"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

Monday, 7 March 2011

50 Up Roundup

So, 50 distilleries into Barnard’s list and the west coast journey complete; what can we conclude about the distilleries we have seen so far?  Well, of those 50 only 16 remain open today, with the biggest losses from Barnard’s list being in the Glasgow area (12/13) and Campbeltown (18/21).  The Islay distilleries, in contrast, have generally flourished, with most now having increased capacity and Kilchoman opening a few years ago.  Plans to reopen at Port Charlotte give further hope for ongoing success on the island, Port Ellen the only other closure from Barnard’s time (sniff, sob!).  Further up the west coast Glendarroch and Nevis have closed but the other distilleries all seem to be doing well.

Almost half of those first 50 are completely lost with no trace left above ground of 22 distilleries.  7 more have been converted (at least partly, so that some evidence of the distillery still remains) into flats, offices or something else less useful to humanity than a distillery.  The locations of these 29 have now been turned into housing (13), industrial/commercial (7), retail (3), a Mosque and the remaining 5 currently lie as empty ground.  Of the other closures, 4 sites have been mostly demolished but with some of the old buildings still remaining as storehouses or similar, and 1 is now silent (Port Dundas).

Of the 16 that remain open from Barnard’s list all except Glen Scotia now engage with tourists and whisky lovers through websites, organised tours and visitor centres where you can enjoy a dram and peruse their wares.  Whisky tourism didn’t quite start with Barnard as our first ‘distillery bagger’ but it is now proving a vital part of the business strategy of those remaining representatives, which are actually spread over 5 of the 6 often recognised whisky producing regions (I’m including ‘Islands’ here), Speyside the only region not yet visited.

In addition to those 16 from Barnard's list there are 8 more recent distilleries open in the areas to the west - Loch Lomond (x2), Strathclyde, Girvan, Ailsa Bay, Arran, Kilchoman and Abhainn Dearg – with others like Inverleven/Dumbarton and Kinclaith having come and gone in between.  I am conscious that, with the exception of Kilchoman, I haven’t yet written about these but they will receive my attention at some point before my journey is done.  Abhainn Dearg on Lewis will soon be bottling their spirit as Scotch whisky for the first time and I hope to venture out there later this year.  The others will likely slot into my return to the central lowlands towards the end of the journey.

Looking back now at the first few reports on Port Dundas, Dundashill, etc., I see that there is a wealth of detail provided by Barnard that I didn’t consider at the time but some of which may be unique and worth recording as a comparison with activities elsewhere.  The information and history that I have chosen to attend to has changed and developed as my journey went on and as I learnt more so I may look again at those early Barnard reports at a later date.

I am also remembering that I have a few other loose ends to tie up, particularly the Tambowie story.  It’s not forgotten and I have done further research, I’m just not yet ready to reach a conclusion.  Some other outstanding queries include the ‘Patent Ageing Apparatus’ at Yoker, the layout of Lochindaal and the timings of Barnard’s journey and these will all be revisited at some point.  Now where have I heard that before?

We have also observed some of Barnard’s character and interests along the way.  His spirit of adventure and his joy at being outdoors and appreciating the scenery are infectious and inspired me to stop at many places I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.  We have both seen parts of Scotland that were new to us and that offer some context to the wider journey.  Just as Barnard was, I have also been met with kind hospitality every where I went, and found amusement in some of the situations I encountered, and I am sure this will continue as I explore the Highlands and Speyside in the weeks to come.

That’s just a snapshot of what we have seen so far.  In the meantime there are still many places to explore that will offer surprises, adventure and great stories of their own.  Onward!