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.
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|
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
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|
Benromach Boby Mill(picture courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail)
|Larch washbacks (picture courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail)|
(picture courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail)
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|
|Benromach Visitor Centre, built in an old ‘drier house’|
|Gordon & MacPhail emporium in |
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.