"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, 24 May 2011

Culloden and the Clava Cairns

Right, lets get the whole Battle of Culloden thing out the way (deep breath) before we pass over the Highland Line (northern division) into Speyside (western outposts, section B1).  Public warning announcement – there may be more mention of stones in this post.


Culloden Battlefield
According to my vague recollection of High School history, and Wikipedia, The Battle of Culloden in April 1746 was the last pitched battle on British soil, although those present when the Scots tore up Wembley in 1977 may beg to differ.  And like that later football match the outcome was slightly irrelevant in overall British terms but meant a whole lot more to Scotland, albeit in very different ways.  After Culloden the Clan structure and the Highland way of life was decimated and many of their symbols, including the wearing of tartan, were outlawed.  After Wembley, if not before, the tartan shirts and flares of the Bay City Rollers’ 70s style should have been.

Let’s first dispel two common myths here – the battle of Culloden was not fought between the Scots and the English, and Scottish independence was not a primary objective.  The opposing forces were in fact Jacobite (the Reintroduction of the Stuart Monarchy Party) and British Government (the Oh No You Don’t Party), with some Scots fighting for the Government if that was where their clan support lay.  This was a battle of ideas rather than nations – Prince Charles Edward Stuart had wanted his father (and thereafter himself) to be King of Britain, King George II wasn’t for handing over the jewels.

Culloden Memorial Cairn
Independence was a secondary objective, with many of the Jacobites who were campaigning to have the Stuarts as the ruling monarchy of Great Britain also refusing to recognise the Act of Union of 1707 that formed a single British Parliament.  The campaign for independence has now once more been brought to the fore with the recent election of Scotland’s first majority Government, a Nationalist one who have a proposed referendum on Scottish independence as a key element in their manifesto.  The history of Scotland as a separate self-governing nation may yet change again, but as your souvenir dishcloth says “Wha’s like us – damn few and they’re a’ deid!” so don’t hold yer breath.

Had the Jacobites won against the British Select team (a bit like the proposed British XI to play football at the Olympic Games in London next year) we might not currently have to worry about the outcome of the Scottish National Party’s wee divorce project.  Some see the border between Scotland and England as like a perforation to be ripped, or a zipper, teasingly asking to be undone.  Let’s just hope it isn’t a back door into Pandora’s Box.  Support for devolution at two previous referendums has been mixed and it may be that if independence is rejected then that may be the end of it for a very long time.  The outcome is far from clear, for now at least, and many political and philosophical battles will be fought in the months ahead.

The second and lesser known Battle of Culloden was fought in 1983 between various heavily armed lumberjacks and a none too piffling and particularly hostile forest.  It was fought in honour of our fallen comrades to clear the moor of anything higher than wind flattened grass and heather as part of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) regeneration of the battlefield into something close to what it was believed to be like in 1746.
Clan Donald grave marker
The moor was then flat open marshy land used for grazing, the Jacobite charge across the bog partly contributing to their downfall.  Grave stones and a memorial cairn were only placed there as late as 1881 and a conifer plantation then followed after years of neglect.  Later still there were memorial woodland walks created with trees being cleared between the graves; followed by more neglect.  It’s as if Scotland was unsure whether it wanted to remember.  The NTS have now built a sleek new visitor centre, opened in 2007 with interactive displays, movies, café, etc. and a rooftop terrace to gain a perspective on the layout of the now exposed battlefield.  Access to wander the field is still free and flags mark the lines of the opposing forces before the battle.

Culloden NTS Visitor Centre beyond the actual battlefield
There is, of course, a serious and reflective aspect to the location, and one gently and honourably noted on the signs here - a reminder that the site is a war grave and requesting silence as you pass among the grave markers.  The mass graves of clansmen are marked where they are known, and not all are, with the last resting place of the few government forces who died not located but still remembered here.  This was a very short bloody battle and around 1500 men were estimated to have given their lives either for their cause or perhaps just through blind devotion to a Clan Chief, such was the bond of fealty within the clan structure of the time.

Bonnie Prince Charlie had come to Scotland, gathered ‘his people’, marched as far south as Derby, returned to Scotland, watched over a massacre and then fled to Skye.  That’s all fine though, as we apparently got the secret recipe for Drambuie in exchange before he became exiled again in France, never to return.  Symbolic then that Drambuie partners Scotch whisky as one half of the classic cocktail the Rusty Nail, upon which metaphorical shoogly peg the hopes of The Young Pretender were hanging that fateful night in history before it was ripped from its post and left to sink into the boggy ground beside his dying followers.

