"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

Monday, 18 June 2012

Tamdhu Distillery, Knockando

A mile south of Cardhu distillery the River Spey carves through a couple of sweeping bends and the Strathspey Railway once ran along its north bank here as it passed through the Parish of Knockando.  Beside these bends two distilleries were built towards the very end of the 19th century, a decade after Barnard passed this way on his main journey.  However, he did return to visit the first of these soon after it opened to provide material for another chapter in the Highland Distillers brochure Willie Brew’d a Peck o’ Maut that we previously encountered at Glenrothes Distillery.

Barnard visited Tamdhu the day after Glenrothes and he took the long 12 mile journey by horse and trap.  He could perhaps have taken the railway to first Craigellachie junction and then changed onto the Strathspey line for Carron station, from there following his same 4 mile route to Cardhu Distillery from the decade previously and continuing on to Tamdhu.  He notes in his report that there was no station beside Tamdhu at that time “but the Company are having one built, which will be opened in a few months’ time” which handily places his trip here to around early 1899 as the station opened in July that year, more on which in my next report.

Two miles south of Rothes his horse “left the highway and we made our way up a zig-zag road to the heights which overlook Craigellachie”.  This would be from the road junction opposite the then Dandaleith Station that takes you up past Macallan Distillery on what is now the B9102.  I have walked up this road before, on my way from Craigellachie to Macallan, the uphill route on that day catching me out a little until it levelled out and here Barnard records a similarly difficult uphill journey.  Once it levels off he describes a fine view across to Ben Rinnes and the Conval Hills and gives his first appreciation of the scene.  His usual excess is unabated here with phrases such as “The Valley of the Spey – proverbial for whatever is magnificent and picturesque in Nature” setting the bar rather high in the first few paragraphs.

Ben Rinnes and Conval hills beyond, from near Tamdhu
His journey then descended towards a high single-arch bridge that I haven’t traced but I wonder if it was an old and now demolished structure at the Bridge of Sandyhillock.  He continues from here “after this we passed through a straggling village” which could only be, but surely not Archiestown which is a good sized village laid out in a well organised grid pattern!  The road then took another steep ascent to a summit above Knockando where the tall chimney of Tamdhu could apparently be seen above the treetops by the Spey.  He includes further appreciation of the scenery here, trying hard to keep up with his own grandeur from earlier, but some of the features he claims to see, including Tamdhu’s chimney, are simply not visible from this plateau.  It might have been Cardow’s chimney instead which would have been just visible above the trees from that road summit.

The driver then apparently pointed out a historic feature that we have encountered before, the site of encampments associated with the Battle of Mortlach.  Here he describes a dyke that he says was built by the Scottish army under Malcolm III (actually Malcolm II for that Battle), a dyke long since recorded on maps as the “Danish Dyke” and associated with their army, and he mentions that the King and Queen spent the night on “a spot of ground called to this day the ‘Queen’s Haugh’”.  This is likely to be the ‘Queen’s Green’ as it was marked on maps of the time, a haugh being a meadow beside a river so interchangeable terms.  Both of these features were close to Dailuaine Distillery.

From there the journey descended rapidly to Tamdhu, following a bridle path that was at that time being turned into a proper roadway.  The road is accompanied down the hill by what Barnard calls the Tamdhu burn, otherwise marked on maps as the Knockando Burn, and he briefly mentions that this had turned into a river during the floods of 1829 and washed away homes and industry.  This Muckle Spate we have encountered a few times before and it was recorded in the Second Statistical Account of Scotland in the Knockando Parish report of 1835 which quoted the extent of the devastation from one account of the event:

“The Knockando Burn is extremely small, but it was swollen by the flood to a size equal to that of the Spey in its ordinary state.  After the flood the prospect here was melancholy; the burn that formerly wound through the beautiful haugh had cut a channel as broad as that of the Spey, from one end of it to the other.  The whole wood was gone, the carding mill had disappeared, the miller’s house was in ruins.  A new road was recently made in this parish, and all the burns were substantially bridged, but, with the exception of one arch, all yielded to the pressure of the flood.”

