"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

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Dallas Dhu Distillery Museum, Forres

The second distillery founded in Forres in 1898 was first named Dallasmore and it was built on land owned by Alexander Edward of Sanquhar beyond the south side of town.  It sat right beside the Highland Line mentioned in my last report, with its own railway siding connecting it to the network, and so it is now easily accessible as a stop off on the Dava Way or by scenic country road out of Forres.

Dallas Dhu Distillery Museum, railway siding ran here to the right
Benromach was built by MacCallum and Brickmann on land leased from Edward but Dallasmore was initially his own project.  However, by the time it was complete in 1899 he had leased it to Glasgow whisky blenders Wright & Greig Ltd.  They began production that same year under the name Dallas Dhu which was chosen to make a connection with their main blend called Roderick Dhu and which whisky from the new distillery would contribute to.  Dallas Dhu was the very last distillery licence granted in the 19th century.

Dallas Dhu kiln pagoda, viewed from the Dava Way
The distillery was designed by the same architect as Benromach, the famous Charles Chree Doig who came up with the pagoda kiln roof design in 1889 and who had a hand in many of the new distilleries built in the latter part of the 19th century.  The layout of Dallasmore was almost a mirror image of Benromach at that time - an E shape with barley loft and maltings stretching out at one end, the kiln leading to the mash tun in the middle, washbacks in the central extension then the still room leading to the filling store in the other end.

Turn this plan (click to enlarge) of Dallas Dhu upside down and place that mirror image on the other side of the Forres railway junction and you will have a good approximation of Benromach when it was built.  Benromach’s washbacks were moved into a combined room with the stills when it was redeveloped in the 1990s; Dallas Dhu remains true to an earlier layout after being mothballed in 1983 and now held under the guardianship of Historic Scotland, more on which later.

Seemingly uninterrupted by the Pattison’s crash that halted Benromach for a decade the new proprietors continued production until selling to another Glasgow company, J.P. O’Brien & Co Ltd in 1919, although closed for the intervening war years.  J.P. O’Brien only survived two more years at which point the distillery was taken over by Benmore Distilleries Ltd who owned Benmore and (later) Lochead distilleries in Campbeltown and Lochindaal distillery on Islay.

Benmore were taken over by DCL in 1929 and their four distilleries were all closed at that time.  Of the four, Dallas Dhu was the only one ever to resume production when it began again in 1936 under DCL’s subsidiary SMD.  This was a short venture to begin with as a major fire destroyed the still house in 1939 and the distillery then remained silent until 1947.

Benmore sign on filling store at Dallas Dhu
The fire damaged sections appear to have been rebuilt back to the way they were, externally at least, and the only real variation in the layout shown on maps from 1905 onwards is the extension of the warehouses westwards in the 1950s and an extension to the tun room for two new washbacks in 1964.  Production continued until that fateful year of 1983 when the last casks were filled.  Although economic conditions and overproduction were largely responsible for the number of closures that year, prolonged drought conditions between 1976 and 1983 were also a contributing factor in some cases and at Dallas Dhu the water supply crosses a broad flat plain south of the distillery and perhaps therefore more liable to disruption.

The water for mashing was piped from the Altyre Burn which is formed from the confluence of other burns, including the Romach Burn, on the west side of Romach Hill.  By the time it flows past the distillery, a kilometre to its south, it is known as the Burn of Mosset before it feeds the Sanquhar Loch, the source of Benromach’s cooling water and first created on the south side of Forres around the same time as the distilleries were built.  The Manachy Burn flows past Dallas Dhu just a few metres to its north and this was the source of its cooling water and powered a water wheel until the 1970s.

Maps from before the time of Barnard’s journey record the Burn of Mosset as the Burn of Bogs, recalling to mind a similar ‘sanitisation’ of a name at Cawdor which lies 20km east of here, the Bog of Cawdor there being renamed as Cawdor Moss.  The local name for the Altyre Burn is the Scourie Burn and there was a building (a scourie is a shed shieling) and a well named Scourie beside it, about a kilometre east of the distillery.  The name Dallas Dhu is interpreted as either ‘field by the black waterfall’ or ‘black water valley’, the latter I think a more likely reference due to that flat boggy (sorry, mossy) ground nearby.

