"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, 29 September 2011

Glen Moray Distillery, Elgin

Having visited the three older local distilleries that Barnard had it was now time to discover those that were built a little, and sometimes a lot later.  Of the nine distilleries in the area around Elgin Glen Moray is the closest to town, sitting right on its west boundary.  Glen Moray is the only one of the nine that has a visitor centre and organised tours so I pitched up to be welcomed by Emma and enjoyed an informal tour around the complex, saw an interesting display in a warehouse and nosed a couple of very nice whiskies.

Glen Moray Distillery to right of warehouses, Gallow Hill behind
The distillery nestles in a quiet little dell called the Gallow Crook at the east end of a wide loop in the River Lossie.  It is overlooked on it’s east side by Gallow Hill, the sombre place just outside the old town boundary (as was traditional) where criminals, witches and those pesky varmints who spilled your dram were either stretched, shortened or flambéed up until the end of the 17th century.  The distillery site was previously the West Brewery which local newspapers record being built in 1830, and the brewery was apparently bought by James Nicholson of Strathisla Distillery in 1896 and converted into Glen Moray Distillery to begin production in 1897.

Glen Moray from the Inverness road approaching Elgin
In the first few decades the distillery experienced the same turmoil following the Pattison crash that affected many others and it fell silent in 1910.  It was bought in 1920 by MacDonald & Muir, later to become Glenmorangie plc, and production restarted in 1923.  It remained with them until it was sold to the French drinks company La Martiniquaise in 2008, who also own the Glen Turner blending and bottling plant at Livingston and recently opened the Starlaw grain distillery beside it.

Some of the well stocked malt bins
My tour began with a look at the 18 huge malt bins that are wedged into a tall building on the site of the original maltings.  The floor maltings were converted to Saladin boxes in 1958 before closing completely in 1978, and they and the kiln were then demolished to make way for a grain store and dark grains plant.  These bins can store 1200 tonnes to ensure the distillery keeps going if its steep and narrow entrance road gets cut off in winter.

The mill is a Porteus dating from 1985 so relatively recent in terms of the lifespan that distilleries get from these ever reliable workhorse machines.  Water for all processes is from the River Lossie and we shall see later that the river tries to get in on the action a bit too much sometimes.

Does exactly what it says on the tun!
The semi-lauter tun runs 2 x 7.5 tonne mashes per day, with 3 waters producing 40,000 litres of wort that is filled into one of the 5 washbacks.  These are made from stainless steel, the picture below showing the wood cladding applied to the outside.  The fermentation time is a fairly exact and relatively short 48 hours producing a light, fruity 8% wash.

Glen Moray washbacks
The stills were increased from 2 to 4 during extensive renovations in 1958 and are now steam coil heated, converted from direct coal fire in the same year, and each one has a 10,000 litres capacity.  The fruity character of the wash carries through the stills into the final product and these wide squat stills, particularly the wash stills, help provide lots of copper contact and the relatively flat lyne arm angle helps to leave the heavier oily alcohols behind.  The spirit stills are simmered for 4 1/2 hours with a long middle cut producing an average 69% spirit.  The processes here are all monitored manually rather than computer controlled.

One of the two pairs of stills
Beneath the stills you can see the metal cladding to aid heat retention and this is not often visible on a tour.  I had previously queried the equivalent wood cladding for display on the stills at Dallas Dhu museum, there to hide the deterioration of the copper, and it was interesting to see a different facet to the design at Glen Moray.

Insulating cladding around the still bases
La Martiniquaise are investing heavily in the distillery and plan to add a further 2 stills and more washbacks.  The historic buildings have listing protection and are arranged around a small courtyard so this will be an interesting exercise to find space for the new plant.  The current annual production of 2.1m litres will be increased to 3.2m on completion of the works.

No. 1 Warehouse and distillery lade returning to River Lossie
There are 2 large palletised warehouses and 8 dunnage with a total capacity for 65,000 casks on site.  Up to 99% of their casks are ex-bourbon with some sherry, virgin French oak, Chardonnay and port pipes used as well.  We visited warehouse No.1 which sits right below Gallow Hill, the angels in here perhaps sharing their treat with the ghosts of those medieval times.

View through a Glen Moray bourbon cask
There is an innovative display in this warehouse where some casks have been fitted with Perspex ends so that you can see the magic that is happening inside and wonder at the different hues the maturing spirit is taking on from the previous contents, brilliantly lit by the sun beaming in through the bars on the windows that day.  The volume of imbibing by the angels is clearly visible and you can also see the difference on the wood that charring makes.

I mentioned the River Lossie above, a river that is prone to flooding as the rainfall that makes this area one of the gardens of Scotland finds its way along flat open plains before reaching the Moray Firth  coast.  The distillery location in a dell by the river leaves it open to occasional inundation and one flood on 16 November 2002 reached shoulder height, a small ‘commemorative’ plaque on one warehouse wall showing the level.  There is little the distillery can do to prevent the flooding, it’s location ideal to take advantage of the water but also at its whim should it choose to wash the walls once in a while.

2002 Flood level marked on warehouse wall
After the tour we repaired to the visitor centre to have a nose of the different expressions produced here.  The core range is the Classic, 12yo and 16yo and Glen Moray is one of those whiskies that you could happily share with someone new to whisky and still enjoy a good level of complexity.  It has gradually increased its market share to become the 4th biggest selling whisky brand in the UK (MWY, 2011).  Their standard bottles have a distinctively shaped neck with a similar profile to the top half of a lantern shaped still, although very different to the stills at the distillery.