We must hope that whatever the outcome of the next referendum, if there is a next time, we can find a way to let the ghosts of Culloden be at rest, rather than being invoked for a murky cause that was long ago lost.  However, the reintroduction of a home international to be played at the new Wembley Stadium, well that’s a different matter.  They’ve reinforced the grass there, but have they reinforced their crossbars?


Nairn Viaduct
The River Nairn flows from its source 15 miles south of Inverness, through the broad valley of Strathnairn below Loch Duntelchaig, under the A9 near Daviot, through Drummossie Muir east of Culloden and onward to Nairn and its outflow into the Moray Firth.  While not one of the biggest or best known rivers in Scotland, it flows past some of the most important landmarks in our history including Culloden, Clava Cairns and Cawdor Castle.

The main railway from central Scotland to the north here takes a long sweeping detour east and back again before reaching Inverness.  The course of the River Nairn and the wide, flat plain through which it meanders presented a significant barrier to the railway engineers and the Nairn Viaduct became the solution to avoiding the flood plain and the steep gradient on both sides of the valley.  In Barnard’s time the Highland Railway headed northeast from Aviemore (then just a railway station and a few houses) before turning north to Forres, crossing the Dava Moor from where peat was once cut to supply many distilleries.

Nairn Viaduct

The Nairn Viaduct is the longest in Scotland at 549 metres and it was opened in 1898.  I didn’t know it existed until it swung into view as I drove the short distance from Culloden to Clava and it was therefore all the more striking as a result of not being expected.  The sweeping line of this elevated track creates a new horizon above the valley floor as it carries a main artery of our transport network to the capital of the Highlands.  I couldn’t linger too long though as the light was fading and my visit here was not to find new horizons but to step far back in time.


Clava Cairns
Southeast of Culloden is where our journey round the prehistoric stones of Northern Scotland nears its end.  There will be a couple more to consider but the Clava Cairns and their surrounding stone circles are both intriguing and inspiring and I have wanted to visit this place since first studying archaeology.

Northeast passage grave cairn with stone circle
The three main cairns at Clava have been dated to the Bronze Age in Scotland around 2000 B.C.  They don’t have the same high profile as the much larger rings of standing stones and burial chambers on Orkney, in the Kilmartin valley and at Callanish, yet these cairns are impressive and complex structures and have provided vital clues to the lives, beliefs and rituals of our ancestors.  The site is maintained by Historic Scotland who provide an interpretation on notice boards there.

Southwest passage grave cairn
Two of the cairns were passage graves and their entranceways were aligned to the Midwinter Solstice when the setting sun would shine directly on the back wall of the inner chamber.  The cairns have since been robbed of their domed tops and layers of the surrounding rubble; the likely single occupants of the graves and their belongings long since gone.

Central cairn looking southwest
The central structure is a ring cairn which seems to have had a more ceremonial purpose.  One of the most striking features of all three cairns is the graduated heights of the large main slabs inside the central chambers, of the kerb stones around the outside and the stone circles that extend beyond.  An esoteric colour pattern to these stones adds another dimension to the site.

There is a stark contrast between these large cairns, each built to commemorate the life of one individual, and the solemn single grave stones marking the resting place of many clansmen at nearby Culloden.  It took 135 years for the Culloden graves to be marked after the battle; at Clava the cairns have remained for four millennia.  I wonder which will remain and be commemorated four millennia from now, and will they still lie in the dawn shadow of a bridge across the sky?
   

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Millburn Distillery, Inverness

Barnard continues his appreciation for Inverness in his next report, describing the town as “lively and interesting”.  He could have been describing the Inverness of today, or the last decade at least, with the comment “the constant influx of tourists [him and me both], from all parts, and the ever increasing bustle, combine to invest it with light and life”.

