"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

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.