Glen Moray core range
Some of the initial wine cask finish experiments for the Glenmorangie group were carried out at Glen Moray and they are now producing some of their own bottlings, including port finished (13 years in bourbon, one in port) and a recent new release that has been fully matured for 10 years in a Chardonnay cask.  That 1995 port finish (you knew I had to try it) is only available to buy at the distillery and is bottled at 56.7%.  I found a very light fragrant nose but then warm to taste with a long spicy, apple strudel flavour giving way to strawberries at the end.  I am often reminded of jam when trying port finished whisky and this was no different.

In the last two years the distillery has also been running some heavily peated batches at 40ppm for short periods.  A 1 1/2 yo sample was very balanced, the smoke not overpowering the zesty notes and with a taste much older than it is, with a still robust 22ppm being carried over into the bottle.

Glen Moray Distillery dell
I left Emma to contemplate the next session of polishing she has to do on her pet project - restoring the old spirit safe for display.  Her tour was relaxed and informative and I was delighted to meet her again at Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh in August where some of the whiskies mentioned above were sampled rather than just nosed as before; many thanks for your kind hospitality.  For now, I’m not for hanging around the Gallows (sorry!) and the journey moves briefly north before heading south down towards the Spey valley.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Linkwood Distillery, Elgin

The day after his visit to Glen Lossie Barnard visited his third and final distillery around Elgin.  Linkwood Distillery, named after the farm estate and house it was built beside, is just beyond the furthest southeast corner of Elgin now but was then in open countryside beyond the railway before the New Elgin suburb expanded on the south side of the town.  Barnard described it as “embosomed in woods” giving rise to the name of the estate.
Linkwood Farm

Some of the original estate buildings still exist across the road from the distillery, including a converted section of the old Linkwood House and the Linkwood Farm steading shown here which is the most architecturally interesting of the farm buildings, although the stable arches have now been filled in and the clock is not keeping good time.

The original distillery was founded on a small scale in 1821 by a local factor called Peter Brown.  By the time Barnard visited it had passed to his son William who had completely rebuilt it to a different plan and on a larger scale in 1873.  A map from that year shows the old buildings but by 1905 there are extensive warehouses on the site and a new island has appeared in the dammed reservoir beside it as the burn had split to encircle a small section of land.

Linkwood dam behind old granary with new distillery buildings beyond

This is the reservoir that is fed by the Burn of Linkwood that passed through the Glenlossie works further upstream.  The mashing water was brought from “the Black Hills, six miles distant” which are directly southeast from the distillery.  The water source today is springs near Millbuies Loch beside these hills and about 3 miles away.  The same springs supply Glen Elgin Distillery which is close to the Loch.

There were two granaries with the usual barley loft over malting floor arrangements and a square kiln building at the end of one of them.  The peat source for the kiln was not named by Barnard.  These old buildings have been maintained right beside the road into Elgin and their rubble built construction stands dark and in sharp contrast to the more recent white concrete and glass buildings beside them.

Linkwood Kiln and 1873 distillery buildings

The mash tun was one of the smallest recorded by Barnard at just 12 feet across by 3 1/2 deep but he doesn’t comment further on it.  He does mention coolers that “cover the roofs of the Tun Room, Spirit Store and Coal Shed” and these are therefore likely to be the large open tank style of cooler that we first saw at Springbank.

There were five washbacks at 14,540 litres each and two old pot stills at 9,088 and 8,406 litres, both heated by furnace.  There were 3 warehouses holding 2,000 casks from an annual production of 227,000 litres.  And that was pretty much it for Barnard’s report.  It was just one page in the book and it seems he may have visited Linkwood in the morning before taking the short train ride down to Rothes to begin his explorations there in the afternoon.

Linkwood A distillery

A decade later the Linkwood-Glenlivet Distillery Company was formed to run the distillery and they were absorbed into SMD in 1933.  After refurbishment in 1962 the hope of the 1970s also brought 4 new stills and accompanying mash tun and washbacks in 1971, effectively created as a new operation on the site and known as Linkwood B.  Floor maltings had ceased by then and the rest of the original distillery buildings (Linkwood A) were closed in 1985 but then reopened for a few months each year from 1990 to 1996 before falling silent again.

Linkwood B Still House
The style of spirit produced from the two operations would have been very different, with larger washbacks and condensers installed in Linkwood B and a huge cast iron worm tub cooling the vapours in Linkwood A and producing a heavier spirit.  More recently the old Linkwood A washbacks have been refurbished and brought back into use to increase production, with a fairly long 75 hour fermentation, although the two old stills remain silent.  The site was undergoing further renovation when I stopped by as the distillery closed for a few months to install a new stainless steel mash tun and new wash stills (MWYB 2011).  The stills here are amongst the largest at 45,000 litres for the wash and 51,000 for the spirit (Udo, 2005).

Linkwood warehouses from early 1900s
Linkwood is popular as a Top Class blending whisky, not just for Diageo, and production was 3.5m litres of spirit last year.  There are a few dunnage warehouses on the site but most of the production will be matured in central bonds, perhaps including the extensive warehouses nearby at Glenlossie.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Glen Lossie Distillery, (Glenlivet District), Elgin

Before visiting Glen Lossie Distillery Barnard continued his exploration of Elgin and offers a few brief comments on the town.  His appreciation of the Gordon Arms continues with very high praise – “in all our wanderings we had never slept in better rooms, received more attention, nor been more comfortable” – and his love of a good feed before heading out was well met as “John the waiter anticipated our every want and was quite hurt if we did not bring good appetites to the meals provided”.  I don’t think John would have had too much to be hurt by.

Elgin Cathedral east elevation
His party visited Elgin Cathedral at the eastern end of town, describing it as Elgin’s glory and “The Lanthorn of the North” but offering no further comment or history of the building.  A lanthorn was a type of lantern and “lantern of the north” is a more common affectionate appellation, but was Barnard also maybe a little reminiscent of Lanthorn Tower, part of the Tower of London, in his description?  They were both built in the 13th century although they look nothing alike.  Elgin Cathedral was used until the Reformation in 1560 and then fell into gradual ruin, much like Pluscarden Abbey did around the same time, prior to which it was the second largest cathedral in Scotland after St Andrews.  Substantial parts of the structure still remain and are now maintained by Historic Scotland.