Inverness Castle, now Sherriff Court
He left the Station Hotel to ascend the nearby Castle Hill on what appears to be his second and last day in town before continuing east.  He doesn’t discuss the castle which was built in 1835 on the site of an earlier medieval stronghold and which has since been converted into the sheriff court.  It was the view that captured his attention - mountains and valleys, river and sea all seemingly visible from the hill.  The modern developments around here obscure the picture a little but even then I think that the mountains and sea may have been a little far off for true appreciation.
River Ness and Inverness Cathedral, viewed from Castle Hill
From below the Castle Barnard took a cab to reach Millburn Distillery, a mile out of town along “the old Roman Road, which leads to Fort George”.  Fort George stands guard at a narrow pinch point in the Moray Firth, protecting the inner waters and the town from a long way out.  Originally built to help quell Jacobite uprisings in the 1700s it is one of the largest fortifications in Europe and is still used as Army barracks today, albeit one with museums and tourist facilities.  Well worth a day’s visit if you like military history.

The old Roman Road is named Millburn Road after the water supply for corn mills and the distillery, the Allt a’ mhuilinn (Mill Burn), which passes under it after providing water for the mill/distillery lade.  Barnard doesn’t name the burn, calling it just a “pretty stream which rattles under the bridge”, but it was likely the source of all the water and power requirements in the 1800s.  It later seems to have been the source of just the cooling water with mashing water coming from Loch Duntelchaig which lies 8 miles south of Inverness (Townsend, 1993) and which drains into the River Nairn running to the east of the city.

Barnard records the distillery as first established in 1805 so fairly early, but like Glen Albyn it also had mixed fortunes and was also converted into a flour mill, from around 1853-75 (Udo, 2005).  A map dated 1868-71 shows the mill and two cottages with no record of a distillery.  It later changed again and Barnard records the distillery being “rebuilt on a larger and more improved scale in 1876” and it then operated for over a century until the 1980s.  The name Millburn was first used by the distillery in 1876, previously having been called just ‘Inverness’ (Udo, 2005).

There is not much of note in the distilling process described by Barnard in a relatively short report.  The kiln was heated by peat only, there were four washbacks at 18,200 litres each and two old Pot Stills whose capacity was not recorded.  The output was 273,000 litres p.a. and overall it seems that Barnard’s visit was fairly short, perhaps just in the morning after his walk up to the castle, before he caught a train east for his afternoon visit to Royal Brackla.

Remaining Millburn buildings
There were several phases of rebuilding in the 20th century making the most of a narrow space with little room for expansion.  By 1930 the archway entrance to the central courtyard, around which the original buildings were arranged, may have been too small as the front wing of the distillery beside the road had been demolished by then to allow more open access.  Additional maltings were built over the course of the burn to the east and a second kiln installed creating a new courtyard.  Saladin Box maltings were installed in 1964 (Malt Madness.com) and the old kiln pagodas removed at that time.

During this period there were a few changes in ownership and the main developments were Andrew Haig & Son taking over in 1892, Booths of London (more famous for gin) in 1921, then DCL from 1937, initially under their subsidiary MacLeay Duff (Distillers) Ltd, until finally closing in 1985 (Udo, 2005).  It was the manager from here that met Philip Morrice when he visited Glenlochy Distillery in 1985 on his centenary tour in Barnard’s footsteps.  There are some Millburn whiskies still available including some from the Rare Malts series and also Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice bottles, but I have yet to try one.

Site of old flour mill, later part of distillery
Some of the buildings were demolished in 1988 and others converted.  By the early 1990s a Beefeater restaurant was on site and then later, and still now, a Premier Inn with its ‘Auld Distillery Restaurant and Bar’.  This development included further extension of the old buildings and the filling in of the original entrance archway.  The old mill that predated the rebuilding of the distillery in 1876 has also been developed into the main hotel block, although how much of the actual mill building remains is uncertain.

Old Excise office on left, now adjoined to hotel extension, barracks on the hill
The burn is now channelled under modern housing but the lade sluice can still be seen and the distillery chimney still stands proud.  The old Excise office has been maintained, a quaint old building with an outside stair to the office above a store room, although the hotel has been extended further to incorporate it in the main complex.  Sadly we can no longer identify the cooperage which Barnard had noted as “generally an unsightly building [but] here beautified with enclosed trellis-work, painted a rich green”.

