The recent spate of new distilleries being built in this time of optimism in the industry are nearly all located in the Islands or Lowlands, with one west coast venture almost approved and Roseisle the exception. Perhaps Speyside is considered too crowded with distilleries already but what are the odds on a Strathspey distillery joining the pantheon before long, somewhere near the middle of the river’s long journey through the region? Strathspey has been used as a distillery name once before, at the place we now know as Dalwhinnie, but only for its first year of operation before ownership changed. The name wasn’t really appropriate for its location south of the river anyway.
Musing aside, let’s return to Rothes for our final look at distilling in the town. Barnard travelled by train from
|Rothes Castle (all that's left) with Ben Aigan behind|
Glen Spey was the third and most recently built distillery in Rothes at the time of Barnard’s visit, built by James Stuart beside a corn mill that he owned. Stuart had originally been one of the partners behind the Glen Rothes distillery 7 years earlier when he ran into financial difficulty and pulled out of that project. He had also been licensee at Macallan distillery since 1868, which he then bought outright in 1886 around the time that Barnard visited the area.
|Glen Spey Distillery|
Barnard’s report on Glen Spey is one of the shorter ones in his book and eschews his normal fascination with measurements for the most part. His description offers nothing of particular note aside an idea of the overall size of production, with 6 washbacks at 20,500 litres each and two stills at 10,900 and 5,900 litres respectively. Annual output was then 273,000 litres and today it is still one of the smaller Diageo distilleries with capacity for 1.4m litres p.a. The site is wedged between the small hillock where the castle stood on its south side and its own warehouses and the Burn of Rothes on the north side, so little room for expansion.
|Glen Spey Warehouses and Burn of Rothes|
Glen Spey generally kept going through the decades following its founding, surviving the collapse of some warehouses after a heavy snowstorm in 1892 and a major fire in 1920. In 1962 W&A Gilbey Ltd merged with United Wine Traders who owned Justerini & Brooks, producers of J&B blended whisky which is now the third best selling whisky in the world after Johnnie Walker and Ballantines (MWYB 2011). Glen Spey is a key whisky in the blend and the name adorns the sign in front of the distillery which is now part of the Diageo group.
The water sources are another uncertainty. The mashing water is often recorded as being from the Doonie Burn and the cooling water from the Burn of Rothes, however I can't find a Doonie Burn on any map, the Burn of Rothes runs through ‘The Dounie’ which is the small glen upstream where the Fairies Well mentioned in my Glenrothes post is, and Doonie Burn just seems to be a local name for the Burn of Rothes as it passes through the glen. The lade that supplied the original mills that later became the two distilleries still runs from the burn, along the back of Glenrothes, ending at Glen Spey.
The main distilling buildings that stand today are from a 1969/70 reconstruction at which time the maltings were closed and turned into a racking warehouse to compliment the dunnage warehouses that line the Burn of Rothes. The semi-lauter tun, stainless steel with a peaked canopy, was an original design named the Glen Spey tun by manufacturers Newmill Engineering, a successful design that was then copied at other distilleries and the last one they ever installed was at the Speyside Distillery mentioned earlier.
|Glen Spey still house|
Farewell RothesAnd that’s it for the busy town of
I've tried tae tell ye o' the past,
The future, na, I'll nae forecast,
My cherished hopes realised at last,
A book for you on Rothes.
May future scribes, quines or men,
Complete ma diary tae the en'
O, that I had a worthier pen
Tae tell yo o' aul' Rothes.
The full poem can be found in a copy of The Rothesian online; it’s a lovely recollection of many of the places I have mentioned in the last few posts and of the views that I enjoyed on the journey south from Longmorn and through the Glen of Rothes, written by a ‘worthier pen’ than mine. My thanks to the residents and distillery workers of Bonnie Rothes who made me feel welcome and helped me with information and inspiration. There are still parts of the country around there to explore so I hope to return someday. Now though, my journey must move on, upstream, like a salmon darting through the rapids of the fast flowing Spey which turns a corner a few miles south at Craigellachie around which the next stage of the journey is centred. See you there soon.
|Strathspey from Rothes Castle, Craigellachie on the distant right|