Barnard notes the conspicuous Hill of Cullen, a landmark to mariners, and its name is recorded on maps then and now as the Bin of Cullen.  The picture here was taken at the mouth of the River Spey, some 8 miles closer and almost exactly half way between Elgin and the hill.  Barnard may have viewed it from the cathedral or another elevated point around Elgin.

Bin of Cullen viewed from Spey Bay
Glen Lossie Distillery is about 1 kilometre away from the River Lossie which rises from springs known as the Seven Sisters in the hills to the south.  It heads north through Glen Lossie and its path is then blocked by the curiously named Hill of the Wangie (wangie is an old Scots word for a wildcat which are known to inhabit the hills here) and so turns east towards the distillery before it twists and turns its way round Elgin and into the Moray Firth at Lossiemouth.  I mentioned in my post on Glenburgie that the future of RAF Lossiemouth was then under review and it has since been announced that it is to remain open as Scotland’s only RAF base.

Glen Lossie Distillery was one of the few in Barnard’s book that did not have a date of origin stated.  It had been built just a decade earlier in 1876 by the current owner John Duff who Barnard did note had planned the distillery himself.  It was built as a double oblong and with the exception of the stone built Still House it was constructed from concrete which “looked beautifully white and clean”.

Barnard records the two water supplies as a nearby reservoir fed from the Mannoch Hills to provide water for driving a water wheel, and the Creich Spring in a hill beside the distillery whose waters are collected in a covered cistern and likely, although not stated, as then being used for mashing.  The reservoir supply is the Foths Burn (which begins as the Burn of Bardon in the Mannoch Hills south of the distillery) and which continues on through the distillery grounds before turning north and becoming the Burn of Linkwood and feeding the reservoir behind the distillery of that name.

Glenlossie kiln and granaries (now disused)
The granaries were reached by a raised road some 20 feet above the rest of the distillery at its south end, the kiln sitting at its north end and heated by peat from those same Mannoch Hills as supplied the reservoir water.  The kiln now has a pagoda roof and is the most dominant structure you see at the distillery as you pass round it on the road south out of Elgin.

The mash tun was a little different here being one of the last few still made from timber and relatively small at just 13 feet by 5.  The tun room contained six washbacks at 13,600 litres each and feeding two old pot stills that were heated by furnace.  The stills were mid-sized for the time and similar in size at 8,020 and 7,488 litres and there is nothing else of particular interest recorded in Barnard’s report.

Glenlossie warehouses and Thomshill beyond
There were five warehouses on site, on a terrace above the road, and holding 4,000 casks from an annual production of 409,000 litres.  Opposite the distillery there were dwellings provided for the employees in a little hamlet, presumably Thomshill which is still there today.  Only a couple of cottages remain from the distillery farm that once sat across the road from the distillery.

A railway siding was later built to connect the distillery to the Elgin-Craigellachie line almost a mile and a half way.  Benriach and Longmorn Distilleries, both founded by John Duff in the 1890s, were located beside this railway on either side of the Glen Lossie siding near to its junction, each of the newer distilleries themselves having separate sidings.  Barnard doesn’t mention a siding at Glen Lossie and the first map I can find it on is dated 1905 so it was likely built in the 1890s along with those for the other two new distilleries.

Duff’s fortunes were mixed as the industry headed through the Pattison crash in 1898 but Glen Lossie seemed to keep going through this and eventually joined DCL in 1919.  In 1929 there was a major fire here that was fought with the help of the steam powered engine now on display at Dallas Dhu distillery museum.  The distillery was restored after the fire before transferring to DCL subsidiary SMD the following year.  At some time the distillery name was consolidated into the single word Glenlossie.

Glenlossie fire engine at Dallas Dhu
After initial redevelopment in the 1890s there were a number of further extensions to the operation during the 20th century.  The stills had been increased to 4 at some point and they were further increased to 6 in 1962, the spirit stills having purifiers installed.  The wash stills charge is 16,000 litres and the spirit stills are two at 15,000 and one at 13,200 litres (Udo,2005) maintaining a similar ratio of size as the original two stills.  There are also now 8 larch washbacks at 45,000 litres each and a new stainless steel mash tun was installed in 1992 and taking an 8 tonne mash, although I imagine the original timber mash tun had itself been replaced many years before.

The warehouses were further extended at regular intervals and the Glenlossie Bonds now hold around 250,000 casks from many different distilleries in a mixture of dunnage and racking warehouses.  Most of the annual output of 1.8m litres goes into blends including Haig’s but a couple of limited single malt releases have been available.

Mannochmore Distillery, Elgin
One of the biggest developments along the short valley in which the distillery sits was the building of this completely new distillery on the east side of the Glenlossie buildings in 1971 and a dark grains plant opened to the east of that the same year.  It is not easy to tell which buildings are which and Mannochmore is barely visible from the roads on either side of the dell, the old Glenlossie kiln and the dark grains plant almost obscuring the view from either end.  Mannochmore was the only distillery that was built near Elgin in the 20th century; the others (excluding Roseisle!) all open by 1898.

The name may have been a reference to the moor in the hills from where Glen Lossie once cut its peat but its actual origins are obscure.  Some records provide a translation as ‘Place of the Monks’ but that only makes sense from ‘manach’ meaning ‘monk’ and it seems unlikely.  ‘More’ should be from the Gaelic mòr for big but it is just as likely it was named after the Mannoch Hill, possibly meaning ‘middle hill’ which it certainly is geographically, with ‘more’ added to make it sound more, um, Scottish?

