.  Photos from around 1900 show Campbeltown distilleries with wind rotating ‘oast house’ style cowls on the roofs which were common before pagodas.  The shape of the roof at Benmore remains unique among the few remaining distillery buildings in town.

Benmore Kiln and Malt Barn
The two pot stills were described as “beautifully polished”, so not done just to keep modern day tourists happy then?  The water used came “from springs inside the work, and the proprietors consider it superior to the loch water; the sample we saw was clear, bright and sparkling”.  Many distilleries in town had their own wells but also used the loch water from the Distillery Main, however given the water sample noted in the local paper (see Hazelburn) it is understandable that the well water was considered superior.

Barnard describes the whisky as “pure Malt” which is strange as nearly all the others he describes as “Campbeltown Malt” (apart from Glengyle which is not described and Albyn which he calls “Highland Malt”) but he doesn’t elaborate so maybe it is just a misprint.

The distillery fell silent in 1927 and was sold to DCL in 1929.  It never resumed production and DCL sold the property in 1936 to Craig Brothers who have operated it as a bus depot for West Coast Motors ever since.  Most of the original buildings still remain and some are used to maintain the bus fleet.  Of all the closed distilleries, aside from Hazelburn, Benmore has the only other buildings in town where you could recognise that a distillery once stood there.

Campbeltown Landscape

Time for a few thoughts on Campbeltown itself.  Distilling was a major industry in the town’s history and so inevitably had an impact on the local environment, both positively and negatively.  Barnard also commented on various aspects of the town and its landscape and I can follow a few of his observations through to my own recent visit.

Perhaps the most significant landscape change in the last few centuries, beyond the expansion of the town, was the creation of Kinloch Public Park between the north and south sides of the bay.  This area had previously been mussel ebb and it may at first seem strange for a fishing town to wish to remove such a valuable resource.  However, the growth of the town and associated industry led to heavy pollution of the ebb and so action was required.  The maps here are courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

Campbeltown bay c1865 before parkland reclaimed from sea

1900 map showing the Kinloch Public Park 

I mentioned in my post on Springbank that the Duke of Argyll had installed water mains for both the town and distilleries just before the distilling boom in the 1820s.  While this flow of fresh water contributed to improved sanitation in the town the Duke’s own agents wrote to the town council in 1871 to highlight the pollution problem.  They identified seven main causes, most of which I will spare you the unsavoury details of, but most significant was “the discharge of potale upon the beach” (Stirk, 2005).  Though not always a problem they did describe this as “extremely offensive in hot weather at low water”.

It appears from the letter that the use of potale as fertiliser or cattle feed was not yet common, at least in Campbeltown.  Barnard’s reports regularly mention the removal of draff for use as cattle or pig feed, but the process for draining and removing potale was fairly new and had to be forced upon most distilleries by the council.  Their reply to the Duke’s agents clearly noted the potale as the major pollutant of the ebb and cited this as a breach of the Public Health Act and the responsibility of the distilleries.

The pollution of the mussel ebb would have led to poisonous shell fish and so the council decided to reclaim the whole end of the loch for reasons of sanitation.  The Duke imposed conditions on this, including the requirement to build what is now the town esplanade and to provide a public park for the town’s inhabitants.  In-fill for the ebb was dredged from the bottom of the loch, including many tons of old ship ballast, and it was finished with rock quarried from the Dalintober side of the bay.  The works were completed over five years and the park opened in 1881.

Barnard, perhaps not knowing the history of the park, was rather scathing of it when he walked from the White Hart Hotel to Benmore Distillery one day.  His route took him across the park and he was perturbed at why land “without a shrub or flower thereon should be called a Park…left a wilderness by a parsimonious local board”.  He did, however, note that it was “sacred to the repairs of fishing nets and domestic washing”.  Photographs in the local Heritage Centre show the use of the wide open land for drying of fishing nets from what was then a substantial herring industry.

One of the other guests at the Dellwood Hotel was originally from Campbeltown and still returns for annual holidays with his wife, this year to celebrate his mother’s 90th birthday.  He recalls seeing the park covered in nets laid out to dry.  This was from a time when the herring industry was so important to the town that when boats were forced into harbour during a storm “you could run across the decks from one side of the bay to another” as the gentleman had done as a boy.  Sadly those days are gone, like so many other fishing towns around Scotland, and the fleet has now been reduced to just four vessels.