The distillery was mothballed by DCL in 1983 and came under the care of Historic Scotland in 1986, albeit still owned by DCL.  HS reopened it as a distillery museum in 1988 and it has been run as such ever since.  The distilling licence was returned in 1992 but it is believed that the fixtures and fittings are all maintained in a way that could permit them to recommence production here relatively easily, although the operations now seem very dated and almost certainly uneconomical to run in their current form.

Dallas Dhu courtyard
The museum is open all year round (see Historic Scotland website for details) and the tour allows you to get up close to all the major operations and vessels, albeit in a quiet, almost sterile environment.  The closest previous experiences I have had to the variety of things you can get close to here were at Springbank and Laphroaig, although they don’t let you photograph the inside of their stills.  That said, the atmosphere at Dallas Dhu is eerily quiet and at times it is hard to imagine what it would be like when operating without having experienced it elsewhere.

Dallas Dhu Barley Loft
The malting floor at Dallas Dhu has now been turned into a visitor centre and shop together with a media room for viewing their video take on the history, charm and romanticism of whisky production.  The barley loft is still intact above and that is where your self guided tour will begin at your own pace.  Audio recordings that describe each scene as you go round are available from a handset that is included in the standard admission price, and photographs are allowed everywhere!

Dallas Dhu Kiln
The kiln room has been fully opened up and you can wander round behind the killogie (the area in front of the kiln doors) and look up to see the flues that channelled the smoke up to the drying floor.  You next pass by the electricity meter room where you will discover that the distillery did not receive electricity until the 1950s, a water wheel providing all the power before then and some of it until the 1970s, but sadly no longer present on the burn.

Dallas Dhu washbacks
The mash tun was replaced in 1964 and is of a good size taking a 3.3 tonne mash, made from cast iron with a copper dome and the perforated floor plates have been partly lifted to show the draining mechanism.  The six Oregon pine washbacks are 45,000 litres each and have been left full of water to prevent the wood from drying out and shrinking, the switchers stationary below the open lids.

Glenlossie 1920s fire engine at Dallas Dhu
The still house contains two stills and their chargers, a large old gas fired boiler from the 1960s and, aptly given that this room burned down in 1939, the display also includes a steam powered fire engine dating from the 1920s, one that had last been used at Glenlossie Distillery near Elgin in 1929.

Dallas Dhu stills
Perhaps the most interesting part of the museum that you will not normally be able to experience at a working distillery is the opportunity to touch and see inside and all around the stills.  The stills are accessible by a raised platform where the steam coil heating, installed in 1971 to convert from coal fired heating, can be seen inside them.

Dallas Dhu steam coil heating inside the spirit still
The wash still held 11,828 litres and the spirit still was 10,428 litres.  The lyne arms descend into outside worms tubs at an angle of around 25 degrees and there are steps beside the tubs to allow you to climb up and see the coiled worm inside them.

Dallas Dhu worm tubs
The bases of the stills are now surrounded by wooden panels that are identical to those installed by DCL around the also mothballed stills at the old Brora distillery.  I am told these are there for cosmetic reasons, the stills having been direct coal fired previously, although they look quite substantial for just that purpose and I wonder if they have another one as well.

Dallas Dhu still bases
Beside the stills there is a separate room where the spirit safe sits atop the intermediate spirit receiver.  Water flowing through the glass bowls to represent the new make is triggered by stepping on a foot plate that looks like part of a reconditioned cask weighing machine.

Dallas Dhu spirit safe and receiver
The filling store and warehouse displays that complete your tour are fairly standard and the three warehouses here are all dunnage, the newest one to the west with two floors of dunnage style storage.  These warehouses now lie empty and you will need to hunt down some older independent bottles of Dallas Dhu malt if you would like to try it.

