"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, 21 October 2010

Glenside Distillery, Campbeltown

You may wish to pour yourself a small dram before embarking on this particular voyage and may I ask you to raise your glass to some characters we will meet along the way.

Perhaps from having less to narrate on the smaller distilleries in town Barnard offers more thoughts on the local area and also reveals a little more of his dry sense of humour in doing so.  Before visiting the next distillery his party were offered a drive to Saddell Castle by the landlord of the White Hart Hotel, an offer that leads Barnard to narrate a story or two.

Saddell is a small village about ten miles north of Campbeltown along a coast line frequented by smugglers in the past.  Barnard describes one owner of the castle by the name of McDonald who was apparently a despot and “tradition says that he knew the use of gunpowder, and for sport, to keep himself in practice, would shoot people with his long gun”!

McDonald is also described as a very strong man who once, after entertaining some guests from Ireland, went to them in the morning “and wishing to test his strength of arm he drew his sword and cut off their heads”.  Barnard wryly describes this as “such playful conduct that would hardly be tolerated these days”.  Eloquently understated there by the old fellow. (To days gone by...)

Barnard then quotes a few lines of Burns’ poetry and notes that the ‘Highland Mary’ remembered in some of his poems and songs once lived in Campbeltown “in a little cottage facing the bay” near to where the Glenside distillery was later built.  Those of you who have followed this story for a while will know my passion for Burn’s poetry so please forgive me while I dally again, this time with one of the saddest episodes in Burns’ life but one which, as was oft the case, led to the most beautiful poetry and song.

Mary Campbell was one of Burns’ lovers and they may well have been betrothed after exchanging bibles in Ayrshire.  She appears to have been ready to emigrate to the West Indies with Burns in 1786 as she travelled from Campbeltown to Greenock to meet him there before he was due to sail.  Soon after arriving in Greenock she died either from a fever or, some reports suggest, from childbirth.  This episode so grieved Burns that he wrote songs, poems and letters about her over the six years following.

Barnard records just two lines from the 1792 song ‘Highland Mary’:

“For dear to me as light and life,
Was my sweet Highland Mary.”

and the whole composition is quite the most sorrowful song of loss and grieving.  This lass certainly held Burns’ heart and after falling for her he wrote some of his most emotive lines in the 1786 song ‘My Highland Lassie, O’:

“She has my heart, she has my hand,
By secret troth and honour's band!
Till the mortal stroke shall lay me low,
I'm thine, my Highland lassie, O.”

How desperately sad then for Burns that just six months later that ‘mortal stroke’ came to take her first.  He never made the voyage to the West Indies and his journey hastened on to Edinburgh to publish a second volume of his poems, but he never forgot and her memory lives on through his works. (To Mary...)

Glenside distillery was actually the first site I visited in Campbeltown, it being the closest to the Dellwood Hotel.  It was built in 1830 off Dalaruan Street on the north side of town and received water “by a conduit direct from the Aucholochie Loch at the back of the Distillery” and a well in the grounds.  Ha, the Aucholochie Loch indeed!  Okay, I’m not getting into that again, suffice to say it’s actually called the ‘Aucha Lochy’, it is right beside Knockruan Loch, and further discussion on naming conventions can be found in my report on Lochruan, unless you have already bored yourselves with that. Onward.

Barnard describes “an irregular section of buildings, which are all enclosed and entered by an arched gateway”.  If this sounds familiar to his last report on Rieclachan then there is more to follow.  Despite many recent improvements “nothing short of pulling the place down, and rebuilding it, could ever give it the appearance of a modern Distillery” which is the same sentiment as he expressed there.  The wily distillery manager noted of this suggestion that “any such alterations would not improve the Whisky or increase the sale”.

The details of the distillery are again fairly standard although with three Barley Lofts, four Malt Barns and three kilns it suggests that these were all relatively smaller than other distilleries in town given the annual output of just 70,000 gallons (318,000 litres).  The barley was mainly brought in from Stirlingshire in central Scotland, the first time I have heard of this region as a supplier to the whisky trade.

The distillery experienced mixed fortunes during its near century lifespan although it never succumbed to one of the large consolidations that took place elsewhere in town.  Nevertheless, it still became one of the 1920s casualties and the company went into liquidation in December 1930 (Stirk, 2005), the distillery demolished soon after.  The 1931 obituary of Duncan MacCallum (Glen Nevis, Kinloch, Scotia) states that he and other trade friends had recently acquired the distillery but it never appears to have got going again.  The liquidation meeting took place just five days before he drowned in Crosshill Loch.  (To Duncan...)