Barrels on the quay
I recalled another picture I had seen at the Heritage Centre, one which showed the entire harbour quayside stacked with casks.  I had assumed they were for whisky, either awaiting transport to distilleries, or to be loaded onto vessels bound for Glasgow warehouses or the colonies.  Frank McHardy at Springbank suggested they were more likely to be packed with herring which had been processed and cured on the shore, such was the extent of the industry in days past.

On the south side of Kinloch Park there is a building I mentioned in a previous post, the aqualibrium.  A delightful name suggested by a local school girl in a competition to name the combined swimming pool and library complex which opened in 2006.  I spoke to a few local people about the building and they were yet to fully accept its place in the town.  It was generally thought to be too modern, or built in the wrong place, as it seemed out of sorts with the older buildings and the wide open spaces.  However, since its construction, further new developments have started to modernise other parts of the town and perhaps, in time, a steady regeneration will help bring Campbeltown new prosperity with the aqualibrium at its heart.

aqualibrium and Kinloch Park
For me, well I love the name and I made good use of the resources and the helpful staff in the library to research old newspapers.  The Bistro on top of the building maintains a connection to the past having been named the Mussel Ebb, thus the old and the new sit side by side as has often been the case before. Distilleries came and helped to drive the growth of the Burgh from the small fishing villages that were there before; shipbuilding and the airbase at Machrihanish brought 20th century investment after the distilleries had gone; golf and tourism now staples of the economy alongside that most modern of industries the wind farm.  Forestry is important and where once the quay was stacked with barrels, today it is stacked with logs being loaded as cargo.  Perhaps farming has been the only constant here over the centuries and change is in the nature of the town.

Lying on the south side of the loch, Beinn Ghuilean, at 352m is the dominant land feature for miles around.  Crosshill Loch, which supplied the mains water to the town for many years, lies on its lower slopes.  Barnard says that “we grew quite fond of these hills” while berating the council for not providing enough trees in the park for him to shelter under while enjoying the view!  The slopes are thick with pine plantations that feed the logging industry here.  My aforementioned fellow guest at the Dellwood recalls that the slopes were once covered with heather in which the bold outline of a stag had been marked and could be seen as you approached the town from the high road.

Kinloch Park, war memorial and Beinn Ghuilean
Said guest also tried to wind me up with a story about how the US Air Force had demanded that the top of Beinn Ghuilean be lowered to allow for the approach path of their B52 bombers which were to be stationed at Machrihanish airbase to the west.  Hhhm - I can’t find reference to this anywhere so think it may be a local legend/fairy tale to test the gullibility of visitors.  Nice try, not buying it!

For someone who so admired the view of the hill Barnard didn’t half come up with some interesting spellings – Ben Ghoillan, Bengullion, Bengullien and Bengoillean in different reports.  The NLS maps, both old and new, record the spelling as Beinn Ghuilean, which is Gaelic for 'hill of the wind' (and they also record the height as unchanged from 145 years ago!).  Crosshills still provides water to Springbank and the hill slopes now include mountain biking trails, although sadly not in the outline of a stag that could again be a focal point for the town?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dalintober Distillery, Campbeltown

Barnard’s report on his visit to Dalintober Distillery begins with one of those clues that suggest the order of publication of his reports is not the order in which he visited the Campbeltown distilleries.  He opens by stating “after living in Campbeltown a few days we began to feel quite at home in the town, and were on familiar terms with most of the Distillers and a good many of the inhabitants.”

He also describes going for a sail at the invitation of “our friend” Mr. MacCallam (sic).  Presumably this is Duncan MacCallum who owned Glen Nevis Distillery at the time of Barnard’s visit and whose obituary describes yachting as his favourite recreation (Stirk, 2005).  Barnard thoroughly enjoyed the sail before being dropped near to the distillery, perhaps at the quay on the north side of the bay which was a short walk away.

Dalintober was named after the immediate area in which it was situated.  The area was previously a small fishing village of that name which was absorbed, along with the adjacent village of Dalaruan, into the expanding Burgh of Campbeltown which had begun on the south side of the loch.  The distillery was also an expanding enterprise, riding the boom within the town and moving from its initial small premises off Queen Street across the way to a much larger complex facing Kinloch Park.

Old Dalintober at Queen Street
Barnard describes a “frontage to Kinloch Park of five hundred feet, commanding the finest view of any of the distilleries, which includes the town, mountains and bay”.  The NLS map from 1865 shows only the small Queen Street Distillery which was established in 1832, a later 1899 map shows the extensive buildings facing the Park.