After the initial hope of the 1970s the new distillery was mothballed from 1985 to 1989.  Later from the mid 1990s the two adjacent distilleries were worked by the same staff for half a year at a time in rotation.  Since 2007 they have gone back to full time production and Mannochmore now produces around 2.8m litres p.a.  The internal arrangements are all generally larger than at Glenlossie with a cast iron mash tun taking an 11.1 tonne mash and 8 larch washbacks at 54,000 litres each.  The stills are a slightly different arrangement with a wash charge of 14,400 litres and a spirit still charge of 17,000.

Like Glenlossie there have been very few official single malt bottlings of Mannochmore, a 12yo in the Flora & Fauna range the most widely available.  They were also noted for producing Loch Dhu whisky for a couple of years in the late 1990s.  It was matured in over-charred bourbon casks, was black in colour (hence the name Dhu which is Gaelic for black) and was like no other Speyside whisky seen before or since.  The marmite of the whisky world apparently, although there are a few whiskies that could take that moniker, but not all will currently sell for around £200 a bottle!

Glenlossie/Mannochmore dark grains plant and warehouses
The dark grains plant serves 21 Diageo distilleries and processes a total of 110,000 tonnes of draff and 8.5 million litres of pot ale p.a. (MWYB, 2011).  That’s a lot of cattle feed produced each year but they are currently running a project to convert some of the biomass into energy to run the production across the extended site.  Back in Barnard’s day they did it all with a water wheel and gravity.


Friday, 15 July 2011

Miltonduff Distillery, Elgin

“We arrived betimes the next morning at Elgin, and at once made our way to the Gordon Arms, a well-known hostelry”.

This is the opening line from Barnard’s report on his arrival at Elgin before visiting Milton Duff Distillery (sic).  I love the archaic sounding ‘betimes’ meaning early, or in good time, and this early start hastened in a few highly enjoyable days for Barnard as he visited the distilleries and other locations around Elgin and also used the hotel as his base for at least two trips down to Rothes.  This period also inspired some of the longer reports in his book and, as we shall see, also the shortest.

Elgin Town Centre, Gordon Arms building on right
The Gordon Arms was in the town centre beside the St Giles Church and the town fountain.  Barnard notes it as being “patronized by the Duke of Edinburgh and other notables”, the Commercial Hotel two doors down clearly not notable enough for him and the Temperance Hotel beside it an even less likely base.  In his next report he describes the Gordon Arms as a “substantially built rambling old place” and this photograph shows the building front today.

Once the Gordon Arms Hotel, Elgin
The grander looking section to the right above Burton is dated 1888 on the roof pediment, two years after his visit.  Local papers record completion of extension work in April 1889 so this section looks like an upgrade to the original hotel building which dates to the early 1800s.  The hotel closed in 1980 after which a demolition request was denied and it was therefore redeveloped into retail premises and is now a listed building.

After another of those substantial breakfasts that Barnard and I both enjoy on our travels he hired a horse drawn carriage and set off through the pleasant suburbs of Elgin to the distillery.  I arrived from the opposite direction, taking another road over Burgie Hill after my brief stop at Glenburgie and arriving first at Pluscarden Abbey which is the subject of the first tale within Barnard’s report on this day’s adventure, although it doesn’t seem that he actually visited the Abbey which was then in a ruinous state.

Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin
The abbey was founded in 1230 and was first home to the same order of Valliscaulians Monks as had founded Beauly Priory in the same year. It later changed to a Benedictine order but then deteriorated to ruin from the late 16th century on.  The monastery has gradually been restored over the last 60 years or so and is now the only medieval monastery in Britain still inhabited by monks and being used for its original purpose, the order once again Benedictine.  It was elevated from Priory to Abbey status in 1974 and restoration work continues today.

Pluscarden Abbey, west elevation with new accommodation block
Barnard mentions that the Black Burn which runs through the Pluscarden valley turns into a torrent after every storm.  This overflowing of the burn perhaps helped the fertility of the land here which Barnard calls “the Garden of Scotland”, celebrated for its barley, on a broad flat plain.  This valley was once known as Kail Glen, kail being a type of cabbage, and the Valliscaulians originated from Val des Choux in France, meaning the same (from Latin Vallis caulium), the verdant theme connecting the two distant locations.

The Black Burn flows alongside Miltonduff Distillery and supplies its water before joining the River Lossie just west of Elgin, it too prone to flooding, more on which when we arrive at Glen Moray Distillery.  The Burn actually rises on Romach Hill around 10 miles to the southwest of the distillery, from the same watershed that provides the water for Benromach Distillery and once also did for Dallas Dhu.

Barnard narrates a story about the monks and their use of the Burn for brewing fine ale that was so good that it:

"Made the hearts of all rejoice, and filled
The abbey with unutterable bliss;
Raised their devotions to that pitch
That Heldon's hills echo'd their hallelujahs.”

He doesn’t credit a source for the verse and I can’t find one either.  Heldon Hill is the slope above the abbey in the photo here and it is possible that he was paraphrasing from another work, or even trying his own hand at verse?  The hill and its woods were actually named Eildon in the mid 19th century but perhaps changed to Heldon later so as not to be confused with the Eildon Hill in the Scottish Borders.

Pluscarden 'garden', abbey in middle distance, Heldon hill behind
He continues with the record of an Abbot of the 15th century blessing the waters of the Burn so that the spirit distilled from it was thereafter known as ‘aqua vitae’.  The distillery was built in 1824 at the place where this blessing was said to have taken place.  Barnard notes that he was shown a stone in the wall of the Malt Mill bearing an “indistinct date” and which was claimed to be the stone upon which the Abbot had knelt for the blessing.  Hmmm?!