The site is now mid 1930s housing in a block named Glenside, the new housing on the other side of the street for some reason named Glenburn Court instead.  Only the old south-west retaining wall remains.

Glenside drying green behind housing block
When I first encountered Glenside as a drying green behind 1930s housing little did I know I would be inspired to write a report as long as this.  Barnard and Burns are indeed my muses and I hope I continue to find words of interest and sentiment as my journey continues. (To Barnard and Burns...).  Not long to go now with Campbeltown, after which I will begin to narrate my journey to Islay last week.  I hope you will stay with me on the trail as every day on that magical whisky island brought new adventures and pleasant surprises.  SlĂ inte, to you!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Rieclachan Distillery, Campbeltown

Rieclachan was one of the earliest legal distilleries in Campbeltown having opened in 1825; it also has the dubious honour of being the last one to close, and long may that continue!  Following the push to recover production in the town in 1933, Rieclachan ceased production the following year leaving only Springbank and Scotia.  Aside from those two, Rieclachan was the longest running distillery in Campbeltown at 109 years.

Barnard described Rieclachan as “distinctly one of the old ‘Sma Still’ works” being built on “the plan of the Old Pot Still or Smuggler’s Kettle”.  It was built at the top of Longrow, next door to the very first legal distillery in town, the eponymous Campbeltown.  The fields below Gallowhill farm once came down to its walls before Glebe Street and Glen Nevis distillery were built to the west fifty years later, and Glengyle to its north.

The approach to the distillery was by a short lane then through an old-fashioned pair of gates and Barnard gives the impression of a very enclosed and secretive place, perhaps harking back to its smugglers roots.  His suggestion that “the secret of making old malt whisky has been well kept” hints at this romantic notion, although perhaps belied by the extent of distilling in town by this time.

Production was on a relatively small scale although there was a suggestion that the kiln was the largest in town at one time.  There were two pot stills and outside worm tubs.  The owners remained the same for over a century and they kept going through all the distillery closures of the 1920s due to support from the Mitchell family.  By 1933 the distillery was being run by Helen Mitchell, daughter of the proprietor and ex-Provost Hugh Mitchell, and perhaps the only female distillery manager in Scotland at that time.

Reports in the Campbeltown Courier suggest that the distillery was very active in the winter of 1934 with local grain being supplemented by large imports of barley from Denmark and Poland (Stirk, 2005).  Sadly this could not be sustained and 1934 was its last season.  The twenty-one distilleries that Barnard had visited fifty years earlier had now mostly gone and only two now remained.

Rieclachan grounds with Glengyle to north
Barnard’s view on Rieclachan was that “until it is pulled down and rebuilt (which would be a pity) it will always retain its primitive appearance” – and a pity it was that only the first part of this came true.  The site was in a prime location in town and in 1936 it was turned into a car showroom, lock-up garages and storerooms but these later fell into ruin.  A Co-op supermarket was built in the 1980s on the ground just east, between the original distillery buildings and the top of Longrow, and this still operates today.  Behind this the grounds of the last old distillery in Campbeltown are now empty and overgrown.


Scotia Distillery, Campbeltown

Barnard’s route from his hotel to Scotia Distillery took him across Kinloch Park and past Parliament Square.  He comments here on the crowning of the kings of Scotland, starting with King Fergus in 503 AD when Dalriada was centred on this place and where 'Scotland’s' affairs were said to be administered from until 843 AD.

It is possible, although not confirmed, that our ‘Stone of Destiny’ upon which our monarchs were crowned was brought from Ireland to this early parliament, later to be moved to Scone Palace near Perth.  The Stone now resides in Edinburgh Castle after a brief (700 years!) ‘loan’ (it was nicked!) to Westminster Abbey courtesy of King Edward I of England (also known in England as Edward Longshanks or in Scotland as ‘that murderin’ git wot stole our stane’ or ‘the bad dude in Braveheart’).

One of only three remaining distilleries in Campbeltown, [Glen] Scotia is located on Dalintober High Street, just west of where Lochruan Distillery was.  The distillery name refers to the Scoti people who arrived in Kintyre from Ireland and after whom Scotland is eventually named.  It was built in 1832 and had been enlarged a few times prior to Barnard’s visit yet its production volume was still towards the lower end for Campbeltown at that time.