Townsend (1993) states that they moved to a site on the park in 1868 however this seems early.  The park was formed as reclaimed land from a mussel ebb in 1877-1881 and the Lochruan Distillery, having been rebuilt by new owners after 1867, is shown on an 1869 map on a site behind where Dalintober moved to and abutting the old mussel ebb.  In his visit in 1885 Barnard wrongly states that the “works were erected in 1832” as this refers to the old site and the date for the new site on the park remains uncertain.

The usual detail of the malting and distilling process is described and is here presented as “the whole process of the manufacture of Campbeltown whisky which we here detail for the benefit of our readers”, although it is really no different in principal to the process for any other kind of whisky.  Barnard has by now become more proficient in his understanding of distilling and the end to end process described here is a nice snapshot.

Springbank cooling tank
One element he describes is the “natural cooling” of the worts before running into the washbacks.  Most other distilleries have been noted as having refrigerators for this purpose, and those normally manufactured by Morton.  His previous report on Springbank records one of these devices but they also had an open topped air cooling tank which I picture here.  Perhaps this was also the natural cooling method at Dalintober.

Unlike many other distilleries in Campbeltown, Dalintober remained in the same name, Reid & Colville, throughout the 1800s and right up to 1919 when it was one of five in the town purchased by West Highland Malt Distilleries.  This new venture finally went into liquidation in 1927 during that dark decade for the whisky industry.  Dalintober had ceased production in 1925 and was later demolished to make way for housing (Stirk, 2005), possibly in the 1930s although the exact timing is uncertain.  The old Queen Street site was also demolished and today stands derelict, seemingly never redeveloped.

Housing on site of Dalintober Distillery

View of town, mountains and bay from Dalintober

The housing on the site today looks of that period and still commands the uninterrupted view across the park described earlier by Barnard.  In his next report he commented on the situation of the park and the hills he could see.  A number of interesting stories are told about this landscape by local people and I hope to recount some of them in my next post before moving onto Benmore Distillery.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Springbank Distillery, Campbeltown

Ah Springbank, blessings upon ye. More than any other distillery Springbank has not only retained the tradition of distilling in this fabled whisky town, but their owners have sought to revitalise it with the re-opening of Glengyle Distillery in 2004, the first new distillery in Campbeltown in over 125 years. I will discuss my visit to Glengyle in a later post but for now my journey takes me back in time to the traditional methods still used “in the heart of the Whisky City”.

Amidst the ghosts of distilleries that passed over to the angels almost a century ago, the Springbank complex still spans the length of Well Close, perpendicular to that famous whisky avenue called simply ‘Longrow’. Easy to find in the ‘heart’ of town, just look for the tall bell tower of the Lorne and Lowland Church which dominates the view as you drive down the main road - the distillery sits in the shadow of the tower.

Chalkboard recording for malt hoppers
Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland with full end to end production on one site. From floor malting, including some locally grown barley, right through the mashing and distilling processes, maturation and final bottling, all stages include elements of traditional hand craft methods. Modern equipment has been installed only where required to replace older worn machinery and often seems out of place. No need for computer control when a simple chalkboard will do.

Built in 1828 in the middle of the Campbeltown distillery boom, Springbank is the oldest independent family owned distillery in Scotland, currently owned by a descendant of Archibald Mitchell, the original proprietor of an illicit still on the site. There have been short periods of mothballing during its 182 year history, notably five years in the 1930s and off and on during the 1980s downturn, but these always felt like short term stays in production rather than intent to close completely. The 1930s break came after the mass of distillery closures in the 1920s when 17 Campbeltown distilleries met their fate, yet at Springbank “the plant has been kept in perfect repair…it is possible for an immediate start to be made” (Campbeltown Courier, 1935).

My visit was in the hands of Director of Production Frank McHardy, who has a wealth of experience in the distilling industry in both Scotland and Ireland. Frank’s enthusiasm for the project shone through, despite a BBC camera crew keeping him up late the night before. Frank will be appearing on a small screen near you soon - today it’s just me, my still camera and my notes from Barnard.

Springbank malting floor
Barnard only wrote one page on his visit to Springbank but that offers enough to compare the current operation with. I entered the yard through the same single gateway as Barnard and there met Frank to begin the tour. We started with a long climb to the top of the buildings to see the barley store and malting floors. This is a first for me, and to be in the presence of germinating barley, preparing to give up its sugars to the still, feels like an honour. Blessed be the barley, without which the people would endure such a drouth.

