"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

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Glen Lossie Distillery, (Glenlivet District), Elgin

Before visiting Glen Lossie Distillery Barnard continued his exploration of Elgin and offers a few brief comments on the town.  His appreciation of the Gordon Arms continues with very high praise – “in all our wanderings we had never slept in better rooms, received more attention, nor been more comfortable” – and his love of a good feed before heading out was well met as “John the waiter anticipated our every want and was quite hurt if we did not bring good appetites to the meals provided”.  I don’t think John would have had too much to be hurt by.

Elgin Cathedral east elevation
His party visited Elgin Cathedral at the eastern end of town, describing it as Elgin’s glory and “The Lanthorn of the North” but offering no further comment or history of the building.  A lanthorn was a type of lantern and “lantern of the north” is a more common affectionate appellation, but was Barnard also maybe a little reminiscent of Lanthorn Tower, part of the Tower of London, in his description?  They were both built in the 13th century although they look nothing alike.  Elgin Cathedral was used until the Reformation in 1560 and then fell into gradual ruin, much like Pluscarden Abbey did around the same time, prior to which it was the second largest cathedral in Scotland after St Andrews.  Substantial parts of the structure still remain and are now maintained by Historic Scotland.

Barnard notes the conspicuous Hill of Cullen, a landmark to mariners, and its name is recorded on maps then and now as the Bin of Cullen.  The picture here was taken at the mouth of the River Spey, some 8 miles closer and almost exactly half way between Elgin and the hill.  Barnard may have viewed it from the cathedral or another elevated point around Elgin.

Bin of Cullen viewed from Spey Bay
Glen Lossie Distillery is about 1 kilometre away from the River Lossie which rises from springs known as the Seven Sisters in the hills to the south.  It heads north through Glen Lossie and its path is then blocked by the curiously named Hill of the Wangie (wangie is an old Scots word for a wildcat which are known to inhabit the hills here) and so turns east towards the distillery before it twists and turns its way round Elgin and into the Moray Firth at Lossiemouth.  I mentioned in my post on Glenburgie that the future of RAF Lossiemouth was then under review and it has since been announced that it is to remain open as Scotland’s only RAF base.

Glen Lossie Distillery was one of the few in Barnard’s book that did not have a date of origin stated.  It had been built just a decade earlier in 1876 by the current owner John Duff who Barnard did note had planned the distillery himself.  It was built as a double oblong and with the exception of the stone built Still House it was constructed from concrete which “looked beautifully white and clean”.

Barnard records the two water supplies as a nearby reservoir fed from the Mannoch Hills to provide water for driving a water wheel, and the Creich Spring in a hill beside the distillery whose waters are collected in a covered cistern and likely, although not stated, as then being used for mashing.  The reservoir supply is the Foths Burn (which begins as the Burn of Bardon in the Mannoch Hills south of the distillery) and which continues on through the distillery grounds before turning north and becoming the Burn of Linkwood and feeding the reservoir behind the distillery of that name.

Glenlossie kiln and granaries (now disused)
The granaries were reached by a raised road some 20 feet above the rest of the distillery at its south end, the kiln sitting at its north end and heated by peat from those same Mannoch Hills as supplied the reservoir water.  The kiln now has a pagoda roof and is the most dominant structure you see at the distillery as you pass round it on the road south out of Elgin.

The mash tun was a little different here being one of the last few still made from timber and relatively small at just 13 feet by 5.  The tun room contained six washbacks at 13,600 litres each and feeding two old pot stills that were heated by furnace.  The stills were mid-sized for the time and similar in size at 8,020 and 7,488 litres and there is nothing else of particular interest recorded in Barnard’s report.

Glenlossie warehouses and Thomshill beyond
There were five warehouses on site, on a terrace above the road, and holding 4,000 casks from an annual production of 409,000 litres.  Opposite the distillery there were dwellings provided for the employees in a little hamlet, presumably Thomshill which is still there today.  Only a couple of cottages remain from the distillery farm that once sat across the road from the distillery.