Glen Scotia on Dalintober High Street
Barnard’s reports understandably got shorter in proportion to the scale of each distillery and there is not too much to note here.  He does mention barley being transferred from the Malt Barns to the kilns by way of a “quaint old-fashioned wooden bridge across the yard” which sadly no longer exists.  Like Burnside distillery Scotia also used some blind coal with the peat to fire the kilns.

Despite being beside Lochruan and below the hills to the north of town, the Crosshill Loch on the other side of Campbeltown supplied some water, although there were also two wells on the site which provided clear water from 80 feet down.  Scotia was another distillery with 3 pot stills, the smallest being 520 gallons (2,363 litres), the second smallest in Campbeltown, and likely practiced triple distillation.

Its founders in 1832 were Stewart, Galbraith & Co who ran the distillery until it was sold to Duncan MacCallum (of Glen Nevis) in 1891.  He retained the firm’s name albeit now as a Limited Company with him as Chairman.  A later report in the Campbeltown Courier (Stirk, 2005) describes how in 1897 “a maze of old buildings was completely rebuilt and modernised” - Barnard had earlier described it as having “a somewhat straggling and old fashioned appearance”.

Since then it has had a varied history of ownership, however trying to track down a firm timeline of ownership has distracted me for a few days too many now.  The best I can establish from cross referencing various sources is that S,G&Co Ltd sold out to West Highland Malt Distillers Ltd in 1919 but MacCallum himself then bought Scotia back in c1923/24 (along with Kinloch) when WHMD failed and he owned it until 1930.

The Campbeltown Courier articles recorded in Stirk (2005) note that Scotia was in operation early in 1930, ceasing production in March, and MacCallum then sadly drowned in Crosshill Loch in December of that year.  Further reports show that in September 1933 it was sold by his estate trustees to a Glasgow blending company by the name of Bloch Brothers (Distillers) Ltd who restarted production later that year. The distillery was renamed to Glen Scotia around this time.

Bloch Brothers appeared to enjoy some initial success with the distillery, including a record production run between 1938/39, but were then hampered by the restrictions in place during World War II.  They did, however, buy Glengyle in 1940 although this venture never took off and details of their production at Glen Scotia after the war are uncertain.

Bloch Brothers were acquired by Canadian company Hiram Walker in 1954 and the distillery then had various other owners and periods of silence until the current owners, Loch Lomond Distillery Co. bought it through their subsidiary Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd in the mid 1990s.  Further periods of downtime have since followed but it appears to be in operation at present, mainly providing spirit for their blending operations.

I would love to tell you a bit about the distillery operations today but they may have been on downtime recently as they didn’t return my calls or emails and no-one was around when I stopped by on the off-chance that they could give me a tour.  Alas these gates were closed to me and so my journal can only report on two of the three distilleries that remain in operation in Campbeltown today.

The final word on Scotia goes to Duncan MacCallum.  It is reputed that his ghost still haunts the distillery, keeping an eye on the last whisky venture that he had a hand in and no doubt partaking in some of the angel’s share.  After all his efforts and his contribution to the Campbeltown community, I think he has earned it.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Rumblings from the Cask - Dram 3

I have just noticed something on one of the old maps of Campbeltown from 1899.  I’m not sure how I missed it before but there is a house marked on Glebe Street, opposite Glengyle Distillery, called ‘Rocket House’.

Spaceship Glengyle
Coincidentally (uh-huh) the redeveloped Glengyle now has a shiny, silver coloured metal chimney and outside storage tank such that it has been christened the ‘Spaceship’.

And when the US Navy controlled the two mile long runway at Machrihanish Airfield just west of Campbeltown it was widely rumoured that they were testing alien technology there due to the remote location and an uninterrupted route across the Atlantic (Campbeltown to Area 51 in 0.1 seconds at maximum impulse speed Cap’n)!

I’m just saying…

Must be something in the water!


Albyn Distillery, Campbeltown

Barnard’s description of this distillery is one of the shortest in his book.  It feels from the style of this report that he didn’t tour round the site and was instead given information by the manager, but he does provide some detail on the volume of the main vessels.

Albyn was opened in either 1830 or 1837 (there are conflicting records on this) and was the most isolated of all the distilleries in Campbeltown, situated just off the main road north of crowded the town centre and beside the town gas works.  This isolation did provide a lovely view of “Bengoillean” though.

The distillery brought in all its peat from the Hebrides rather than using the local peat beds.  Three pot stills are described with sizes suggesting that triple-distillation may have been the way here.  The smallest was just 580 gallons (2,635 litres) although there were two others that were smaller in Campbeltown, at Scotia and Springside.  Barnard describes the whisky as “Highland Malt”, one of only two he does not describe as Campbeltown Malt, the other being Benmore as “pure Malt”.