Dallas Dhu dunnage warehouses
If you like being tactile, or going at your own pace, then a visit here may satisfy you, without the buzz of industry all around but also without the enticing aromas.  The pace of life here is as slow as the burn that meanders gently by, the workings inside as open to curiosity as I was to the new lambs that eyed me cautiously from the other side.  This museum has a unique place in the industry and it may help those new to whisky to gain a fuller appreciation of the art of distilling than is often possible in a rushed tour round a working distillery with a large group of visitors, although I would recommend visiting both environments for a fuller experience.

Spring lambs by the Manachie Burn, Dallas Dhu


Sueno’s Stone


The last commemorative stone I visited in this area is also one of the most decorative and it stands on the east side of Forres, just off the main road to Elgin.  Sueno’s stone is a Class III Pictish symbol stone with panels detailing the story of a fierce battle on one face and a Celtic cross almost the full length on the reverse.  The sides of the stone are decorated with an intricate vine pattern.

This type of stone is known as a cross-slab and Sueno’s Stone is the tallest surviving example in Britain at over 6 metres and also one of the last known to be carved, the style suggesting a date around the 9th or 10th century.  The symbols are carved in relief and include many Pictish and Celtic motifs.  The tiered base that secures the stone upright was a later addition during restoration work in the early 1700s after the stone had been found buried; the name Sueno also relating to the finder of the stone rather than dating to it’s origins.

Like a number of other important carved stones in the north east this one has been surrounded by a glass canopy that is lit up in the dark evenings, designed to protect its already worn surfaces from further erosion by the elements and the touch of inquisitive hands.  You can be tactile with the recent history at Dallas Dhu but the unique carvings on this millennium old and now fragile stone require protection for future generations to appreciate.
   

Friday, 24 June 2011

Benromach Distillery, Forres

Barnard’s journey east of Inverness passed through the town of Forres on his way to Glenburgie Distillery, four miles further on.  His only comment on Forres was to record it as a railway junction on the Highland route between Perth and Inverness “which takes in the Pass of Killiecrankie and Blair Athole”.  I will save further description of those two places for when the journey reaches Pitlochry where Barnard also mentions them again.

The junction at Forres once connected the Highland line with the main line between Inverness and Aberdeen.  The Nairn Viaduct mentioned in a previous report now carries the Perth to Inverness line further to the west, the original line over the Dava Moor closing in 1965 and now converted into the 38km long Dava Way, a way marked path through woodland and moorland between Forres and Grantown-on-Spey where it joins the Speyside Way.  During his two year whisky adventure Barnard appeared to travel that section of the line just once, on his way north to Thurso and on to Orkney in 1886 when he recommenced his journey after a long winter break.

Benromach Distillery
Forres became home to two distilleries in 1898, the same year that the Nairn Viaduct opened.  Benromach was the first of them to be licensed, founded by none other than Duncan MacCallum of Campbeltown fame (Chairman of the firm that owned Glen Nevis and Scotia distilleries at the time) and a spirit broker from Leith called FW Brickmann.  It was built just to the north of the railway junction for ease of transport, although the sidings into the yards of the Waterford Mills that lay between the distillery and the railway were never extended to the distillery yard.

The distillery did not have an auspicious start as the market crash created by Pattison’s of Leith was just around the corner and was to be the hammer for a number of the distilleries that had recently opened to ride the boom in the 1890s.  Both MacCallum and Brickmann were experiencing business difficulties and apart from trial runs that were reported to have taken place in May 1900 the distillery remained silent for the first decade after it was built.

MacCallum finally started production in 1909, trading for a couple of years as Forres Distillery (Udo, 2005) before selling to Harvey McNair & Co of London in 1911 and they would see it through until 1919, albeit closed during the war years.  The next few decades saw further changes in ownership and periods of closure until the distillery became part of the DCL subsidiary SMD in 1953, closing again, along with many others, in 1983.

Benromach Distillery c1930
This picture in the visitor centre shows how the distillery looked from the railway around 1930.  The low building at the front, which was not part of the original buildings in 1898, is now the visitor centre.  The large pagoda kiln roof was removed in the early 1970’s when the distillery was refurbished.  The tall red brick chimney still stands as a landmark, proud but now unused.

