"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, 11 January 2012

Longmorn Distillery, near Elgin

The first of the distilleries to be built south of Elgin in the 1890s was Longmorn which opened in 1894.  One of its founders, John Duff, had also been one of the founders of nearby Glenlossie Distillery in 1876 and would go on to build Ben Riach Distillery close to Longmorn in 1898, more on which in my next report.

Reservoir beside Longmorn Distillery, looking towards BenRiach
The name Longmorn is variously translated from different interpretations of a chapel that once stood nearby, either from Lhan-Morgan meaning Morgan’s Chapel or Lanmarnoch meaning Church of St Marnoch.  It had been demolished and its location ploughed over long before the distillery was built and maps show the creation of a dammed reservoir on the west side of the distillery that flooded the place where the chapel was previously marked.  The reservoir sits on the Longmorn Burn that runs past both distilleries here and which starts as the Glen Burn high up towards the Glen of Rothes south of the distillery.

The outflow from the reservoir runs northwest and meets the Foths Burn out of Glenlossie to form the Burn of Linkwood which supplies the distillery of that name.  A separate small reservoir on the east side of Longmorn supplies cooling water to the distillery and the process water is drawn from boreholes.  There is a large cistern beside the distillery, shown in the photo here complete with a flotation gauge on the outside wall.

Longmorn cistern
The distillery was built beside Longmorn station on the Elgin to Craigellachie railway line which opened in 1862 and was connected to the Strathspey railway at Craigellachie a year later.  The granary and malt barns were built at the east end of the distillery just a few yards from the line, perhaps to take easy advantage of the movement of grain by rail.  The new buildings were built beside an old corn mill and saw mill which both operated in the decades before, with buildings named Longmorn to the west of the mills later being demolished and a new warehouse built on the site.

Longmorn malt barn and kiln
In 1898 the Longmorn distillery branch line opened from a junction just north of the station.  This line included spurs that ran directly into the yards of both Longmorn and the then newly built Ben Riach, plus a longer line that ran between the two and onward a further mile west to Glenlossie Distillery.  Longmorn station closed along with the line in 1968 but the station building still stands, derelict, just to the north of the distillery.  The branch line continued in use until 1979 but only to move casks between the distilleries (www.railbrit.co.uk).

Despite a promising start at Longmorn Duff’s fortunes were bound up in his investment at Benriach just as the Pattison Crash was about to hit.  He was declared bankrupt in 1898 and Longmorn was sold to a James Grant the following year.  It survived the crash and seems to have had a fairly quiet history until 1970 when it amalgamated with Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries as The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, and from there ultimately into Chivas Brothers (MWYB 2011).

Longmorn Distillery main buildings
After some initial extensions and reconstruction in the 1960s the main expansion in production came in the 1970s.  Floor maltings ceased in 1970, the stills were increased from four to six in 1972 and at the same time the spirit stills only were converted from coal fired to steam.  A further two stills were added in 1974 and at this time the still house was split into two separate rooms, with the four wash stills in one room and the four spirit in another, a unique arrangement in Scotland.  The wash stills were finally converted to steam in 1994, one of the last distilleries to do so (MaltMadness.com).

The current mash tun is a stainless steel traditional infusion mash tun and there are 8 large stainless steel washbacks which replaced smaller Oregon pine backs a few years ago.  There are now shell and tube condensers placed outside the still houses where before there were worm tubs, the outflow from which used to power a waterwheel to drive the rummagers in the wash stills.  I have queried the operation of rummagers in a few early posts on the journey and when researching Longmorn I found a fantastic diagram of their operation on the RCAHMS Canmore website.

The only current official bottling by the distillery is a 16yo at 48% that was first released in 2007 to replace a previous 15yo.  I tried it last year for the first time and found it to be a very satisfying dram, a style of whisky I enjoy most if I don’t have anything peaty to hand.  I had previously only tasted one more that I could recall and that was an SMWS bottle that was described as having a taste like a tuck shop, with a bubble gum kind of sweetness alongside biscuit, vanilla and toffee.  Yummy, and almost as tasty as a rhubarb & custard chew, almost.

Longmorn dunnage warehouses
The distillery has a potential annual output of 3.5m litres and most of it goes into Chivas blends, including a significant portion of the excellent Chivas Regal 18, and Longmorn is often considered as one of the finest Top Dressing whiskies for blending.  The make is unpeated and is matured in both American oak bourbon and European sherry casks.  The extensive warehouses on site are a mixture of palletised, racking and the original stone and rubble built dunnage, and a row of warehouses extends the few hundred metres up to Benriach Distillery where the journey takes us next.

Longmorn Distillery is not open to the public and additional information here was kindly supplied by Chivas Brothers.