The owners for its entire production life were the McKersie family who also owned Lochruan for 50 years (being the new owners who extended and improved that distillery from 1867).  Distillation ceased in 1920 and the company went into liquidation in 1927, selling the distillery buildings the following year.

It is often reported that a Jaeger clothing factory was later built on the distillery site but comparing old maps suggests that this was on the site of warehouses constructed well after the original distillery.  The factory shop may have been on the old distillery land but Jaeger closed in 2001 and was demolished in 2005.  The actual distillery site is now part waste ground and part new housing.  Sometime in the late 19th century a bowling green was established on the land between Albyn and Hazelburn distilleries and is still there and well used today. 

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Lochruan Distillery, Campbeltown

Before visiting Lochruan Distillery Barnard’s party walked up the hill called Knock Scalbart which rises to the north of Campbeltown, directly opposite the loch from Beinn Ghuilean.  This hill walk has led to me being distracted with all kinds of research 125 years later - thanks Alfred!

Barnard describes one of the lochs on the hill as being where this distillery derives its name and he notes that Lochruan is Gaelic for ‘Red Loch’, the name coming from the heather that covers the slopes and which turns red in autumn.  He records it as a “weird, romantic place, and not easily accessible” so I didn’t trouble myself with walking up the hill for a look (okay, I didn’t fancy a 6am rise to climb a hill, although I’m sure that the Dellwood breakfast would have revived me afterwards).

This provides another case where local vernacular is derived from, but subtly different to recorded names and these nuances provide variety and stories to tell.  When researching Lochruan I found a post on the Kintyre Forum which is well worth a read on a rainy day when you have nothing better to do - very entertaining and some guid auld Scots language tae boot (stay with it past the Landrover and WD40 chat on page 1).

Someone asked on the forum about Loch ruin (sic) - “can you still see the old house when the water is low”.  This develops into an interesting and entertaining discussion on the name of the loch.  Local people admit to having always known it as either Loch Ruan or even Loch Ruin, and the submerged ruined house appears to have been at nearby Loch Lussa, which was created as a reservoir in the 1950s at the watershed of the Glen Lussa Water mentioned in my post on Burnside.  One poster also mentions an “eerie presence about the place” which hints at what Barnard may have experienced.

Knockruan Loch and north Campbeltown (Copyright O.S.)
The loch on Knock Scalbart is actually recorded on maps as Knockruan Loch, Knock being Gaelic for Hill so the name understandably translates to Redhill Loch.  On the map above the Lochruan Distillery was just above the 'l' of the word 'Meml' on grid line 72.  The stories that often go along with maps are so often more compelling than the facts that are recorded on them, and maps, like all of our history, often need to be interpreted along with the oral history and traditions recorded from those who live and work in the area.

After all that (thanks for staying with me) there is not too much to note about the distillery from Barnard’s report.  Built in 1835, a decade after the first wave of distilleries, it was then extended and improved by new owners from 1867.  There were three stills when Barnard visited and interestingly the 1865 map only shows two worm tubs outside.  The top of these can just be made out in the etching in Barnard and it shows two pipes leading into one of them.

Built on the edge of the mussel ebb, its later extension appears to be northwards.  This was followed by Dalintober Distillery relocating from the adjacent Queen Street to the new land south of Lochruan when the mussel ebb was filled in, a task completed in 1881.

Despite reporting on the loch in the hills Barnard doesn’t actually mention which water source supplied the distillery.  He does note that the whisky “owes its reputation to the peculiar excellence of the water, and the care exercised in manufacture”, so maybe it was one of the few not drawing water from Crosshill Loch.  The Kintyre Forum post includes some interesting comments about a burn that “from knock scalbert runs under ground and passes my house … into the loch at the wee Dalintober jetty” so this seems to confirm a supply that the distillery could use.  Maps from as far back as 1865 record ‘Campbeltown W.S.’ beside the loch for Water Supply.

Barnard doesn’t record Lochruan as having a cooperage which was a common function for each distillery to have in his time and applies for many others in Campbeltown.  However, the local Heritage Centre does have a reconstruction of a cooperage on display and the sign above it (possibly altered) is shown here.  This sign is curious as it mentions the proprietors as ‘Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd’, a company that was absorbed into DCL in 1925, the same year that Lochruan Distillery closed.  The date the distillery was transferred into SMD is not mentioned in any sources I have found.