When Barnard visited there were two granaries and four malting floors, now only half that space is used and barley is stored in bins outside the old buildings for ‘health and safety’ reasons. The recent harvest has been good and the water content of the barley relatively low so not too much drying required before storage. The barley for malting is then raised to 48% moisture in a steep before lying on the malting floor for five and a half days, being turned once every 8 hours using some very traditional equipment. No industrial tumble driers here.

Traditional malt turning equipment
Not so traditional malt mower

The malt is transferred to the kiln using electric powered elevators, which I am a little disappointed to hear as Barnard mentions a steam lift and 'hand elevators'. I half expected to find a student on summer placement working a rope for 8 hours, but she may have drawn the line after shovelling tons of barley into a wheelbarrow. Hey, stop whinging, it’s tradition you know!

Springbank kiln with peat ready to reek.
Next stop was at the kilns which Barnard had described as “large and lofty, and floored with English perforated tiles.” Large and lofty still; the tiles now replaced with more common mesh to allow the circulation of air. Frank describes the kilns as ‘pressure kilns’ and he explained that there is no actual pressure involved, simply the re-routing of warm air back into the kiln to aid the drying process. The current kiln equipment was installed in 1966 when the distillery was renovated and was considered state of the art then.

The kilns themselves are heated with either peat, or oil burning, or a mixture, depending on the spirit to be produced from each batch of malt. The peat used is locally sourced from Machrihanish on the west coast of Kintyre. Barnard mentions that peat was principally used but as Springbank now produces three distinctly different malt whiskies the drying process varies for each one. Springbank has an initial 6 hours of peat drying followed by 30 hours with just hot air from the oil burners; Longrow is 48 hours with peat and hot air to finish if required; Hazelburn is non-peated and malt for this spirit is dried for 36 hours from the oil burners only.

Draff hopper for final wash
As for so many other distilleries, Barnard’s description of the old milling, mashing and fermenting stages is fairly standard; the current processes in some ways are not. The current mash involves four waters rather than the three common in other distilleries, the final water draining through the mash after it has been lifted to a hopper outside ready for the draff to be dropped into carts for removal. The old open tank that was once used beside a Morton’s refrigerator for air cooling of the worts still sits above the tun-room, the modern compact heat exchanger sitting by.

On the washbacks (6 of them now to Barnard’s 7) the switchers are gradually being removed and instead a silicon ‘antifoam’ uses some kind of witchcraft to alter the surface tension on the CO2 bubbles to stop them frothing too much. Frank maintains that this is not adding something to the wort as the silicon never comes in direct contact, its all in the air. Given the variations in the air in the drying and maturing processes this seems reasonable, but I’m not a chemist so it’s not for me to quibble. Traditional – no, and Barnard refers to engine driven switchers in some of his reports. Efficient and effective – certainly.

The wash at Springbank ferments to an ABV of only 4-6%, lower than many other distilleries due to lower malt proportions used in each mash. Frank advises that the 7-8% achieved by modern techniques would not have been possible from barley in the 19th century, and so Springbank holds onto another of its old traditions. The fermentation time is 110 hours which is longer than many other distilleries and is believed to produce a fruitier spirit.

Low Wines Stills
The current low wines stills were installed in 1971, the wash still earlier with its top from the 1960s renovation and the base from the mists of time. The sizes of the stills are very different from Barnard’s time with the two low wines stills now almost double in size and the wash still seemingly smaller.

Referring back to my previous post on Hazelburn, and appropriately enough given the whisky of that name produced at Springbank, the wash still here is heated both directly by oil burner and indirectly by steam coil. The brick flu around the wash still is similar to the process once used at Hazelburn, albeit there it was coal fired, as described by Barnard. The two low wines stills are steam coil heated.

Heating flues and base of wash still
In my post on Greenock distillery I asked if anyone had any information on what Barnard described as “the ancient chain arrangement for agitating the liquid” within the wash still there. Since returning from Springbank I read in Udo (2005) that their wash still has a tantalizingly named ‘rummager’ with a similar purpose. I can guess as to the purpose but the means of operation is still a mystery.