During their ownership SMD made a number of improvements, including changing the coal fired stills to direct oil firing in 1966, one of the first distillers to adopt this.  The floor maltings were last used in 1968, the same year that the huge drum maltings were opened at Glen Ord on the other side of Inverness and so likely their new source.  The old maltings were then used as a cask store.  Further modernisation took place in 1974 but after it was closed in 1983 the stills, mash tun and copper piping were all removed by SMD; the washbacks, spirit VAT and the boilers left behind.

Benromach granary and malting floors, now a cask store
There is a more detailed history of events in the distillery’s life on the Benromach website and the above covers just a few of the key points listed there.  They also have a statistics section covering the volumes of the main vessels and processes that us whisky buffs like to know about (I wish every distillery did the same!) and the data below is either taken from there or from the informative tour that Sandy took me on when I visited.

The Benromach story continues a decade after the SMD closure when it was bought by Gordon & MacPhail in 1993.  Gordon & MacPhail are perhaps better known as an independent whisky bottler and retailer and they are based in Elgin just along the Moray coast from Forres.  They rescued the distillery and began a five year programme of planning and renovating that culminated with a grand reopening in October 1998, Prince Charles performing the ceremony, a century after it was first founded.

Old malt screen (or dresser) and filter press in the museum room
My tour began in a museum room that has been built in the old malt deposit and where various displays are now exhibited.  The barley is now malted at maltings throughout Scotland and is peated to around 8-12ppm for most of their production, with Peat Smoke considerably higher.  The peat used is from the Highlands and imparts a lighter, more floral smoke than the Islay and Orkney peats.

Benromach Boby Mill
(picture courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail)
The mill is a relatively small Boby Mill dating from 1913 and refurbished in 1996.  The mash tun is a modern style stainless steel semi-lauter with smaller perforations that permit finer milled grains to be used.  There is just one mash per day from Monday to Friday at 1.5 tonnes each time, three waters passing through with the last one held over to begin the next day.  Mashing water is piped from Chapelton Springs on the south side of Forres which draw from the Romach Hills a little further south, the same source as when it first opened.  Cooling water is piped from the Sanquhar Loch near to the springs.

Larch washbacks (picture courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail)
The four Larch washbacks were converted and cut to size from the backs that were left behind by SMD.  They previously held 23,000 litres and the four now are just 11,000 litres each. Fermentation runs from 3 to 5 days and with a fill level of just 7,500 litres there are no switchers required.

Benromach stills
(picture courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail)
The two stills were newly commissioned for the reopening, the wash taking a 7,500 litres charge and the spirit at 4,500 litres.  Both are heated by steam plates and have near-horizontal lyne arms and the spirit still has a reflux bowl at the base of the neck.  The shell and tube condensers are placed just outside the still house wall where the original worm tubs once sat.  

The middle cut runs for just 1 1/2 hours, from 75% down to 60% abv and Benromach is currently producing around 1000 litres of spirit from each day’s mash and totalling around 150-250,000 litres p.a.   The production is run by just two people, and with no computer control this is very much a hands-on traditional craft approach to distilling.  All this makes them the smallest working distillery in the SWA’s Speyside Region.


Benromach dunnage warehouse
Despite the relatively small production volumes and a short life in its current form, Benromach produce a significant range of different styles from a variety of cask types.  Gordon and MacPhail consider cask quality to be an important factor in producing their whisky with various wine casks and virgin American Oak casks having been employed alongside the more traditional cask types.  Variations in the malted barley also contribute to the range available, including 100% Organic and more heavily peated.  The casks are all stored onsite in one of four dunnage warehouses all with earthen floors.

Benromach Visitor Centre, built in an old ‘drier house’
The Visitor Centre where my tour finished with a tasting was opened in 1999, built in what was originally known as a ‘drier house’, although what was dried there is now uncertain.  Perhaps it was either grain from the field prior to storage, or possibly draff before being taken for animal feed.  There is a high level door giving direct access to the old loft where produce could be raised to.  Older maps show outside cooling tanks and a small chimney as part of the grounds for this building but the actual workings are now a mystery.  The walls of one of the tanks are still here, the location of another now turned over to a shrubbery beside a small pond, all nestling under pine trees in a delightful setting.

