"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

Friday, 16 March 2012

Caperdonich Distillery [Glen Grant No.2], Rothes

Following on from the Glen Grant story there is another part of their history to consider here.  In 1897 Major Grant built Glen Grant No.2 Distillery on the opposite side of the main road through Rothes.  It was built beside the railway line that ran along the east side of town, with a siding right alongside to connect it directly to the station goods yard at its south end.  It was intended to provide additional capacity at a time when whisky sales were booming, however, it opened just in time for the Pattison crash to burst that bubble in 1898 and so closed in 1902 after just a few years of operation.

The distillery started with two stills that were replicas of those at Glen Grant, although whether they were replicas of the large or small stills there I don’t know but it would likely be the larger ones if they were building a new distillery for extra capacity.  Excise regulations insisted that as it was effectively an extension of Glen Grant the new make had to be received and weighed into casks at Glen Grant’s main complex, and so a ‘whisky pipe’ was installed across the road to pump the spirit up to their filling store.

The operational life of Glen Grant No.2 almost mirrored Ben Riach distillery just 5 miles to the north which also opened in 1898 but very soon closed; and like Ben Riach it was also given new life when it was reopened in 1965, albeit with a new name.  The changing fortunes of the industry had once more produced rising demand and Glen Grant again decided to increase capacity.  At that time their main complex had no space to redevelop, with their large maltings still in operation on the site that would become the new still house at a later date.  They decided to reopen their mothballed No.2 distillery but changes in Excise regulations by that time required that it be licensed and named as a separate distillery and so Caperdonich was chosen.

Caperdonich is an anglicised version of the pronunciation of the Gaelic words for the water source of both distilleries.  The Tobar Domhnaich is the well in the grounds behind Glen Grant that provides the pure unpeated water that is essential to the Glen Grant style.  Tobar Domhnaich is the spelling recorded on maps from Barnard’s time and Dhomhnaich has also been used as a local spelling.  Perhaps because of this variation the name has been interpreted as Sabbath well, deep or water-tight well, secret well and also referred to locally as St Lawrence’s well; Sabbath Well generally seems to be the most common local interpretation.

In 1967 the distillery was expanded with a second pair of stills installed, this time steam heated in the decade before the stills at Glen Grant first were.  Along with new washbacks they almost doubled capacity and large control consoles allowed the plant to be automated and run with minimal staff.  The distillery was taken over by Seagrams along with Glen Grant in 1978 and continued in operation until 2002 when it was mothballed again, once more like Ben Riach which was by then also owned by Pernod Ricard.

Caperdonich Distillery once stood here
This time, unlike Ben Riach, there was to be no revival.  The distillery was sold to Forsyths Coppersmiths in 2010 and demolished in November that year.  The company has a heritage as coppersmiths dating back to the 1800s, with the Forsyth family taking over the business in 1933.  They have been in operation right beside Caperdonich since the mid 1970s, on a site where the railway goods yard had been until the late 1960s, and have gradually been expanding and diversifying the business ever since (Rothes 2001).  The distillery site is now an extended yard for them and some of the internal distillery fittings were sitting there when I visited the town, the old copper domed mash tun and the washbacks sitting in a corner, forlorn.

Caperdonich mash tun and washbacks
Caperdonich single malt seems to have had a variable reputation so what may be a loss to some could pass unnoticed by others; even the final demolition of the distillery failed to receive a mention in the local newsletter.  There are a few independent bottles available but most production went for blending and the only official release was a Chivas Cask Strength Edition, a 16yo bottled in 2005 in a 500ml bottle.  It never seems to have quite matched the style of Glen Grant whisky that was intended from using the same water, barley and still design; that uniqueness that applies at every distillery here producing a whisky that Barnard would perhaps not have described as a ‘self malt’ and which is now a ghost in Rothes' past.