Before visiting the distillery Barnard was welcomed at the home of the owner Mr Stuart, the Old House of Miltonduff.  His party explored the house and gardens and were regaled with “a nip of creamy Old Milton Duff Whisky” before continuing the last quarter mile to the distillery. The house is now gone having been demolished sometime in the last century, the outline of the foundations all that can now be seen, near to a historic dovecot.

Miltonduff dovecot, old house was previously in the trees to the right

The array of buildings at the distillery first grabbed Barnard’s attention, apparently in “complete contrast to the other distilleries in the district…with scarcely a building alike.”  The same is true today but now from a mixture of harling covered edifices sitting alongside older rubble built barns and warehouses, some converted into modern offices, and extensive modern racking warehouses.  The original buildings date back to 1824 making Miltonduff one of the earliest distilleries licensed under the 1823 Excise Act.

Miltonduff Distillery etching in Barnard

Some of the practices still seemed to date back to the 1820s, in keeping with the smuggler operations that Barnard notes were rife along the Black Burn before then, with up to fifty illicit stills in the glen.  He records that “some of the oldest fads and methods are in use, and the ancient style of stills and utensils as carried on by the smugglers”.

Their tour was conducted by the manager Mr Ross whom Barnard describes as a friend.  As usual the malt barns are the starting point and this building is recorded as triangular.  No triangular building has been indicated on any maps so this may have been demolished or amended during major renovations and extensions to the operations that took place just a decade later.

Old Miltonduff Malt Barn
The kiln is described as an ancient structure and the peat used in the kiln was all imported from Eday which is one of the islands of Orkney, two ship loads having recently been brought in to the adjoining peat sheds when Barnard visited.  He doesn’t mention it but the proprietor, William Stuart who had met them earlier at the Old House, also owned Highland Park at that time and clearly had a preference for the Orkney style of peat over the more local sources such as Dava moor.  The kiln has now gone, replaced with the malt deposit building on the left of this picture.

The mill was steam powered and the grist then carried to the Mash House in sacks before being dropped into the grist hopper over a 14 feet x 4 feet mash tun.  The worts here were stirred by oars, a similar arrangement to that described for Glen Albyn in Inverness.  The adjoining building held 7 washbacks, 3 at 18,176 litres and 4 at 13,632 litres so a decent capacity although total annual output at the time was just 343,000 litres.

Barnard then retraced his steps back to the Still House which shared with the Mash House in a building described as venerable but also with rickety stone stairs, ‘depressions’ as steps, low roof sections and quaint and antiquated vessels.  Tradition had this building as originally a brewhouse for the monks.  The reason for the relatively low production lay in the “two old Pot Stills of great age” which were just 6,800 and 5,450 litres respectively and which were running triple distillation.  Barnard considers this the most interesting part of the process here and regrets not having space nor time to describe it fully.

Miltonduff mill lade
After dallying at the stills longer than his guide approved they then moved on to the worm tub which was a bit unusual.  There was just one tub, actually a square tank built of cement containing 400 feet of worm coils.  The cooling water was provided by a mill lade which was fed from a dam set off from the Black Burn, the lade splitting in two directions in the grounds before returning water to the Burn.  There were at least two water wheels providing power for the rummagers and the saw mill machinery, possibly more for other works.

There were five warehouses on the grounds holding 3,100 casks/1.2m litres of whisky of various ages with capacity for another 1,000 casks.  Stables on site housed a dozen horses for carting the casks to the railway station, which was probably Mosstowie Station about 2 miles away on the main Elgin to Inverness line.  The station on the single track line has now gone, replaced with a bank of colourful foxgloves, a flower that seems to propagate beside fields of barley all over this part of Scotland.

Site of old Mosstowie Station
The redevelopment in the 1890s included a new Still House and Mash House (Udo, 2005) along with substantial new warehousing shown on a map from 1905.  In 1936 the distillery and surrounding farmland was bought by Hiram Walker who also bought nearby Glenburgie Distillery the same year, from there following the same path into Allied Lyons and now to Chivas/Pernod Ricard.

Main distillery buildings and Black Burn
Following the story of Glencraig whisky and the Lomond Stills at Glenburgie we find that the very next distillery on Barnard’s itinerary was the only other one to ever receive a pair of Lomond Stills.  Mosstowie was the name of the whisky produced from these stills (like Glencraig it was not a separate distillery, just a brand name) which were installed later than at Glenburgie in 1964 (1958) and ran until the same final year of 1981.  Mosstowie was a mossy/boggy area to the west of Miltonduff.

The distillery was often known to experiment with new techniques including pre-heating their wash in heat exchangers fed by hot water from the condensers and then further heated by drawing some wash and heating it with steam to boiling point to then further raise the wash still temperature in a circular process until distillation was complete (wormtub.com).  The Lomond stills were also experimented with by spraying cold water onto the outside to increase reflux action (SMWS).

Distillery viewed from the Miltonduff Bridge (compare to etching above) 
The distillery was substantially redeveloped in 1974 and little now remains of the rambling old buildings and operations that Barnard witnessed.  The number of washbacks then increased from 8 to 18, each now 38,000 litres, built from stainless steel and enclosed to allow for full CO2 capture.  With the conversion of the Lomond Stills into two normal pot stills in 1981 they were up to 6 pot stills, three at 18,000 litres for the wash and three at 17,500 for the spirit (Udo, 2005).  They run a fairly long, slow distillation and the lyne arms are relatively steep at around 30 degrees.  A dark grains plant was also added in 1974 along with technical laboratories.

The distillery now has a capacity of 5.5m litres p.a., more than 15 times that of Barnard’s day and placing it just outside the top 10 in Scotland and the second largest in the Chivas Group after Glenlivet.  There are now 54,000 casks stored on site, mainly ex-bourbon.  Like Glenburgie, Miltonduff is a major component of the Ballantine’s blend and the site is now also home to the headquarters of Pernod Ricard’s Northern Division (MWYB, 2010).


