"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

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Teaninich Distillery, Alness

From Dalmore Barnard walked back towards the town of Alness to cross the river and wander down the opposite side to reach Teaninich Distillery.  He enjoyed this walk and he comments on the “beauty of the corn-fields, ripe with golden-grain, and the verdant meadows in which cattle were placidly grazing”.  He is moved to quote a verse of poetry here, unaccredited but actually from a Percy Shelley poem called To Jane: The Recollection:

“All the tree tops lie asleep,
Like green waves on the sea,
As still as in the silent deep
The ocean woods may be;”

This must have been a glorious summer’s day as Barnard also appreciates the shade given by large trees which overhang the river and he notes that the summit of Ben Wyvis was bathed in sunshine.  It was a glorious spring day when I visited this area and given also how long it took me to find the entrance to the estate for the distillery I would have been better parking up in the town centre and enjoying a similar pleasant walk under the trees along the banks of the river.

Ben Wyvis at sunset, viewed from the fertile Black Isle
The position of the distillery in Barnard’s report is a bit confusing.  He records it as “beautifully situated on the margin of the sea” and “is only divided from the sea by a roadway”.  However, maps from before his visit, even back to Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland from 1747-55, show open land around the mouth of the River Alness, stretching for about three quarters of a mile before you reach the sea.  The A9 now dissects this land, almost equidistant between the distillery and the sea, but there was no road here in Barnard’s time.

View across the Dal More to Teaninich in the trees
The stretch of this land that lies between Teaninich and Dalmore distilleries is recorded in the 19th century as the ‘Dal More’, which translates to ‘big meadow land’ or just ‘big field’.  Some sources cite the fertile Black Isle farmlands on the opposite shore of the Cromarty Firth as the inspiration for the Dalmore name, but these older records suggest this source closer to home.  And did Barnard perhaps get his notes for Teaninich mixed up with Dalmore, which is separated from the sea by a little more than the width of its access road?

Reverse view from the middle of the Dal More, across the Cromarty Firth to the Black Isle
Barnard’s comments on the distillery were brief as he had to hurry to catch a train to Dingwall after already spending some time at Dalmore and walking around that day.  He lists the main buildings you would expect at a distillery, all apparently “neat and well arranged”.  The whole complex, including Manager’s house, cottages for workmen and a farmstead give him the impression of a small colony, not the first time he has used that description.  The kilns were peat burning and the stills were old Pot style.

Of interest though is his comment that Teaninich is “the only distillery north of Inverness that is lighted by electricity” and there are also telephone connections with the Proprietor and Excise.  He records the year it was founded as 1800 but the first licence was issued in 1817 and this later date is generally accepted as the true beginning of the distillery.  He doesn‘t mention the water source and despite being close to the River Alness there is a separate burn running into a small reservoir behind the distillery, the water originating from the Dairywell Spring to the west of the town.

The distillery had a few owners before Barnard’s arrival, including Robert Pattison (later infamous from the Pattison’s of Leith crash) from 1850-68 and John McGilchrist Ross, one of the Ross dynasty that had worked Balblair Distillery for most of the 19th century, from 1869-95.  It eventually became part of SMD in 1933 and from there ultimately into Diageo.

The plant has been extended and rebuilt a few times since.  The original two stills were increased to 4 in 1962 and then in 1971 a modern distillery building (named Side A) with a new still house containing 6 stills was built right beside the old buildings.  The original still house (Side B) was rebuilt in 1973 and the two houses operated together (although independently) until Side B was closed in 1984, Side A falling silent in 1985.  Side A restarted production in 1991 but Side B was now surplus and was demolished in 1998.  In between all of that a Dark Grains plant was built on site in 1975 to produce cattle feed from the draff and pot ale.

In place of the traditional mash tun/lautering process Teaninich now use a mash filter press to extract the wort by squeezing it through 24 cloth plates.  For this process to be effective the malted barley has to be ground more finely than normal grist for which they use a hammer mill.  The process is said to be more efficient than using a tun, with higher extraction rates and quicker turnaround.  It also leaves a drier draff of a different constitution that the livestock industry identifies separately as Teaninich Mash Filter Draff as opposed to normal Distillers Draff.  The filter press was installed in 2000 and remains unique in Scottish distilleries; it is more commonly used in the brewing industry.

Teaninich Still House
Barnard didn’t describe or quantify any of the vessels in use when he visited, and now with just the modern distillery left on site they have 8 larch washbacks at 60,000 litres each and the 3 wash and 3 spirit stills are 17,500 and 16,000 litres each respectively.  Production when Barnard visited was 364,000 litres p.a. and is now 10 times that with a capacity of 4m litres p.a.

Teaninich is one of Diageo’s workhorse distilleries producing non-peated whisky mainly for blending.  It is not open to the public and the information above on more recent developments is from Malt Madness and Udo (2005).  There are very few bottlings of whisky from here and the very first distillery bottle was in the Flora and Fauna range in 1992.  A few other independent releases can be found, although I don’t recall ever having tried any – must do something about that!