Now, for each of the three whisky brands produced at Springbank, the spirit is distilled in different ways. Longrow is distilled twice, Hazelburn is triple distilled, and Springbank is distilled, erm, two and a half times, sort of. Look its too complicated for me to explain here but if you go to Springbank’s website at http://springbankdistillers.com/springbank/distillation/ there is a wonderful diagram that explains it all. Questions on a postcard to Frank McHardy, c/o…

In one example of modern equipment being used the condensers on the wash and no.2 low wines stills have an additional after cooler installed, the no.1 low wines still condenses spirit through a worm tub.

Bottling hall on Longrow site
When Barnard visited the distillery they had their own small cooperage but this is sadly no more and I have yet to see coopers at work on my journey. Frank mentions that he knows the techniques but I think I may be pushing my luck to ask for a demonstration so we move on to the bottling hall. This is a labour intensive operation situated on the site of the old Longrow distillery on the other side of Well Close. There is little to see of the old distillery buildings but the attention to detail and pride of work in the bottling hall reflects the craft that old Mr Ross, the proprietor at Longrow, would have expected there.

The water used at Springbank still comes from the Crosshill Loch from where separate ‘Distillery’ and ‘Town’ Mains were installed by the Duke of Argyll way back in 1820 (Stirk, 2005). The town is now supplied from other reservoirs in the hills to the north but Springbank once again holds onto its traditions using the same water source since it was built.

Barnard notes that the whisky was then principally sold in London and Glasgow but it now enjoys an almost cult following around the world, Germany and Japan being major markets. The care, craft and tradition that goes into production is evident in the final product which has never been chill-filtered and no colour is added. The variety across the range offers something for most whisky connoisseurs and I even found another wine-(not)finished whisky that I (almost) really like, the now sadly unavailable Longrow 8yo which was matured in a Shiraz Hogshead since birth.

My tour ends back where we started at the courtyard around which the distillery is organised. Frank has very important matters to deal with here (I hope your golf match against the Ileachs was successful) so I leave him with warm felt thanks for a pleasurable and informative afternoon.

This all began at Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh where I met Sales Rep Jenny who had already heard about my project. Jenny arranged my tour with Frank and my thanks go to her for that and also for introducing me to the wonderful Longrow 18yo which I look forward to being bottled next year. My thanks also to Lea and Leslie for their hospitality and for looking after me at Cadenhead's shop and tasting room.

Springbank Distillery is keeping the flame of hope burning for whisky distilling in Campbeltown, not only through its own continuity but also through the other historic whisky names that it keeps alive. An afternoon spent touring the distillery and sampling a varied range of their drams is time well spent and offers a unique insight into traditions that Barnard would have been very familiar with.

Footnote – I also visited Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery with Frank but will return to discuss this in a later post. I am now heading across the loch to where Dalintober Distillery once stood.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Hazelburn Distillery, Campbeltown

Hazelburn Distillery had the largest production volume and the largest footprint in that overcrowded distillery town when Barnard visited. It is also the Campbeltown distillery he writes most about and he includes two invaluable etchings, one of the buildings and one inside the still house, plus line drawings of the layout of the grounds and of the unique still apparatus used.

The distillery was said to have a “commanding appearance from Longrow” although it was sited on Millknowe Road to the north of Longrow. The original Hazelburn distillery was actually on Longrow but was later moved to Millknowe as it expanded and Barnard notes the distillery having been 'rebuilt' in 1836.

The etching copied here from Barnard shows the scale of this distillery and the line drawing details the layout of the various buildings. The covered archway where the horse and cart is shown leaving the courtyard was the only entrance to the complex and is still part of the buildings that remain today. The section outlined in red on the line drawing shows the only buildings that remain.

When Barnard visited, the haymakers were busy on the pastures on Gallow Hill which the distillery faces, although the barley used at Hazelburn was mainly supplied from Moray and Perthshire and was brought in by steamer.

Gossip on Crosshll water
The water used in mashing was from the Crosshill Loch on the south side of Campbeltown. This loch supplied most of the mains water to the town and most of the distilleries as well. There appears to have been a problem with the water supply around Barnard’s time although he doesn’t mention it. Another clip from the newspaper gossip column tells of red insects and dirt mingled with the water, so that “on being left to stand for a little while there is a thick deposit of mud and sand”. The author also cheekily asks “how can Good Templars with a clear conscience be expected to advocate the drinking of water such as that?” Easy, just add barley, yeast, ferment for a while…

Barnard was helped in his visit by one of the owners, Mr Greenlees. I am not going into detail about the various ownerships of the Campbeltown distilleries as this is well covered elsewhere by Stirk, Udo and Townsend, save to say that two of the common distilling names for Campbeltown, Greenlees and Colvill, were both involved with Hazelburn. Along with Mitchell and MacCallum these four family names are synonymous with distilling in the town, and to trace all the changes in distillery ownerships would require a separate essay in itself.

