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|
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 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|
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|
|Closed B&Q on site of Glen Albyn Distillery|
|Retail development on site of Glen Mhor Distillery|
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.