"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, 4 August 2011

Linkwood Distillery, Elgin

The day after his visit to Glen Lossie Barnard visited his third and final distillery around Elgin.  Linkwood Distillery, named after the farm estate and house it was built beside, is just beyond the furthest southeast corner of Elgin now but was then in open countryside beyond the railway before the New Elgin suburb expanded on the south side of the town.  Barnard described it as “embosomed in woods” giving rise to the name of the estate.
Linkwood Farm

Some of the original estate buildings still exist across the road from the distillery, including a converted section of the old Linkwood House and the Linkwood Farm steading shown here which is the most architecturally interesting of the farm buildings, although the stable arches have now been filled in and the clock is not keeping good time.

The original distillery was founded on a small scale in 1821 by a local factor called Peter Brown.  By the time Barnard visited it had passed to his son William who had completely rebuilt it to a different plan and on a larger scale in 1873.  A map from that year shows the old buildings but by 1905 there are extensive warehouses on the site and a new island has appeared in the dammed reservoir beside it as the burn had split to encircle a small section of land.

Linkwood dam behind old granary with new distillery buildings beyond

This is the reservoir that is fed by the Burn of Linkwood that passed through the Glenlossie works further upstream.  The mashing water was brought from “the Black Hills, six miles distant” which are directly southeast from the distillery.  The water source today is springs near Millbuies Loch beside these hills and about 3 miles away.  The same springs supply Glen Elgin Distillery which is close to the Loch.

There were two granaries with the usual barley loft over malting floor arrangements and a square kiln building at the end of one of them.  The peat source for the kiln was not named by Barnard.  These old buildings have been maintained right beside the road into Elgin and their rubble built construction stands dark and in sharp contrast to the more recent white concrete and glass buildings beside them.

Linkwood Kiln and 1873 distillery buildings

The mash tun was one of the smallest recorded by Barnard at just 12 feet across by 3 1/2 deep but he doesn’t comment further on it.  He does mention coolers that “cover the roofs of the Tun Room, Spirit Store and Coal Shed” and these are therefore likely to be the large open tank style of cooler that we first saw at Springbank.

There were five washbacks at 14,540 litres each and two old pot stills at 9,088 and 8,406 litres, both heated by furnace.  There were 3 warehouses holding 2,000 casks from an annual production of 227,000 litres.  And that was pretty much it for Barnard’s report.  It was just one page in the book and it seems he may have visited Linkwood in the morning before taking the short train ride down to Rothes to begin his explorations there in the afternoon.

Linkwood A distillery

A decade later the Linkwood-Glenlivet Distillery Company was formed to run the distillery and they were absorbed into SMD in 1933.  After refurbishment in 1962 the hope of the 1970s also brought 4 new stills and accompanying mash tun and washbacks in 1971, effectively created as a new operation on the site and known as Linkwood B.  Floor maltings had ceased by then and the rest of the original distillery buildings (Linkwood A) were closed in 1985 but then reopened for a few months each year from 1990 to 1996 before falling silent again.

Linkwood B Still House
The style of spirit produced from the two operations would have been very different, with larger washbacks and condensers installed in Linkwood B and a huge cast iron worm tub cooling the vapours in Linkwood A and producing a heavier spirit.  More recently the old Linkwood A washbacks have been refurbished and brought back into use to increase production, with a fairly long 75 hour fermentation, although the two old stills remain silent.  The site was undergoing further renovation when I stopped by as the distillery closed for a few months to install a new stainless steel mash tun and new wash stills (MWYB 2011).  The stills here are amongst the largest at 45,000 litres for the wash and 51,000 for the spirit (Udo, 2005).

Linkwood warehouses from early 1900s
Linkwood is popular as a Top Class blending whisky, not just for Diageo, and production was 3.5m litres of spirit last year.  There are a few dunnage warehouses on the site but most of the production will be matured in central bonds, perhaps including the extensive warehouses nearby at Glenlossie.