A railway siding was later built to connect the distillery to the Elgin-Craigellachie line almost a mile and a half way.  Benriach and Longmorn Distilleries, both founded by John Duff in the 1890s, were located beside this railway on either side of the Glen Lossie siding near to its junction, each of the newer distilleries themselves having separate sidings.  Barnard doesn’t mention a siding at Glen Lossie and the first map I can find it on is dated 1905 so it was likely built in the 1890s along with those for the other two new distilleries.

Duff’s fortunes were mixed as the industry headed through the Pattison crash in 1898 but Glen Lossie seemed to keep going through this and eventually joined DCL in 1919.  In 1929 there was a major fire here that was fought with the help of the steam powered engine now on display at Dallas Dhu distillery museum.  The distillery was restored after the fire before transferring to DCL subsidiary SMD the following year.  At some time the distillery name was consolidated into the single word Glenlossie.

Glenlossie fire engine at Dallas Dhu
After initial redevelopment in the 1890s there were a number of further extensions to the operation during the 20th century.  The stills had been increased to 4 at some point and they were further increased to 6 in 1962, the spirit stills having purifiers installed.  The wash stills charge is 16,000 litres and the spirit stills are two at 15,000 and one at 13,200 litres (Udo,2005) maintaining a similar ratio of size as the original two stills.  There are also now 8 larch washbacks at 45,000 litres each and a new stainless steel mash tun was installed in 1992 and taking an 8 tonne mash, although I imagine the original timber mash tun had itself been replaced many years before.

The warehouses were further extended at regular intervals and the Glenlossie Bonds now hold around 250,000 casks from many different distilleries in a mixture of dunnage and racking warehouses.  Most of the annual output of 1.8m litres goes into blends including Haig’s but a couple of limited single malt releases have been available.

Mannochmore Distillery, Elgin
One of the biggest developments along the short valley in which the distillery sits was the building of this completely new distillery on the east side of the Glenlossie buildings in 1971 and a dark grains plant opened to the east of that the same year.  It is not easy to tell which buildings are which and Mannochmore is barely visible from the roads on either side of the dell, the old Glenlossie kiln and the dark grains plant almost obscuring the view from either end.  Mannochmore was the only distillery that was built near Elgin in the 20th century; the others (excluding Roseisle!) all open by 1898.

The name may have been a reference to the moor in the hills from where Glen Lossie once cut its peat but its actual origins are obscure.  Some records provide a translation as ‘Place of the Monks’ but that only makes sense from ‘manach’ meaning ‘monk’ and it seems unlikely.  ‘More’ should be from the Gaelic mòr for big but it is just as likely it was named after the Mannoch Hill, possibly meaning ‘middle hill’ which it certainly is geographically, with ‘more’ added to make it sound more, um, Scottish?

After the initial hope of the 1970s the new distillery was mothballed from 1985 to 1989.  Later from the mid 1990s the two adjacent distilleries were worked by the same staff for half a year at a time in rotation.  Since 2007 they have gone back to full time production and Mannochmore now produces around 2.8m litres p.a.  The internal arrangements are all generally larger than at Glenlossie with a cast iron mash tun taking an 11.1 tonne mash and 8 larch washbacks at 54,000 litres each.  The stills are a slightly different arrangement with a wash charge of 14,400 litres and a spirit still charge of 17,000.

Like Glenlossie there have been very few official single malt bottlings of Mannochmore, a 12yo in the Flora & Fauna range the most widely available.  They were also noted for producing Loch Dhu whisky for a couple of years in the late 1990s.  It was matured in over-charred bourbon casks, was black in colour (hence the name Dhu which is Gaelic for black) and was like no other Speyside whisky seen before or since.  The marmite of the whisky world apparently, although there are a few whiskies that could take that moniker, but not all will currently sell for around £200 a bottle!

Glenlossie/Mannochmore dark grains plant and warehouses
The dark grains plant serves 21 Diageo distilleries and processes a total of 110,000 tonnes of draff and 8.5 million litres of pot ale p.a. (MWYB, 2011).  That’s a lot of cattle feed produced each year but they are currently running a project to convert some of the biomass into energy to run the production across the extended site.  Back in Barnard’s day they did it all with a water wheel and gravity.