The Mill Burn sluice where the lade began
My own stay in town for two nights was at the Youth Hostel which is just a ten minute walk from the city centre and a five minute walk in the other direction to the distillery site.  I ventured there for an evening meal inside the last remaining distillery buildings in Inverness.  It sat at the base of a steep hill, overlooked by another barracks that are still in use.  The Cameron Highlanders stationed there in 1922 helped to ensure the survival of the distillery as a fire took hold in April that year which they helped to extinguish and save some of the main buildings, allowing it to be rebuilt the same year.  In light of this I thought a medium grilled steak would be appropriate, sadly with no Millburn whisky to wash it down.
   

Monday, 9 May 2011

Glen Albyn Distillery, Inverness

Inverness, Inbhir Nis in Gaelic meaning the ‘Mouth of the River Ness’, the Capital of the Highlands, 'Inversnecky', call it what you like Inverness is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK.  It became Scotland’s fifth city in 2001 and its population has grown around 30% to over 57,000 in the decade since.  However, though once home to at least three licensed distilleries, now there are none.

Barnard was certainly impressed by the town when he visited, noting that “everything has been done for Inverness that could be effected by wood and cultivation” by which he was referring to the parklands around town and the fields beyond.  He hadn’t stayed overnight near Muir of Ord and instead returned to Beauly and hastened on to Inverness by train, a delightful journey of just half an hour.  He records in his next report that he had stayed at the Station Hotel, now the Royal Highland, in the centre of town.

Royal Highland Hotel, Inverness - The Station Hotel when Barnard visited
The Caledonian Canal, built by Thomas Telford to connect Inverness to the west coast near Fort William, was opened in 1822 and Glen Albyn Distillery was built right by the Muirtown Canal Basin in Inverness, not far from its sea lock connecting to the Beauly Firth.  The distillery was founded here in 1846, named after the long valley to the southwest in which Loch Ness sits (Albyn from Alba, the Gaelic name for Scotland).

Barnard notes that Inverness was once the chief malting town in Scotland, making use of the vast quantities of barley produced in the surrounding fertile lands.  There were many breweries in town until 1745 but Barnard records that “after the revolution…the trade was swept away”, likely referring to the Jacobite Revolution, the Battle of Culloden taking place in 1746 at Culloden Moor just a few miles east of Inverness.  Glen Albyn was built on the ruins of one brewery but had a troubled start and was turned into a flour mill just twenty years later, being rebuilt as a distillery in 1884 two years before Barnard’s visit.  Maps from a decade earlier record the buildings as just ‘Stores’ and the town of Inverness had not extended out this far, westward expansion not really taking hold until the mid 20th century.

Muirtown Basin on Caledonian Canal
The distillery sat by a quayside in the canal basin on which a railway extension was laid and from where Barnard was able to step into the Grain Lofts.  The lofts and the adjoining maltings were on floors above warehouses and the kiln at the end was heated by both peat (from Dava Moor in Speyside) and coke.  In a few of his reports around this stretch of his journey Barnard has taken to pointing out the lofty height of the drying floors above the “furnace/fireplace” in the kilns, designed to prevent any scorching of the malt.

The Mash “Tub” is worth noting as it was very different to any other we have seen.  It was fairly small at 14 feet wide by 4 1/2 deep and it was made from “best heart larch-wood”.  In place of the more common stirring gear the mash was mixed by wooden oars “so that there is no contact of metal with the worts”.  Barnard doesn’t record how the oars were worked so we don’t know if it was either mechanical or arduous manual labour employed.  He also doesn’t state the water source although it is recorded elsewhere as the River Ness.

River Ness in full spate, Inverness town centre
There were three washbacks holding 21,000 litres each and with “seats” for another three should production expand.  The two fire heated Pot stills took up the whole height of the Still House ,although Barnard doesn’t state what height that is and they have a relatively small charge of 8,200 litres of wash and 6,800 litres of low-wines.  He declares them to be “of the most improved and modern style” although with steam coil heated stills available by this time that seems a little subjective.

Barnard makes special mention of the condensing worms here which “are of the latest and best approved style”.  Each one was 300-400 feet long and branched into two smaller D shaped pipes after the first few turns.  He considers this to be an obvious development as with the flat side of the D on the base of the pipe the condensing liquid is spread over a larger surface than in a round pipe, thus cooling it quicker “which is a most important factor in the making of a good whisky”.

