This is the opening line from Barnard’s report on his arrival at
|Elgin Town Centre, Gordon Arms building on right|
|Once the Gordon Arms Hotel, Elgin|
After another of those substantial breakfasts that Barnard and I both enjoy on our travels he hired a horse drawn carriage and set off through the pleasant suburbs of
|Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin|
|Pluscarden Abbey, west elevation with new accommodation block|
The Black Burn flows alongside Miltonduff Distillery and supplies its water before joining the River Lossie just west of Elgin, it too prone to flooding, more on which when we arrive at Glen Moray Distillery. The Burn actually rises on Romach Hill around 10 miles to the southwest of the distillery, from the same watershed that provides the water for Benromach Distillery and once also did for Dallas Dhu.
Barnard narrates a story about the monks and their use of the Burn for brewing fine ale that was so good that it:
"Made the hearts of all rejoice, and filled
The abbey with unutterable bliss;
Raised their devotions to that pitch
That Heldon's hills echo'd their hallelujahs.”
He doesn’t credit a source for the verse and I can’t find one either. Heldon Hill is the slope above the abbey in the photo here and it is possible that he was paraphrasing from another work, or even trying his own hand at verse? The hill and its woods were actually named Eildon in the mid 19th century but perhaps changed to Heldon later so as not to be confused with the Eildon Hill in the Scottish Borders.
|Pluscarden 'garden', abbey in middle distance, Heldon hill behind|
Before visiting the distillery Barnard was welcomed at the home of the owner Mr Stuart, the Old House of Miltonduff. His party explored the house and gardens and were regaled with “a nip of creamy Old Milton Duff Whisky” before continuing the last quarter mile to the distillery. The house is now gone having been demolished sometime in the last century, the outline of the foundations all that can now be seen, near to a historic dovecot.
|Miltonduff dovecot, old house was previously in the trees to the right|
The array of buildings at the distillery first grabbed Barnard’s attention, apparently in “complete contrast to the other distilleries in the district…with scarcely a building alike.” The same is true today but now from a mixture of harling covered edifices sitting alongside older rubble built barns and warehouses, some converted into modern offices, and extensive modern racking warehouses. The original buildings date back to 1824 making Miltonduff one of the earliest distilleries licensed under the 1823 Excise Act.
|Miltonduff Distillery etching in Barnard|
Some of the practices still seemed to date back to the 1820s, in keeping with the smuggler operations that Barnard notes were rife along the Black Burn before then, with up to fifty illicit stills in the glen. He records that “some of the oldest fads and methods are in use, and the ancient style of stills and utensils as carried on by the smugglers”.
Their tour was conducted by the manager Mr Ross whom Barnard describes as a friend. As usual the malt barns are the starting point and this building is recorded as triangular. No triangular building has been indicated on any maps so this may have been demolished or amended during major renovations and extensions to the operations that took place just a decade later.
|Old Miltonduff Malt Barn|
The mill was steam powered and the grist then carried to the Mash House in sacks before being dropped into the grist hopper over a 14 feet x 4 feet mash tun. The worts here were stirred by oars, a similar arrangement to that described for Glen Albyn in
Barnard then retraced his steps back to the Still House which shared with the Mash House in a building described as venerable but also with rickety stone stairs, ‘depressions’ as steps, low roof sections and quaint and antiquated vessels. Tradition had this building as originally a brewhouse for the monks. The reason for the relatively low production lay in the “two old Pot Stills of great age” which were just 6,800 and 5,450 litres respectively and which were running triple distillation. Barnard considers this the most interesting part of the process here and regrets not having space nor time to describe it fully.
|Miltonduff mill lade|
There were five warehouses on the grounds holding 3,100 casks/1.2m litres of whisky of various ages with capacity for another 1,000 casks. Stables on site housed a dozen horses for carting the casks to the railway station, which was probably Mosstowie Station about 2 miles away on the main
|Site of old Mosstowie Station|
|Main distillery buildings and Black Burn|
The distillery was often known to experiment with new techniques including pre-heating their wash in heat exchangers fed by hot water from the condensers and then further heated by drawing some wash and heating it with steam to boiling point to then further raise the wash still temperature in a circular process until distillation was complete (wormtub.com). The Lomond stills were also experimented with by spraying cold water onto the outside to increase reflux action (SMWS).
|Distillery viewed from the Miltonduff Bridge (compare to etching above)|
The distillery now has a capacity of 5.5m litres p.a., more than 15 times that of Barnard’s day and placing it just outside the top 10 in