Thursday, 7 July 2011

Glenburgie Distillery, near Forres

After my visit to the two slightly later distilleries at Forres it is now back to the Barnard trail with a look at Glenburgie Distillery.  Barnard records it as being four miles from Forres but also two miles from Kinloss Station so it is not clear which stop he made on the railway after his time at Nairn and Royal Brackla.  He arrived in Elgin the following morning, whether from near here or from Nairn is unclear, and his visit to Glenburgie appears to have been quite brief.

Barnard mentions the view from a range of hills not far from the distillery with Sutherland, Caithness and Ben Wyvis (a ubiquitous view in these parts) all visible from the top.  Intrepid as ever, and for once glad that I was not in an open carriage like Barnard often was, I drove up a bumpy track through a fir plantation (Burgie Wood) until I reached the Califer Viewpoint above Forres from where that view was, well, only just viewable.  Rain clouds were sweeping across from the northeast, their precious cargo being deployed onto the fields below to aid what Barnard described as “the finest barley growing district of the north”.

View north from Califer Viewpoint
Looking north in this photograph we see Findhorn Bay and across the Moray Firth to a low spit of land that separates it from the Dornoch Firth.  This stretch of coastline is where Cadboll and Glenmorangie House are and beyond in the far distance are the hills above Brora, just visible through the murk.  The panorama here does stretch away northeast to Helmsdale and on to Caithness, Ben Wyvis to the west and not visible at all on a day like this.

Just to the right of Findhorn Bay is RAF Kinloss airfield which is to close at the end of this month.  Cancellation of the iconic Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft has led to the closure and the squadrons based here are currently being disbanded.  The future of RAF Lossiemouth just 10 miles east of here is also under review and an announcement on its future is expected this month.  These are uncertain times in Moray as the two bases have been the lifeblood of local communities for over 70 years with many local jobs dependent on them.

Glenburgie distillery was one of the smallest in Scotland when Barnard visited producing just 109,000 litres p.a.  It is now in the middle tier producing around 4m litres p.a. and is one of the main contributors to Ballantine’s blended whisky which has the second highest market share in the world after Johnnie Walker, although less widely sold in the UK.

Barnard describes the distillery as very ancient having been founded in 1810 and “about as old fashioned as it is possible to conceive”.  He also records it as working steadily for over seventy years but other records show it as being silent for most of the 1870s and it is marked as disused on a map from 1874.  It was originally founded as Kilnflat Distillery but perhaps due to the Excise Act of 1823 an alternative date of 1829 is also recorded as the official start of licensed production, by then known as Glenburgie-Glenlivet according to some sources, others have the Kilnflat name continuing until 1870 and re-opening as Glenburgie in 1878. A plaque outside the original Customs House records a build date of 1810, but was this based on Barnard’s record or from some other documentation of its origins?

He also relates the founder of the distillery as “the grandfather of the celebrated surgeon, Dr. Liston Paul, of London” but this seems to be a misunderstanding.  The celebrated surgeon he is referring to is almost certainly Dr. Robert Liston who was born in West Lothian in 1794 but became Chair of Clinical Surgery at University College London and a well known character in the medical world.  However, there was a Dr. John Liston Paul who was born in nearby Elgin in 1827 but spent most of his career in Madras.  His middle name came from being a Godson of Dr. Robert Liston, perhaps where Barnard’s confusion arises from.  The distillery was founded by a local man named William Paul.

The origin of the name Burgie is unclear although it may be from older words such as Burg or Borg meaning castle or fort.  There are a number of ruins of old castles on the slopes below Burgie Hill but of particular note is Burgie Castle itself and a possible source for the name being so predominant on this side of the hill.  If the origins of Burgie are as above then Burgie Castle is one of those tautological names that often appear when translating place names and landscape features from other languages.

Burgie Burn flows past south end of the distillery
Springs of great purity provided water for distilling and there were a number of wells marked in the grounds around the distillery on old maps, the springs still used for mashing water today.  The Burgie Burn rises in Burgie Hill to the south, running through Burgie Wood and then down past the distillery, feeding a dam to provide cooling water and which also powered a water wheel in Barnard’s time.

The 1874 map shows the distillery as the relatively small buildings that Barnard witnessed a decade later, sitting beside larger buildings named as Kilnflat.  Any changes between the uses of the various buildings in the mid 19th century are now unclear.  Barnard notes 3 new warehouses on the site “and in proportion to the size of the works the Warehouse accommodation is extensive”.  By 1905 a map shows the Glenburgie Distillery as a much larger operation that extended westward and which dwarfs the Kilnflat buildings which were by then partly demolished.  Perhaps they were gearing up for expansion when Barnard observed those new warehouses?

Glenburgie warehouses
The rest of the operation is described briefly by Barnard and appears fairly standard.  The peats for the kiln were sourced from both Dava and Dallas Moors; the mash tun was fairly small at just 10 feet by 3 1/2 deep; there were 5 washbacks averaging 11,000 litres and two Pot stills at 6,816 and 3,635 litres.

The owners were a local company Alexander Fraser & Co who oversaw that later expansion but went into receivership in the 1920s and the distillery was then closed from 1927-35.  Canadian Company Hiram Walker took over and restarted production in 1936, continuing until they were bought by Allied Lyons in 1987 and eventually into current owners Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard in 2005.  Two major changes during this time are worth noting.

The first was the installation of two Lomond Stills in 1958.  This type of still had been developed by Hiram Walker and first installed at their Inverleven plant in Dumbarton in 1956.  We have seen them before at Bruichladdich and Scapa but Glenburgie was the first distillery to receive a pair of Lomond stills, wash and spirit working in tandem.  These sat alongside two existing traditional pot stills and the whisky produced from the new stills was known as Glencraig to distinguish it, named after Willie Craig who was one of their Production Directors.