The output at that time was 340,000 litres p.a. but change was soon to follow that would eventually increase the capacity to around 1.5m litres.  The fortunes of the distillery became bound up with the founding of Glen Mhor Distillery in 1892, built just a hundred metres to the south and by the foot of the main canal locks that emptied into the Muirtown basin.  Glen Albyn is part of the ‘Great Glen’ which is a name given to a vast geological fault line from Inverness down to Fort William.  Great Glen in Gaelic is Gleann Mòr from where this new distillery created its name.

Muirtown Locks on Caledonian Canal, Glen Mhor was on the left bank
Glen Mhor was built by a former manager of Glen Albyn, John Birnie, and James Mackinlay of the blenders Charles Mackinlay & Co.  Their company then bought Glen Albyn distillery in 1920 and ran the two together until they were bought by DCL in 1972.  They installed some of the earliest Saladin Box maltings in 1954 and which were used until 1980 when they were shut down to save costs (Malt Madness.com).  It is likely that DCL’s drum malting plant at nearby Glen Ord would have supplied them for their final few years.  Malt Madness also records the stills as being converted to steam heating in 1963/4.

Closed B&Q on site of Glen Albyn Distillery
Glen Mhor seems to have become the dominant distillery between the two during that time but both were not to survive much longer, casualties of the DCL rationalisation in 1983 and demolished between 1986 and 1988 as the expansion of Inverness continued to spread westward and the land of both distilleries was sold for retail development.  The quayside location of Glen Albyn was most recently used by a B&Q hardware store, itself now lying silent and ready for redevelopment, the railway tracks on the quayside now gone and it now a berth for canal cruise boats.  The site of Glen Mhor is still an active and busy home to a number of retail outlets.

Retail development on site of Glen Mhor Distillery
In its early years some Glen Mhor production was being sold as a Single Malt at a time before it became fashionable, the Glen Albyn whisky going mainly into blends including Mackinlay's.  The Scottish author Neil M. Gunn was an Excise man at Glen Mhor for a time in the 1920s and his appreciation for Single Malt moved him to write “until a man has had the luck to chance upon a perfectly matured malt he does not really know what whisky is”.  His book Whisky & Scotland: A Practical and Spiritual Survey (1935) is next on my reading list and it also includes the comment “a single whisky can still be got by those genuinely concerned to find it” which is very telling for the time and he suggests that only fifteen distilleries were then active in Scotland, six of those only for grain whisky.  “The future of Highland malt whisky, other than as a flavouring ingredient of patent spirit, is very obscure” was his lament; thankfully that obscurity has been resolved in a manner he would be very much in favour of.

Writing in 1935, unknowing that the world was hurtling towards another great war, Gunn also provided these words of hope in relation to Single Malts:

"These generous whiskies, with their individual flavours, recall the world of hills and glens, of raging elements, of shelter, of divine ease.  The perfect moment of their reception is after bodily stress - or mental stress if the body be sound.  The essential oils that wind in the glass then uncurl their long fingers in lingering benediction and the whole works of creation are made manifest.  At such a moment the basest man would bless his enemy."

Perhaps in these difficult times there is a great need for indulging in some quality Single Malt to sooth the souls of a troubled humanity; to sit for a while by the fireplace of vision and reason, hearts warmed by its glimmering coals; to ponder and reflect on the importance of life, rather than the excuses for death; to answer the questions best resolved over a glass or two of uisge beatha.
   

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

(Glen) Ord Distillery, Muir of Ord

The east coast railway carried Barnard’s party from a second night at Dingwall down through the Muir of Ord and a few miles further south to Beauly.  From there it was a carriage drive back north to the distillery and it is unclear why they didn’t stop at the nearby station of Muir of Ord to begin with.

Prior to Barnard’s visit Muir of Ord was the name for an area of land rather than a specific town.  The town was originally a small settlement known as Tarradale and was recorded as such on an 1881 map but had formally changed to Muir of Ord by 1906.  The town grew after the introduction of the railway, and the naming of the railway station as Muir of Ord when it was built in 1862 seems to have been the catalyst for the name Tarradale gradually falling out of use.

Beauly Priory
At Beauly he briefly mentions the ruins of the ancient Priory before they leave the town boundary.  The Priory was founded in 1230 AD as home to an order of Valliscaulian Monks from France and the name Beauly has a possible source from the French ‘beau lieu’ meaning ‘beautiful place’, although there may be a Gaelic origin too (Anderson, 1850).  The Priory is now a ruin and there is a chip shop nearby called, almost inevitably, the Friary – one of those names you would almost be disappointed if they hadn’t used.  Anyway, they do a good poke o’ chips when you are hungry from wandering between distilleries, ruins, stones, hotels, etc. etc.