The descriptions in Barnard of the malting and mashing processes carry no surprises but the distilling apparatus is worth looking at more closely. The wash still at 7,000 gallons is reported as the largest in Campbeltown, although Barnard later describes the Wash still at Ardlussa Distillery as 18,000 gallons, although this may be a misprint. The heating for all three stills is by furnace and they are surrounded by brick-work so that “the flues carry the heat all round”, the etching here showing the design. I am later to see that this practice still operates on the wash still at Springbank.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will also have noticed the peculiar design of the spirit stills shown in the etching. Barnard’s full description is worth reading:

“The tops instead of being of the ordinary pear-shaped heads are composed of 32 chambers or tubes in each Still, terminating in a dome just before passing into the worm. These tubes are enclosed in a copper case which serves as a condenser, a stream of cold water being kept flowing around the pipes whilst the Stills are "at work." By this means a large proportion of the fusel oil which otherwise would pass off in the form of vapour along with the spirit is thrown back into the Still, and the pure spirit is allowed to pass through the columns into the worm free from impurity. The heated water is run off by an overflow pipe from the top of the case.”

Townsend (1993) describes these as Lomond-type condensers, although the Hazelburn condensers used columns rather than the horizontal plates found in Lomond Stills. Worm tubs were also employed at Hazelburn to complete the condensing process so the unique design of the heads appears to just be a way of controlling the purity of the spirit produced. The spirit was also triple distilled, as is the Hazelburn branded spirit produced by Springbank Distillery today.

Barnard mentions that the spirit safe is located in the 'Ball Room' and I recall this phrase from Yoker distillery where the Ballman’s chair is also described. Does anyone know the origins of the term Ballman or Ball Room and why this was used in some distilleries?

The main part of the complex was taken up by the bonded warehouses, 9 in total, and holding 302,000 gallons (1.4m l) when Barnard visited but capable of storing up to 500,000 gallons (2.3m l). However, beyond this extensive warehousing, the principal storage for a further 15,000 casks was in Glasgow. Barnard notes that he visited these stores on a return to Glasgow but I have not yet found details of when this return took place.

David Stirk, in The Distilleries of Campbeltown (2005), notes that when Mackie & Co (as White Horse whisky) acquired the distillery in 1920 they did so with a view to using the extensive warehouses for their own storage, transferring over 124,000 gallons (563,000 l) from Craigellachie in Speyside in 1922. It appears they had no interest in running the distillery as well and it closed in 1925.

White Horse Distillers were taken over by DCL in 1927 who continued to use the warehouses until 1988 and they were eventually torn down in 1995. The buildings were bought by the Hazelburn Trust in 1991 for the princely sum of £1 with a view to transforming them into Hazelburn Enterprise Park. This venture was never fully realised but the buildings that remain are now home to Campbeltown Learning Centre (part of Argyll College) and other offices. I decided to enquire inside to see if anyone knew about the history of the distillery and I soon have an appointment with the building Manager, Clive Good.

Clive provided a wealth of information about the development of the site in the 1990s and beyond and he kindly pointed out some of the interesting elements of the old buildings. The photograph here shows the front of the premises as they are today which can be compared with the etching from Barnard above. It can immediately be seen that the granaries and malt barns have been extended as the distillery grew, from two levels in 1885 up to four by a later unknown date, and the outline of windows from the other two of the three malt barns can be seen on the low wall remaining.

Hazelburn Business Park
Much of the brickwork in the old buildings had deteriorated and contributed to the extensive demolition that was required in the 1990s, but the cast iron support columns and wooden beams within the remaining buildings are the original installations from 1836. Clive advises that the beams were then second hand and were likely first used in another building earlier in the 19th century. The additional floors were added to the buildings by stacking more cast iron supports onto the ones below.

Campbeltown was not just famous for its whisky but was also a major port specialising in herring and ship building. The techniques of ship building were also of use to distilleries and the length of malting floors and warehouses was made possible through some of these techniques, including the use of spliced joints in some of the beams to extend the roof support structure.

Warehouse outline on wall
The original covered archway through which Barnard entered the premises is still there although closed by fire doors to provide a corridor between two buildings. Sadly the distillery name has long gone from above the arch. In the grounds outside there are still cobbled tracks where the Still and Tun Houses once stood. The outline of some of the warehouses can still be seen on the northernmost wall and where the warehouses once stood is now the new Campbeltown Police Station, opened last year, and parking.