Glencraig spirit was so different that it ran through an entirely separate spirit safe and receivers before being casked.  It also seems that the original experimental still from Inverleven was transferred to Glenburgie at first, but when the new pair of full size stills followed in 1958 the original one was moved to Scapa where it was installed in 1959.  Some of the dates and details about the movement of these stills are a bit sketchy though and sources vary.

Glenburgie Distillery
The Lomond Stills were used until 1981 when they were converted to a more traditional still shape by replacing the tubular necks with swan neck sections.  The next big change came in 2004 when after a couple of silent years the original distillery was demolished to make way for a new complex.  The modern distillery now houses all the mashing to distilling operations in one large shed, built on the spot where the original Kilnflat buildings had been.  The floor maltings had closed in 1958 and malt is now delivered in from industrial maltings.

The four stills from the previous building were maintained and Chivas have invested further in the distillery with two further stills installed in 2006 as demand for Ballantine’s increased.  There are now 12 stainless steel washbacks at 23,500 litres each and a large full lauter tun taking an 8 tonne mash and running four waters through.  Production is now at 7 days a week.

Glenburgie Customs House
The only part of the original distillery buildings that remains is the Customs House which had a small warehouse below.  The house is now used as a tasting room and some of the old tools of trade for the Excise Officers are kept here on display.  There is extensive warehousing on the site with a mixture of storage styles and most of the whisky is matured in ex-bourbon casks.  Chivas release a 15yo OB at cask strength and there are a few independent bottles of both Glenburgie and Glencraig available.

The distillery is not open to the public and the recent details included here are from the Malt Whisky Yearbook and Udo.  Additional details about the Lomond stills are from Malt Madness and the SMWS website.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Dallas Dhu Distillery Museum, Forres

The second distillery founded in Forres in 1898 was first named Dallasmore and it was built on land owned by Alexander Edward of Sanquhar beyond the south side of town.  It sat right beside the Highland Line mentioned in my last report, with its own railway siding connecting it to the network, and so it is now easily accessible as a stop off on the Dava Way or by scenic country road out of Forres.

Dallas Dhu Distillery Museum, railway siding ran here to the right
Benromach was built by MacCallum and Brickmann on land leased from Edward but Dallasmore was initially his own project.  However, by the time it was complete in 1899 he had leased it to Glasgow whisky blenders Wright & Greig Ltd.  They began production that same year under the name Dallas Dhu which was chosen to make a connection with their main blend called Roderick Dhu and which whisky from the new distillery would contribute to.  Dallas Dhu was the very last distillery licence granted in the 19th century.

Dallas Dhu kiln pagoda, viewed from the Dava Way
The distillery was designed by the same architect as Benromach, the famous Charles Chree Doig who came up with the pagoda kiln roof design in 1889 and who had a hand in many of the new distilleries built in the latter part of the 19th century.  The layout of Dallasmore was almost a mirror image of Benromach at that time - an E shape with barley loft and maltings stretching out at one end, the kiln leading to the mash tun in the middle, washbacks in the central extension then the still room leading to the filling store in the other end.

Turn this plan (click to enlarge) of Dallas Dhu upside down and place that mirror image on the other side of the Forres railway junction and you will have a good approximation of Benromach when it was built.  Benromach’s washbacks were moved into a combined room with the stills when it was redeveloped in the 1990s; Dallas Dhu remains true to an earlier layout after being mothballed in 1983 and now held under the guardianship of Historic Scotland, more on which later.

Seemingly uninterrupted by the Pattison’s crash that halted Benromach for a decade the new proprietors continued production until selling to another Glasgow company, J.P. O’Brien & Co Ltd in 1919, although closed for the intervening war years.  J.P. O’Brien only survived two more years at which point the distillery was taken over by Benmore Distilleries Ltd who owned Benmore and (later) Lochead distilleries in Campbeltown and Lochindaal distillery on Islay.

Benmore were taken over by DCL in 1929 and their four distilleries were all closed at that time.  Of the four, Dallas Dhu was the only one ever to resume production when it began again in 1936 under DCL’s subsidiary SMD.  This was a short venture to begin with as a major fire destroyed the still house in 1939 and the distillery then remained silent until 1947.

Benmore sign on filling store at Dallas Dhu
The fire damaged sections appear to have been rebuilt back to the way they were, externally at least, and the only real variation in the layout shown on maps from 1905 onwards is the extension of the warehouses westwards in the 1950s and an extension to the tun room for two new washbacks in 1964.  Production continued until that fateful year of 1983 when the last casks were filled.  Although economic conditions and overproduction were largely responsible for the number of closures that year, prolonged drought conditions between 1976 and 1983 were also a contributing factor in some cases and at Dallas Dhu the water supply crosses a broad flat plain south of the distillery and perhaps therefore more liable to disruption.

The water for mashing was piped from the Altyre Burn which is formed from the confluence of other burns, including the Romach Burn, on the west side of Romach Hill.  By the time it flows past the distillery, a kilometre to its south, it is known as the Burn of Mosset before it feeds the Sanquhar Loch, the source of Benromach’s cooling water and first created on the south side of Forres around the same time as the distilleries were built.  The Manachy Burn flows past Dallas Dhu just a few metres to its north and this was the source of its cooling water and powered a water wheel until the 1970s.