One later point of interest is that Lochruan appears to have “dabbled briefly in 1910 with continuous distillation to cut costs” (Townsend, 1993) and Udo (2005) notes that a continuous still was installed in that year.  I can’t find any further information on this but it would appear to have been the only Campbeltown distillery ever recorded as having engaged in this practice.

A few alterations were made in 1921 but their use was short lived before the closure in 1925.  The distillery was then demolished and the land was used for more of the 1930s housing that was built around much of the north and west side of the loch, and in this case the tenements still stand today.  Nothing remains of the old distillery but the loch is still marked as W.S. on current ordnance survey maps.

This has become one of my favourite stories out of Campbeltown and it really helps to inform some of the other incongruities I find in Barnard’s naming conventions.  For a Londoner who, in the preface to his book, begs pardon for “the exuberance of one in ‘city pent’ who has been released to enjoy the pure air of heaven among the mountains, lakes [sic], and valleys of Scotland and Ireland”, he does no bad wie the Scots and Gaelic lingo, and without access to the on-line resources that I can (need to!) peruse at leisure.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Glengyle Distillery, Campbeltown

Reading back over the last few posts it occurs to me that I am writing more about the distilleries as they were when Barnard visited, and about the town and area, than I am about the distilleries as they are now.  This is the unfortunate consequence of the loss of the industry to the town and the erasure of much of the distilling heritage - there really is little left to see of the lost distilleries and records are hard to come by.

Glengyle Production Building
How nice then to return to writing about a current venture that provides more material now than it did to Barnard in its previous form.  Glengyle was then a fairly new distillery, having been opened in 1873 by William Mitchell who was once also a co-owner of Springbank with his brother John.  The current version of the distillery opened in 2004 and is owned by J&A Mitchell, who still own Springbank.  It is the first new distillery to open in Campbeltown since Ardlussa in 1879.

I am happy to report that Frank McHardy, introduced in my Springbank report, also guided me around Glengyle.  The distillery is owned by J&A Mitchell, indeed its full name is now Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery, but it feels very much like Frank’s baby (the production building is even named after him) and I couldn’t have had a better guide.

Glengyle is situated at the north-east of Glebe Street which had just been built in the early 1870s to extend Campbeltown westward.  The distillery is now accessed from a cross street named Glengyle Road.  Not quite as crammed in as some of the other distilleries, but whatever the intentions of the Council for extending the town, Glebe Street was soon built up with four distilleries covering most of its length (the others being the existing Springbank warehouses and the soon to be built Glen Nevis and Ardlussa).

Barnard’s visit was very brief as the owner wasn't at home and there is nothing peculiar to note from his report.  The distillery remained in the Mitchell family until 1919 when it joined Ardlussa, Dalintober, Glen Nevis and Kinloch in the short lived West Highland Malt Distillers venture.  After a failed attempt to sell Glengyle in 1924 the distillery closed in 1925 and all of the whisky stock was auctioned in Glasgow that year.

Since then the buildings have experienced various diverse uses.  After the sale of stock one of the warehouses was converted into a garage by Craig Brothers, who later converted Benmore Distillery into a bus depot.  For a few years the Campbeltown Miniature Rifle Club rented the distillery, the long malt barns ideal for an indoor rifle range.  It was then bought in 1940 by the Bloch Brothers who also owned Glen Scotia at that time, but their plans for rebuilding the distillery, perhaps to include Campbeltown’s first grain distillery (Stirk, 2005), were halted by the restrictions of WWII and they later sold the now empty buildings to the Kintyre Farmers Cooperative.

When J&A Mitchell purchased the site in December 2000 the buildings were derelict and still contained some old farm machinery and partitioned office space inside.  Only the shell of the original distillery remained and Frank explained how the renovations took shape over four years before production could start again.  You can read about the whole process on the Glengyle website timeline, the main elements I will mention below.

Some equipment was brought in from other distilleries.  The two stills were from the old Ben Wyvis Distillery at Invergordon in the Highlands which had opened in 1965 and closed in 1976 (not the same as the Ben Wyvis visited by Barnard at Dingwall north of Inverness in 1886 and which closed in 1926).  The stills were slightly altered for their new home – they were known as ‘Bleirs’ stills which had a more angular shaped profile to the neck and shoulders and this has now been smoothed out to a more rounded shape.  The malt mill was sourced from Craigellachie in Speyside when that distillery expanded.