Excise notices
The old Manager’s house and the various distillery offices on the north side of the malt barns are still used as offices. To the rear of these buildings is the old Excise Office which still has the original fireplace, filing cupboards and safes in place. The filing cupboards still have shelf labels to mark where various slips and records would be kept, and faded notices still cling to the doors where they were pasted many decades ago.

Hazelburn courtyard

Of all the lost Campbeltown distilleries Hazelburn perhaps provides the most evidence of the old venture. Re-use of some of the buildings and the continuity of the name both last as reminders of the largest Campbeltown Malt production in Barnard’s time. My thanks to Clive Good for his time and for his enthusiasm for the Hazelburn story, I think I detected a soft spot in his heart for the old place. We will return to this scene later to discuss the old Argyle distillery that stood right next door; the journey now moves on to Springbank.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Greenock to Campbeltown

Barnard’s visit to Greenock marked his thirteenth distillery visit and, unless he took some days out for other pursuits, he would seem to have been in the Glasgow area for eight or nine days before arriving at Greenock. His next stop would be Campbeltown where he stayed for a fortnight and visited the twenty-one distilleries operating there at that time.

The journey took his party a full day, first by steamer and then by horse drawn coach. Barnard repeats a line from his initial journey from London to Glasgow, stating his original intention “to enter the land of Whisky by way of the sea”. Campbeltown could at that time be considered the land of whisky within Scotland as it had the highest concentration of distilleries of any town. That distinction now falls to Dufftown in Speyside; the boom and ultimate collapse of Campbeltown’s whisky industry is the fascinating story to follow.

We now receive our first clue as to the timing of Barnard’s journey. He had originally intended to travel all the way ‘Doon the Water’ (pronounced watter) to Campbeltown by way of the steamer Davaar, named after the island that sits at the entrance to Campbeltown Loch. However, he had heard that “it would be crowded with Glasgow Fair holiday people, together with the prospect of a number of women and children tumbling about in all directions in the event of the voyage proving unfavourable” and so changed his plans.

Local Gossip on the Davaar
‘Glasgow Fair’ is always the last two weeks of July so we can now see that Barnard was in Glasgow during July and in Campbeltown around the end of July, perhaps into early August. While in Campbeltown I visited the library to research old newspapers for any evidence of Barnard’s visit. The library shares a modern building with the swimming pool, wonderfully named together as the aqualibrium. I didn’t find evidence of Barnard but did notice the article to the right here (click to enlarge) which was under the heading ‘Gossip of the week’ and mentions the Davaar and its occupants.

Instead of boarding the Davaar, Barnard joined the Columba at Greenock, bound for Tarbert on the shore of Loch Fyne after a stop at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. He seemed pleased to take to sea after much travel on the mainland by train, and by horse and cart, his party enjoying the freedom on board and mixing with other passengers. He describes the scene as the ship leaves the Firth of Clyde, with “ridges on ridges of mountain stretched far away to the horizon”; a stop at Rothesay on Bute then round the southern point into Loch Fyne; views of Arran with Goatfell clearly visible; Skipness Castle standing guard at the entrance to Loch Fyne, and finally arriving at Tarbert.
Arran from near Skipness

From the pier at Tarbert Barnard’s party “hastened to the coach and secured the box seat, much to the chagrin of two of our fellow travellers who were not quite so quick in their movements”. I’m sure he would have shared his flask again by way of recompense. The box seat in a coach is up front with the driver and so Barnard would enjoy the spectacular views on the journey to Campbeltown which he describes in detail in his report. Even the odd shower was welcome as it helped keep the dust on the road down.

The coach journey from Tarbert to Campbeltown, a distance of around 40 miles, took six hours so it was as well that the scenery offered much to distract his party. They arrived in Campbeltown just after 6pm and found quarters at the White Hart Hotel “after some difficulty, the town being full of visitors”. I am a little surprised that they didn’t book ahead, particularly knowing the Davaar was crowded. Telegraph had been fully developed in the mid 1800s but perhaps Campbeltown was not yet connected to the network, remote as it was? Alas I didn’t head the warning from Barnard and my own frantic phone calls just before my journey again found the whole town to be busy and I was lucky to secure a bed for three nights at short notice!