Maps from before the time of Barnard’s journey record the Burn of Mosset as the Burn of Bogs, recalling to mind a similar ‘sanitisation’ of a name at Cawdor which lies 20km east of here, the Bog of Cawdor there being renamed as Cawdor Moss.  The local name for the Altyre Burn is the Scourie Burn and there was a building (a scourie is a shed shieling) and a well named Scourie beside it, about a kilometre east of the distillery.  The name Dallas Dhu is interpreted as either ‘field by the black waterfall’ or ‘black water valley’, the latter I think a more likely reference due to that flat boggy (sorry, mossy) ground nearby.

The distillery was mothballed by DCL in 1983 and came under the care of Historic Scotland in 1986, albeit still owned by DCL.  HS reopened it as a distillery museum in 1988 and it has been run as such ever since.  The distilling licence was returned in 1992 but it is believed that the fixtures and fittings are all maintained in a way that could permit them to recommence production here relatively easily, although the operations now seem very dated and almost certainly uneconomical to run in their current form.

Dallas Dhu courtyard
The museum is open all year round (see Historic Scotland website for details) and the tour allows you to get up close to all the major operations and vessels, albeit in a quiet, almost sterile environment.  The closest previous experiences I have had to the variety of things you can get close to here were at Springbank and Laphroaig, although they don’t let you photograph the inside of their stills.  That said, the atmosphere at Dallas Dhu is eerily quiet and at times it is hard to imagine what it would be like when operating without having experienced it elsewhere.

Dallas Dhu Barley Loft
The malting floor at Dallas Dhu has now been turned into a visitor centre and shop together with a media room for viewing their video take on the history, charm and romanticism of whisky production.  The barley loft is still intact above and that is where your self guided tour will begin at your own pace.  Audio recordings that describe each scene as you go round are available from a handset that is included in the standard admission price, and photographs are allowed everywhere!

Dallas Dhu Kiln
The kiln room has been fully opened up and you can wander round behind the killogie (the area in front of the kiln doors) and look up to see the flues that channelled the smoke up to the drying floor.  You next pass by the electricity meter room where you will discover that the distillery did not receive electricity until the 1950s, a water wheel providing all the power before then and some of it until the 1970s, but sadly no longer present on the burn.

Dallas Dhu washbacks
The mash tun was replaced in 1964 and is of a good size taking a 3.3 tonne mash, made from cast iron with a copper dome and the perforated floor plates have been partly lifted to show the draining mechanism.  The six Oregon pine washbacks are 45,000 litres each and have been left full of water to prevent the wood from drying out and shrinking, the switchers stationary below the open lids.

Glenlossie 1920s fire engine at Dallas Dhu
The still house contains two stills and their chargers, a large old gas fired boiler from the 1960s and, aptly given that this room burned down in 1939, the display also includes a steam powered fire engine dating from the 1920s, one that had last been used at Glenlossie Distillery near Elgin in 1929.

Dallas Dhu stills
Perhaps the most interesting part of the museum that you will not normally be able to experience at a working distillery is the opportunity to touch and see inside and all around the stills.  The stills are accessible by a raised platform where the steam coil heating, installed in 1971 to convert from coal fired heating, can be seen inside them.

Dallas Dhu steam coil heating inside the spirit still
The wash still held 11,828 litres and the spirit still was 10,428 litres.  The lyne arms descend into outside worms tubs at an angle of around 25 degrees and there are steps beside the tubs to allow you to climb up and see the coiled worm inside them.

Dallas Dhu worm tubs
The bases of the stills are now surrounded by wooden panels that are identical to those installed by DCL around the also mothballed stills at the old Brora distillery.  I am told these are there for cosmetic reasons, the stills having been direct coal fired previously, although they look quite substantial for just that purpose and I wonder if they have another one as well.

Dallas Dhu still bases
Beside the stills there is a separate room where the spirit safe sits atop the intermediate spirit receiver.  Water flowing through the glass bowls to represent the new make is triggered by stepping on a foot plate that looks like part of a reconditioned cask weighing machine.

Dallas Dhu spirit safe and receiver
The filling store and warehouse displays that complete your tour are fairly standard and the three warehouses here are all dunnage, the newest one to the west with two floors of dunnage style storage.  These warehouses now lie empty and you will need to hunt down some older independent bottles of Dallas Dhu malt if you would like to try it.

Dallas Dhu dunnage warehouses
If you like being tactile, or going at your own pace, then a visit here may satisfy you, without the buzz of industry all around but also without the enticing aromas.  The pace of life here is as slow as the burn that meanders gently by, the workings inside as open to curiosity as I was to the new lambs that eyed me cautiously from the other side.  This museum has a unique place in the industry and it may help those new to whisky to gain a fuller appreciation of the art of distilling than is often possible in a rushed tour round a working distillery with a large group of visitors, although I would recommend visiting both environments for a fuller experience.

Spring lambs by the Manachie Burn, Dallas Dhu

Sueno’s Stone

The last commemorative stone I visited in this area is also one of the most decorative and it stands on the east side of Forres, just off the main road to Elgin.  Sueno’s stone is a Class III Pictish symbol stone with panels detailing the story of a fierce battle on one face and a Celtic cross almost the full length on the reverse.  The sides of the stone are decorated with an intricate vine pattern.

This type of stone is known as a cross-slab and Sueno’s Stone is the tallest surviving example in Britain at over 6 metres and also one of the last known to be carved, the style suggesting a date around the 9th or 10th century.  The symbols are carved in relief and include many Pictish and Celtic motifs.  The tiered base that secures the stone upright was a later addition during restoration work in the early 1700s after the stone had been found buried; the name Sueno also relating to the finder of the stone rather than dating to it’s origins.

Like a number of other important carved stones in the north east this one has been surrounded by a glass canopy that is lit up in the dark evenings, designed to protect its already worn surfaces from further erosion by the elements and the touch of inquisitive hands.  You can be tactile with the recent history at Dallas Dhu but the unique carvings on this millennium old and now fragile stone require protection for future generations to appreciate.