The first bottling by the new enterprise was the ‘Traditional’ bottled in 2004, with a 10yo appearing in 2009 after spending 9 years in bourbon and a final year in sherry casks.  There was still some old stock available when Gordon & MacPhail took over, with whiskies ranging from 21 up to 55yo now released as official bottles.  After a wee taste of that 10yo - vanilla, cream soda, fudge and apricot notes under a drifting smoke that intensified a little with water – I gleefully sipped a little of the Origins Batch 2 that had spent its whole 11 years maturing in port pipes.  I have a thing for port finished whisky and this smooth, luscious dram with both sweet and drier bitter notes did not disappoint.

Gordon & MacPhail emporium in Elgin
Gordon & MacPhail were established in 1895 just three years before the distillery.  The company is owned by the fourth generation of the Urquhart family to have been associated with the business and their world renowned whisky shop and delicatessen still stands on the same corner of Elgin as it always has.  Their bottling operation is also in Elgin and they bottle whiskies from all over Scotland that they have been acquiring for many years.  They recently launched the world’s oldest bottled whisky, a 70yo Mortlach, followed by a 70yo Glenlivet which can be seen in a display in their shop.

These old whiskies reflect the long history that the company has for providing wonderful whisky; Benromach Distillery a modern chapter in their evolution, yet one with traditions and one that earlier generations of the family had dreamed of.  The distillery may be small, nestling quietly under tall pine trees, but the whisky produced here has a lot to shout about.  My thanks to Sandy for the tour and the chance to try a port influenced whisky that was new to me, and to Russell at Gordon and MacPhail for providing additional information and images.
   

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Royal Brackla Distillery, Nairn

Leaving Inverness and heading east into Morayshire Barnard visited the last distillery, for now, in the whisky producing region we now know as Highland before reaching the region we know as Speyside.  The distinction wasn’t made back then, most of the whisky from these areas described by Barnard as Highland Malt with the first big Speyside expansion still a decade away.

The train first brought Barnard to Nairn which he notes as being called “The Brighton of Scotland”.  I’m not sure where he got that from, certainly not from Anderson’s Guide which was dated before the arrival of the railway in 1855 and the subsequent Victorian development of the town, with its glorious beaches, into a spa resort.  “Brighton of the North” does seem to have been a common appellation in guide books of his time though.  It also seems to have fallen out of use sometime since as the current Lord Cawdor stated in 2006 that he wanted Nairn to reclaim its title when announcing plans for a new spa hotel and golf resort.

Barnard may have stayed one night in Nairn as on arrival he states “we at once proceeded to the hotel, and were fortunate in securing an open landau and a good steed”, although he needed these to take him to the distillery which he discovered was six miles away “much to our chagrin”!  His next visit is to Glenburgie on the main road to Forres before arriving at Elgin “the next morning”, but his accommodation between Inverness and Elgin is unclear.

River Nairn valley viewed from site of Raitknock steading (lost)
His journey from Nairn to the distillery was delightful and he travelled through “undulating lands as pastoral as an English scene”.  Still not homesick, Alfred?  He describes reaching a place he calls “the Red Knock” and seeing “one of the finest landscape views at our feet that it is possible to witness”.  I think Red Knock may have been another of those names he had misheard and the place was in fact Raitknock, a farm steading.  This presents another conundrum – which road out of Nairn did he take?  He describes “crossing the bridge which spans the river” but this could either be the bridge in town to then take the road down the east side of the river, or the bridge further down another road on the west side.  Both roads passed by separate steadings called Raitknock, about 1km apart.

