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.
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|
|Allt Fionnaidh (White Burn) channelled to provide cooling water|
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|
|Drum Malting plant at Glen Ord|
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|
|Glen Ord Still house, built 1966|
|Glen Ord warehouses|
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.