"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, 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.