Rait Castle is nearby, sadly now an overgrown ruin although efforts are under way to try to preserve it.  Rait may be from the Gaelic word ‘rath’ meaning a small fortress but the castle was also once owned by a clan with the name Rait, although which was named after which is unclear.  Raitknock from Gaelic would mean ‘fortress hill’ which may reflect a land feature rather than buildings as neither of the steadings nor the castle are in particularly defensive positions, the land around all being fairly flat.

The view he witnessed included the River Nairn winding its way sinuously through trees, hillocks and barley fields in the midst of which Barnard espied the distillery.  Now I wonder if I needed to be sitting higher up in an open landau carriage like Barnard was to appreciate that view as the landscape here is flattish with scattered woods, the course of the river unseen from the roadside at either of the Raitknock steadings.  I think his most likely route was the west road as the Raitknock on the east road lay beyond woods and a rise in the landscape that completely obscure the river valley from view.  Both steadings have now gone and the only record is on older maps.

Barnard’s driver, “an intelligent fellow”, pointed out that this was Macbeth country and further on from the distillery lies Cawdor Castle, long associated (incorrectly) with Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’.  Above the castle the Cawdor Burn runs through a ravine in Cawdor Wood before passing the castle and on into the River Nairn.  This burn supplied all the water to the distillery when Barnard visited, now only supply the cooling water with mashing water being drawn from natural springs in the surrounding woods.  Barnard here mentions the burn as being a favoured old haunt of the “noted Tarrick and other smugglers” but I have been unable to find out anything about this Tarrick.

The Royal Brackla Distillery was built in 1812 by a Captain Fraser and then as now it “consists of several ranges of old and new buildings”.  The distillery is now owned by Bacardi through their subsidiary John Dewar & Sons and they had considered adding a visitor centre at one time but instead decided to maintain Dewar’s World of Whisky at Aberfeldy as the main visitor experience for the Group, so I was delighted to be allowed to see inside Royal Brackla with Distillery Production Manager Stewart Christine showing me round and providing some of the details included here.

Old warehouse and offices beside more recent malt barn
The Royal title to the distillery was granted by a warrant from King William IV in 1835, the first of only three distilleries ever to add the word Royal to their name and this really put them on the map and helped them compete against the local smugglers.  Yet when Barnard visited fifty years later the production was still only 318,000 litres p.a. which seems below capacity for the size of works he describes.

Barnard began his tour, as usual as he says, at the Barley Lofts and adjacent Malt Barns.  He particularly notes the use of friction hoists to raise the home-grown grain from farmer’s wagons to the lofts and then a sequence of elevators and a screw-box for further moving the grain around.  The kiln was heated by peat only, in this case dug locally from a “neighbouring moor” which may be the Cawdor Moss mentioned by Barnard, less glamorously named on maps as the Bog of Cawdor.  Today the barley is both sourced and malted locally and is non-peated, the floor maltings last used in 1966 and the kiln floor is all that is left.

Vacuum de-stoner and dust extractor
I don’t recall any mention of grain ‘dressers’ or other stone removal methods in Barnard’s reports so far, yet this is an important part of the process before milling to prevent sparks in the mill that could ignite the flour and as Stewart pointed out also to prevent damage over time to the mill rollers themselves.  I had seen a few old ‘wooden box’ style dressers at other distilleries but at Royal Brackla the equipment for removing dust (blowers), metals (magnets/witchcraft) and then de-stoning (sieve/vacuum) is of modern design.

External stainless steel washbacks
The Mash Tun then was a good size at 17 feet by 6 with the usual stirring gear and draining plates.  The current stainless steel tun was installed in 1997 and is a large full lauter tun taking a 12.5 tonne mash.  The 8 washbacks observed by Barnard held 22,700 litres each; the eight now are 60,000 litres each and, uniquely amongst Scottish Distilleries I think, two stainless steel backs are situated outside.  Viewed form the courtyard you get a real sense of the true size of these vessels that is not often perceived when looking down through a latticed floor or into a bubbling fermentation.