The mash tun was specially commissioned for the new distillery and is of the Lauter tun design with a fine mesh floor to allow for clear filtering of the wort from the grains.  Glengyle uses the standard three waters for mashing, compared to Springbank’s four.  The four new washbacks were built on site from boatskin larch and are the same capacity as those in Barnard’s time, 30,000ltr (6,600 gallons) although there were six when he visited.

In a unique design feature the full distilling process at Glengyle can be seen together on one mezzanine platform.  The mash tun sits at one end, the stills and condensers at the other, with the spirit safe and the four wash backs in a row between them.  This is a great place for anyone new to distillery tours to get a feel for how it all fits together.

Glengyle washbacks and mash tun
Glengyle Stills

Glengyle only operates for 2 months a year and this produces enough new spirit for the company’s requirements.  The whisky bottled by Glengyle is called Kilkerran and I have mentioned the reasons for this before under Glen Nevis and in a comment on an earlier post.  Aside from the use of ‘Glen’ being unusual in Campbeltown, and the name Glengyle already being used for a blended malt whisky from another company, the name Kilkerran has a proud association with Campbeltown’s past.

Kilkerran was a small village on the south side of the Loch and now absorbed into the main town.  The name is derived from ‘Cille Chiarain' which is the old Gaelic name for the place and means ‘the church of St Ciaran’, that Saint being one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who helped to spread Christianity in Kintyre from the 6th century.  Like many other Saints of those days he spent much of his time living humbly in a religious cell further round the coast, the cave later being used by smugglers shipping out illicit whisky from the town.

Kilkerran whisky has been released as a ‘work in progress’ starting with the 5 year old release in 2009 and a 6yo this year.  The first full release is expected to be at 12 years old in 2016.  I think the whisky tastes understandably young, still quite light with citrus and vanilla dominant, but the old loch does have an influence with a slight saltiness to taste and a hint of peat smoke in the mix as well.  Not as robust as Springbank but worth watching as it develops.

The final word in Barnard’s report goes again to Robert Burns, although it isn’t credited to him in the book.  From Burns’ poem ‘Scotch Drink’, Barnard quotes the preface which is a reworking of the sentiment in Proverbs 31, v6-7 into auld Scots.  Burns does this with proverbs and psalms a few times in his poetry and I include the verse here as this fantastic poem is one of my muses for this journey (see the banner at the top of this page).

Gie him strong drink, until he wink,
That's sanking in despair ;
An' liquor guid to fire his bluid,
That's prest wi' grief an' care ;
There let him bouse, an' deep carouse,
Wi' bumpers, flowing o'er,
Till he forgets his loves or debts,
An' minds his griefs no more.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Burnside Distillery, Campbeltown

Now, here I find another one of those wee puzzles that Barnard throws my way every so often.  In my post on Ardlussa distillery I mentioned that its founder also owned Jura Distillery, the name Ardlussa possibly being taken from the hamlet and bay of that name on the island.  Perhaps I hadn’t looked far enough around the Campbeltown area for inspiration for the name?

At the beginning of his report on Burnside distillery Barnard records a coach journey his party took to Glen Lussa which lies about 5 miles north of Campbeltown and through which, apparently, “runs the Ardlussa River”!!!  Ah-ha methinks, but not for long.

Looking at maps from 1865 to 1900 the river is always named as ‘Glen Lussa Water’.  Did Barnard confuse the name Ardlussa with this having already heard the name of the distillery, or perhaps it was just a hurried note that was later misreported, similar to his various spellings of the hill Beinn Ghuilean which he also records as Bengullien just a few lines later in this report?

Maybe Ardlussa was the name that Gaelic speaking locals used for the River or Glen?  Ard means ‘tall’ or ‘great’ in Gaelic, and I concede that it is also possible that the distillery was named for ‘Great Lussa’.  These are more local solutions to the name, but I still prefer my more romantic ‘idyllic Jura’ reasoning.  I will be visiting Jura soon and if I have time I will take pictures of this mystical place.

On his return from Glen Lussa Barnard was dropped at the Burnside Distillery which was south-west of the town, below the slopes leading to Crosshill Loch.  He describes it as the only distillery in Campbeltown actually in the country, although I will query this when I mention Meadowburn Distillery below.  It was situated off the Witchburn Road, opposite the Gallow Hill which gives you some idea of what used to go on round these here parts!

Burnside was one of the earliest distilleries in Campbeltown having been built in 1825.  It was named from the Witch Burn that ran alongside it, down under Burnside Street in the town and emptied into the old mussel ebb.  Barnard’s report is fairly short and there is not much to note from it.  He does mention that one of the malt barns was so spacious it was “used as a banqueting-hall and ball-room when the present Duke of Argyll came of age.”

