"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

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.