White Hart Hotel
The White Hart Hotel still stands today and retains much of the charm from when it was built in 1850. The building has recently been renovated by new owners, having previously fallen into disrepair when owned by a hotel chain and during times when closed. Unfortunately the old records haven’t found their way into the hands of the new owners so I am unable to find evidence of Barnard’s stay. From his reports he thoroughly enjoyed his time there and was well looked after by his hosts. The hotel was a little bit outside my budget but I did enjoy a beer in the cosy bar in memory of Barnard’s visit.

My own journey to Campbeltown commenced from Gourock where I took the ferry Jupiter to Dunoon, across the watter, sorry, water. I was keen to drive round the Cowal Peninsula as I had learned of some great driving roads and stunning views from reading Iain Banks whisky travelogue Raw Spirit. I was rather more hurried than Barnard as I was already on a later ferry than intended and had to reach a further one on the other side of Cowal to cross to Tarbert. I was not to be disappointed by the drive.

From Dunoon the road north passes along the shores of Holy Loch, once home to a US Polaris nuclear submarine base from 1961-92 but now tranquil. Before reaching the small settlement of Ardbeg (no, another one, and there are three Ardbegs in this area, the name means ‘little height or promontory’) you turn onto the fabulous B836 to head west. This route is one of a number around Scotland that Banks calls Great Wee Roads, GWR for short, a vernacular I may borrow from time to time. Single track for most of the way it is a fabulous swooping drive through pine forests and around lochs and reservoirs.

The B836 ends just south of Glendaruel which I sadly no longer have time to explore, so I turn south onto another GWR, the A8003 to Tighnabruaich. Single track in places, this was a fantastic drive to test the handling of my car, with plenty of corners to find out just how much understeer the Seat has (handfuls!) and is rewarded by the most stunning views over the Kyles of Bute. The first picture here shows the East Kyles with views towards Largs and the hills south of Greenock. The second picture is down the West Kyles with the distant hills of Arran on the right middle ground. Where the Kyles meet at the top of the Isle of Bute is the wonderfully named Buttock Point, appropriate given the ‘seat of my pants’ driving I had indulged in recently.

Kyles of Bute West
Kyles of Bute East

I made it to the ferry at Portavadie with a few minutes to spare and the Isle of Cumbrae delivered me into East Loch Tarbert in similar fashion to Barnard’s arrival there. Kintyre is almost an island, the East and West Loch Tarberts being only a mile apart and the respective rivers running into them being about 100m apart at closest. The sea level rise threatened by global warming may well complete the job at some distant time.

Jura from Kintyre - sleeping profile
My drive down the A83 to Campbeltown is as thrilling and spectacular as the earlier roads. Including stops for pictures of Jura, Islay and the Atlantic coastline my journey took about one hour. I feel slightly envious of Barnard with his box seat journey and endless time to appreciate the view, but I also reflect that this “fun loving Victorian waster” (Joynson, 2003) may have enjoyed the buzz of driving these roads as well.

I arrived in Campbeltown at 7.30pm and was warmly welcomed into the Dellwood Hotel at the upper end of town. After settling into a comfortable room I had time to wander around and “take stock of the town” as Barnard had done on his first evening. I was surprised at how compact the town is, curving around three sides of Campbeltown Loch, and within a couple of hours I had circumnavigated the bay twice and found my bearings for most of the old distillery sites. I knew that all the distilleries had been close to each other, with 34 in production at one point in time, but it’s not until you get to street corners that you realise just how close they were, literally wall to wall in some cases.

Before my distillery reports begin with a summary of the old Hazelburn Distillery I need to apprise you of an anomaly in Barnard. The order that the 21 Campbeltown distilleries are listed in the book is not the order he visited them in. The book form of his reports shows a few signs of editorial adjustment from the earlier reports serialised in Harpers and this may be one of them. With the exception of 3 distilleries, the book lists them in decreasing order of production volume, from Hazelburn with 192,000 gallons p.a. down to Springside with just 30,000. There are clues in some of his narratives as to when he visited them but not enough to piece together a full itinerary.

Nevertheless, I will report in the same order as they appear in the book, although my own journey around town took a very different route. I enjoyed entertaining and informative tours round Springbank and Glengyle and more detail will be included on them. Glen Scotia is the only other Campbeltown distillery still operating today, the other 18 are long gone and very few buildings remain, but I will try to paint a picture of how the town has changed since Barnard visited. The story of Campbeltown is more of a rollercoaster than my drive around Cowal.