In a departure from the peat only drying common in other distilleries, the kilns here were heated by both peat and ‘blind coal’, also known as anthracite.  It burns with a smokeless flame and has few impurities so ideal for drying barley for distilling.  Townsend (1993) suggests that Burnside whisky was milder than others in town as a result of this mix; Barnard refers to it as just Campbeltown Malt.

Creamery on site of Burnside Distillery
In 1888, not long after Barnard’s visit, there was a downturn in the fortunes of the distillery and it was offered for sale for £4,000 (Townsend, 1993).  Activity over the next few decades is unclear but letters from 1917 show that utensils and wood from Burnside were sold to rebuild the tuns and wash backs at Hazelburn (Stirk, 2005).  Burnside never reopened and in 1919 an application was made to turn the property into a creamery.  This finally opened in 1923 and Campbeltown Creamery is still going strong on the site today.

Across the road from the distillery was a Poorhouse.  The maps from 1865 to 1899 show this increasing in size quite considerably, this at a time when the distilling and fishing industries were booming in town.  The building is now used by the Regional Council and rather ironically includes their Financial Services offices for payment of Council Tax, rates and payroll.

Meadowburn Distillery
Meadowburn site beside creamery
This distillery was not mentioned by Barnard despite being right beside Burnside, lying between it and Witchburn Road.  It had opened in 1824, the year before Burnside, but was closed sometime in the 1880s.  It is shown on the 1865 map as a similar size to Burnside but by 1899 it is annotated as ‘disused’, by which time Burnside had considerably expanded its warehousing beside the distillery.

Stirk (2005) notes that it appears to have closed in 1882 or 1886 but very few records exist to confirm this.  It was a substantial enterprise, on a par with Burnside at one time, and Barnard not mentioning it at all suggests that his interest was only in those distilleries in current operation that he had access to.

Today the site is a car park at the front of the creamery and the only remains of the distillery are an outside wall on the east side.

Kinloch Distillery, Campbeltown

“After living at Campbeltown a week we began to feel quite at home, our daily perambulations in the “spiritual town” had brought us in contact with many of the distillers, who by their courtesy, kindness and hospitality, contributed to our comfort and pleasure, and rendered our prolonged stay most agreeable.”
Barnard’s opening comment on the day of his visit to Kinloch Distillery, a sentiment I can also apply to my few days in the town.  Barnard also takes this opportunity to comment a little more on various aspects of the town and its history.

He begins by describing the Campbeltown Cross, a granite cross eleven feet tall, ornately carved with Celtic designs and religious symbols and situated, in his time, outside the Town House just down from the White Hart Hotel.  During WWII it was removed (from the middle of Main Street) in case it was damaged by traffic during the blackout and relocated in 1945 to the main square near the quay.

Down by the quay Barnard notes the “large cargoes of barley being transferred from the steamers to the distillers’ carts” and he is then forced into a detour while crossing Kinloch Park due to it being covered in drying fishing nets as described in an earlier post.  This route suggests that he visited another distillery on the other side of the park first, or perhaps just enjoyed a stroll along the esplanade and then tried to cut back across to the distillery.

The distillery buildings started out as Malt Houses “supplying malt to the numerous smugglers” but were turned into a licensed distillery in 1823, the second recognised distillery in town.  The firm of Lamb, Colvill & Co were one of the earliest distillers in Campbeltown and Kinloch was another of the few distilleries that remained in the same firm for most of its operating life.

Barnard records that the distillery was recently enlarged and this can be seen by comparing maps from 1865 and 1900.  The considerable expansion was permitted by reclamation of the mussel ebb against which the original buildings were located.  The premises now aligned with the new Kinloch Road that frames the south side of the park, giving the distillery a frontage to the park of over 400 feet.  Barnard also remarks that further additions are being made on adjoining land recently acquired.

His facts and figures are all fairly standard except that he mentions four warehouses yet only gives sizes for three, and seems to get length and width mixed up as he goes through them.  Perhaps this was when his host had brought out the Kinloch Special Reserve for a sample, a possibility bolstered by Barnard then quoting from Burns’ poem ‘Third Epistle To J. Lapraik’ from 1785, which was the equivalent of the sentimental, usually slurred, ‘you're ma best mate, so ye are’ after partaking of a dram too many:

Your friendship, Sir, I winna quat it,
An' if ye mak' objections at it,
Then hand in neive some day we'll knot it,
An' witness take,
An' when wi' usquabae we've wat it
It winna break.