Oregon pine washbacks with stainless steel domes
The other 6 backs are made from Oregon pine and there is a fairly long fermentation of 70 hours to contribute to a light grassy character in the whisky.  Barnard had made special mention of the switchers which were “driven by machinery, move at a high and low speed, and, by the ingenious arrangement of a lever, each can be worked separately”.  Aside from electric motors and buttons instead of levers I’m not sure switchers have moved on much from then.  Although the internal washbacks are made from wood their domed tops are made from steel to allow for fuller CO2 capture.

Still House
The still house was then a large stone building with two old Pot Stills at 21,360 and 12,180 litres which were partly heated by steam coils.  Assuming the other heating method was coal fire this is an arrangement Barnard hasn’t mentioned before and the only other place I have seen anything similar is at Springbank where the wash still is now partly heated by oil burners and partly by steam coil, although not in Barnard’s day.  The number of stills was increased from 2 to 4 in 1965/66 when they were also changed from coal to steam heating, the same time as the floor maltings were closed.

Spirit stills near side, wash to rear
These are tall stills with large rounded bases for lots of copper contact.  The wash stills take a 20,000 litre charge and the spirit stills a 23,000 litre charge using a 2>1 balanced distillation approach, although the wash stills are nonetheless slightly bigger in size.  The wash stills are steam coil heated and the spirit stills have both coil and steam pan.  The long fermentation time with a middle cut of 4-4 1/2 hours, and slightly rising lyne arms both help to create a light character to the spirit.  They are currently working 7 days a week and producing 3.4m litres p.a., ten times the volume when Barnard visited.

Old rubble warehouses, c.1900, beside cooling water reservoir
Barnard noted 5 bonded warehouses, all substantial in size and containing a total of 2,000 casks.  There has been a sequence of building and demolishing of warehouses since, the ebb and flow marked as outlines on maps over time.  The original main warehouses by the distillery have all been demolished along with the malting floors and kiln.  Around the year 1900 there were four long dunnage warehouses built to the east of the distillery but three of them were demolished in 1983/4.  A further five small rubble warehouses were built by the reservoirs around 1900 and three of these remain.  Two huge racking warehouses were built towards the main road in the 1970’s and these are still used.

Racking warehouses, the newest built on site
Other aspects of the operation that impressed Barnard were the very complete fire extinguishing arrangements (hoses and extincteurs) and a traction engine to transfer casks over the six miles to Nairn and to bring back coal.  He also notes the three reservoirs fed [by a lade] from the Cawdor Burn that still sit in a line southwest of the distillery, although the arrangement he records of placing the coolers in the stream is interesting.  This must have been where the lade from the reservoir leaves under the north side of the buildings beside the tun room, where he had previously only mentioned a Morton’s Refrigerator, as the actual stream is some distance away.

The ownership of the distillery became incorporated as Brackla Distillery Co Ltd in 1898 when it was also refurbished and the new warehouses added.  It was next taken over by a blending company called John Bissett & Co Ltd in 1926 who themselves were taken over by DCL in 1943 and the distillery remained with them until closing in 1985 for 6 years (Udo, 2005).  It then became one of the few 1980s closures to have a new lease of life when DCL reopened it in 1991 and then sold it to John Dewar & Sons in 1998.  Only the distillery was sold at that time, the earlier stocks in the warehouses here remain with DCL.


Royal Brackla was one of the key whiskies used by Andrew Usher when he began experimenting with blending whisky in the 1860s, the Ushers being amongst the partners in the distillery.  The whisky is still mostly used for blends, with some of the older DCL stocks in Johnnie Walker and the newer stock in Dewar’s blends, but occasional OBs and some independent bottles of single malt are available as well as.  Barnard had noted a “Duty-Paid Racking Store for the convenience of local customers” and the distillery still has the modern equivalent ‘off-sales’ today.

I had arrived late for my appointment after losing my way in the surrounding countryside yet Stewart kindly gave me more time to see around this historic distillery for which I am very grateful; my thanks to him also for showing me some old pictures that helped place the various phases of development.  My visit here was towards the end of a busy and eventful trip to the Highlands, and the calm, pastoral setting of the River Nairn valley and the tranquillity of Cawdor village and the woods beyond were the perfect relaxant before the long drive back to Edinburgh.