"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, 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.