Beyond the town Barnard arrives at the farmstead of the distillery owner, Alexander Mackenzie.  We have left Ross country now and arrived in Mackenzie lands and Barnard recounts (from Anderson’s guide) the tale of the ‘Raid of Gilchrist’ about a feud between the Mackenzies and their fierce enemies the MacDonalds of Glengarry.  It was one of those unsavoury inter-clan incidents that I won’t go into too much detail on as it involves large groups of clan members being burned alive within a church and an inn.  Anderson’s guide describes it as “one of the most sanguinary and brutal affairs that stain the annals of an age of general blood and rapine”, which didn’t stop Barnard giving over almost one fifth of his report to the story.

Barnard notes that the Muir (Moor) of Ord was celebrated for periodical cattle markets and the tradition still continues with the location for the old markets now home to the Mannsfield Showground which has been run by the Black Isle Farmers’ Society for over 50 years.  Nearby are two standing stones that Barnard notes as commemorative and connected with the [Brahan Seer’s] prophesy of the extinction of the Mackenzie Clan.  He gleefully records that as the distillery owner goes by that name the prophesy has not yet come true and the whisky he produces is “daily imbibed by the descendants of those who foretold his clan’s effacement”.

One of two Standing Stones at Windhill near Muir of Ord

The distillery itself was then known as just Ord, the change to Glen Ord coming at a now uncertain later date.  The whisky was labelled as Glen Ord and also Glen Oran as far back as the 1880s, later as just Ord and even, in the 1980s, as Glen Ordie.  To the west is Glen Orrin, recorded by Barnard as Glen Oran, which he notes as a “favourite resort” for smugglers and illicit stills even at his time, the distillery itself having been built in 1838 on the site of an old smugglers bothy.

Illicit still display at Glen Ord Visitor Centre
His comments on the water source are a little confusing but explainable.  He records the source as “Glen Oran and two lochs in the hills of Knockudas; and there are besides two reservoirs” and “The Oran rivulet, which proceeds from the glen, rattles along, close to the roofs of some of the buildings”.  The two lochs are Loch nan Eun and Loch nam Bonnach which lie beyond the adjoining hills of Cnoc Udais (his Knockudas) and Cnoc Croit na Maoile, also known as Ord Hill (from Gaelic for hammer/rounded hill) and whose northeast projections stretch almost to the distillery.

Allt Fionnaidh (White Burn) channelled to provide cooling water
The two lochs feed the Allt Fionnaidh (White Burn) which is the water that rattles along past the distillery, the River Oran having turned north a couple of kilometres before reaching it.  The Allt Fionnaidh still feeds the large reservoir behind the distillery, itself rather than the stream being at a level close to the roof of the original maltings, and which drove two water wheels until the 1960s and still provides the cooling water.  Barnard doesn’t mention it but the mashing water was once brought from the Cuckoo Well but is now raised from boreholes down to an aquifer.

Barnard’s tour began by crossing a footbridge over the burn, likely where it flowed out of the reservoir in the lade, and entered the upper floor of the maltings which had an adjoining kiln heated with Dava peats, Dava being a large peat moor north of Grantown-on Spey.  Later in his report he notes that the distillery has a Heather House to store blossoms for adding to the peat in the kiln, an aromatic addition previously only noted at Highland Park although Barnard hints at a few more distilleries doing this.

Original maltings, later for Saladin boxes, malt store at end where kiln was
Additional floor maltings and a further two kilns were built at right angles to this around the turn of the century and were used until 1961 when Saladin box maltings were built inside the original building that Barnard had visited.  These were used until 1983 when the distillery switched to using the huge malting plant that was built next door in 1968 and which uses drum maltings to supply a number of Diageo distilleries, as far a field as Talisker on Skye, Dalwhinnie to the south and Clynelish to the north.  Glen Ord’s malt is now very lightly peated at just 2ppm.

Drum Malting plant at Glen Ord
Barnard recorded a good sized mash tun at 18 feet wide by 5 deep that supplied eight washbacks at 13,600 litres each.  As he left the Tun-room he saw through a window the two outside cylinder and tube condensers for the still house, which sat above a worm tub!?  Condensers were then a fairly recent innovation for distilleries so perhaps the worm tub used previously had been retained as a fall back?  The still house contained two old Pot Stills, the wash at 21,520 litres and spirit at 12,500 and all other processes here seemed fairly standard.