The distillery went from strength to strength until being taken over by West Highland Malt Distilleries in 1919.  As with the other WHMD distilleries it closed in 1923 but here the story takes a twist.  Duncan MacCallum, mentioned in my last post on Glen Nevis, had sold that distillery in 1896 to Stewart Galbraith & Co who then sold it on to WHMD in 1919.  In 1923 MacCallum decided to buy Kinloch from WHMD rather than Glen Nevis.  Perhaps Glen Nevis had been run down in the interim, while Kinloch had been expanding, or perhaps he just didn’t fancy going back to a venture he had already owned twice before.

Kinloch Distillery site redevelopment
Regardless of reason, Kinloch was not to last much longer in the turbulence of the 1920s.  The last cask was filled on 6 April 1926 and in a letter to the Town Council in 1928, MacCallum gifted the land to the town for new housing (Stirk, 2005).  In an early example of recycling he also mentioned that the stone in the buildings he was to demolish was of excellent quality suitable for the new development.

In a sad end to this story, Duncan MacCallum never saw his gift being used as he drowned in Crosshills Loch above the town in December 1930, at the grand age of 83.  In his memory MacCallum Street now connects Longrow with Kinloch Park beside the site.  Park Square was eventually built on the site in the 1930s but has recently been demolished, the site being redeveloped again when I visited.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Glen Nevis Distillery, Campbeltown

In the 1870s the main centre of Campbeltown was extended westward towards Gallow Hill with the construction of Glebe Street parallel to Longrow.  This ran along and right against the side of the malt barns and warehouses of Springbank, and Glengyle had already been built at the north-east corner of the street opposite where Glen Nevis would be built in 1877.  Ardlussa would follow two years later at the south end opposite Springbank.

I’m not sure why the name Glen Nevis was chosen, perhaps just as a prominent Scottish name not used by another distillery (Nevis and Ben Nevis being the names of the two in the shadow of the mountain).  In the detailed obituary of its founder, Duncan MacCallum, there is no mention of a connection to that area of Scotland, his Grandfather having moved to Campbeltown from Inveraray (Stirk, 2005).

Mitchell’s Glengyle note that part of their decision to call their whisky Kilkerran was that “it was unusual for the old Campbeltown distilleries to be called after a Glen, a custom more usually associated with the Speyside region.”  Glengyle had opened four years before Glen Nevis and Glenside was then the only other ‘Glen’ within the 21 Campbeltown distilleries, Scotia not being renamed until the 1920s.

Regardless of the name this was very much a Campbeltown whisky rather than a Highland one and Barnard’s description of the drying process notes that “the peat smoke can permeate the barley and give it the aroma so characteristic of the Campbeltown Whisky’, although peat was by far the most common fuel of Scotland's distilleries at this time.

Barnard describes the distillery as “both modern in style and arrangement, containing all the new improvements of the present day.”  Formal licensed distilling had by then been extensive in Campbeltown for fifty years so the proprietor, Duncan MacCallum, would have found plenty of experience within the town to draw upon to create a fully up to date distillery.

Some of the main features are highlighted by Barnard, including the use of a centrifugal pump for emptying the mash tun to allow more frequent mashing, and “a Morton’s refrigerator of large capacity and cooling power” – no open tanks for cooling worts here.  The Wash Still he describes as “beautifully bright, clean and highly polished” as he had also found at Benmore Distillery.

He also mentions an item called a “Jackback” located in the process between the washbacks and the wash charger.  I had never heard this term before and I’m not sure if every distillery uses one, nor to what purpose.  It is mentioned in the Illicit Distillation (Scotland) Act of 1822 as one of those highly regulated vessels in a distillery, and elsewhere seems to be a wash strainer in the brewing process.

Two years after Barnard’s visit, and just ten after being founded, the distillery was sold to Scotch Whisky Distillers Ltd, but they went bust after just two years and MacCallum bought the distillery back from them.  He ran it for a further six years before selling again and eventually it became part of the ill-fated West Highland Malt Distilleries with closure to follow in 1923, the buildings and plant put up for sale the following year.

Glen Nevis warehouses on Glebe Street
Glen Nevis, along with Ardlussa, was part of a bonded warehouse and bottling venture that never quite took off in the 1930s.  The distillery has since been demolished and the site is now part of the building contractor’s yard that includes the old Ardlussa distillery and covers most of the west side of Glebe Street.  Some of the old warehouses still remain at the north end but there is no other evidence of the distillery.