There were no engines when Barnard visited, all power being provided by the two water wheels that have since been removed.  Even after hearing that Teaninich was the only distillery north of Inverness with electricity at that time it is still a surprise to learn that Glen Ord didn’t receive electricity until 1949, paraffin lamps having been used until then for lighting.

Glen Ord visitor centre and pagodas from the second phase of maltings built

The distillery changed hands a couple of times before becoming part of DCL in 1925 and onward into Diageo today.  Aside from the extensive developments in malting on the site there have been further expansions over the last 50 years and I am grateful to Scott Christie for showing me around and for placing some of Barnard’s comments into context.  We began in one of those developments - the conversion of an old warehouse into one of the most informative visitor centres I have seen on this journey.


There are a series of displays on the history of the distillery and on different aspects of the industry, including malting, milling, the cooperage, the coppersmith, the effect of different cask types and ages and an example of an illicit still.  There is a relaxing tasting room with a window showing inside the adjoining warehouse and here I saw for the first time the extended range of the Diageo ‘Classic Malts’ together in one display.  Glen Ord was previously one of Diageo’s ‘Hidden Malts’ but this category was disbanded and the whiskies added to the original six Classic Malts in 2006 along with some others, although Glen Ord has since dropped out again in the UK as it is now export only.

Extended Classic Malts range
Scott next pointed out some of the old buildings, including the old maltings where the Saladin boxes operated, now without its kiln, and the adjoining kiln pagodas from the later maltings.  Inside new buildings we saw the new stainless steel semi-lauter mash tun installed in 2010 to replace the previous cast iron tun.  The tun takes a 12.5 tonne mash but only has two waters run through instead of the more common three.  There are still 8 washbacks but they now take a hefty 59,000 litres of wort each for a long fermentation of 74 hours.

Glen Ord Still house, built 1966
A new still house was built in 1966 and stands right by the country road that passes by, the stills at that time increased from 2 to 6 and changed from coal fired to steam heating.  The three wash stills are 18,500 litres and the three spirit stills are 16,000.  The stills are all ‘onion’ shaped with wide rounded bases and very slightly descending lyne arms.  The middle cut has a wider range than many distilleries, from 74% down to 58%.  There are no stray worm tubs sitting here any more and the water in the condensers has been preheated in the maltings, a by-product of drying the barley, to provide a slower condensing rate.

Glen Ord warehouses
The distillery was producing 364,000 litres p.a. when Barnard visited but now has a capacity of up to 4m litres.  Barnard noted 8 warehouses and records one that was “built entirely of iron, quite a new departure in material for Bonded Warehouses, and highly recommended by Mr. Mackenzie” who may have been pulling his leg or was misunderstood as there is no record of it here now.  The warehouses then held 791,000 litres but now have a capacity for 15,000 casks, all in dunnage warehouses, although the spirit is first taken to Auchroisk distillery near Mulben in Speyside for casking.


Around 15% of the whisky is bottled as single malt with the rest going into blends such as Dewars and Johnnie Walker.  The standard release is now called The Singleton of Glen Ord and is a 12yo that is not available in the UK, other than at the distillery.  This whisky has been produced specifically for sale in Asian markets (complementing the Singleton of Dufftown for UK retail and the Singleton of Glendullan for the US) and is from a 50/50 mix of sherry and bourbon casks.

Barnard had tasted an 1882 make, so a 4yo at most, which he found “very agreeable to the palate”.  I enjoyed hints of ginger and orange in that rich 12yo Singleton, along with an interesting discussion with Scott about perceptions of whisky around the world; my thanks to him and the staff here for a memorable tour and their kind hospitality.

Once more Barnard included some lines of verse that are unaccredited, in this case being the last two verses of Robert Burns’ poem The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer, which we have discussed before when he quoted the same lines in his Kintyre Distillery report from Campbletown, and which end with the rousing words “Freedom and whisky gang thegither, Tak aff your dram!”.  Whatever the reason for Barnard including it here, we both now finished our drams and headed south to Inverness, now leaving the cliffs, seascapes and verdant beauty of the northeast coast behind.