Barnard describes the approach to the distillery with the burn running through a gorge, under bridges and the road taking them through a “Birch Glade” near where the historic Knockando Woolmill has now reopened.  He arrived at his destination and proclaimed that the malt whisky produced in the wider district here is celebrated as much as the beauty, scenery and history that he has just spent almost half of his entire report describing.  He then realises, quite astutely I think, that “our readers will begin to enquire when we are coming to what we have to say about the Tamdhu Distillery and its subsidiary buildings.”  Quite, yes, I’ll get on with then.

Tamdhu Distillery
He began his distillery record by noting it as one of “Mr Doig’s recent creations” and stating that a plan of it was annexed to his report.  This plan doesn’t appear in the book but I wonder if the Edrington Group archivists have an original with the only known surviving copy of the brochure?  The distillery was built in 1896/7 with the first spirit flowing in the summer of 1897.  The design of the buildings was modern and included the most up to date processes and machinery and the story since then has been one of change and redevelopment.

The water power was from the burn that Barnard had just followed down the hill, now tamed and utilised where once before it had been a wild torrent on that fateful night.  The process water was drawn from a spring in the “Smugglers Glen, some three or four hundred yards above the distillery” and local spring water is still used today.  Peats were brought a few miles from “that famous moss, Bog-Hur” (nope, me neither) which I guess could be the Blair Hur moss above Upper Knockando.

He continues “there are few distilleries so romantically situated as this, and no words of ours can describe the unrivalled views from any part of the premises”, although that didn’t stop him helping himself to yet another paragraph of scenery gazing!  He drags himself away from the view and begins his tour of the premises, as usual for him then and very often on tours today, at the maltings.  He called it a hasty visit and the interesting point here is that he mentions the railway siding that ran up the side of the distillery to the end of the maltings, connected to the Strathspey railway that passed by the distillery’s southern end.

Tamdhu maltings, tall grain silos behind
The kiln was described as “scientifically constructed” with a high drying floor that allowed a temperature 30 degrees higher than older kilns.  As the distillery was designed by Mr Doig it no doubt also had one of his pagoda roof tops but he doesn’t mention it.  The maltings and kiln have undergone major changes since then - in 1949/50 the floor maltings were converted to Saladin box maltings, one of the first distillery in Scotland to have them installed and the last to continue to operate them right up to 2010 (Malt Madness.com).

The Saladin boxes were built across the triple vaulted malting floors and the kiln at the end has been adapted and no longer reflects the older designs.  Two huge silos were also added to the west side in the 1970s, one for barley intake and one to store the malt, after the railway that once supplied barley direct to the granary closed to freight traffic in November 1968 (railbrit.co.uk).  The air in the kiln was preheated by the hot water from the condensers and a little peat was also burned for the malt used at Tamdhu (Udo, 2005).  The number of Saladin boxes was doubled to ten in 1966 to also supply other distilleries, including Glenrothes whose own malting floors closed at that time.

Tamdhu kilns
Barnard then visited the mill room and stepped through to a spacious mash house, a step no longer possible following a 1973/4 rebuild of the distillery.  The mill and mash house are now at the opposite end of the distillery from the maltings and the mashing to distilling process now flows in the opposite direction from when it opened.  A conveyor belt was installed in the roof above the still house to transfer the malt from its silo to the mill room at the far end.

The mash tun was described as capacious and contained a “porcupine or stirring apparatus” for mashing and the draff was then extracted by Archimedean screw direct to railway wagons on the siding running past.  Barnard also describes a “coign of vantage” for the brewer to direct operations in three departments below, the historic equivalent of the modern one man operation via a control panel.  He also notices the roar of the water wheel which was situated under the floor of these buildings and which drove all the machinery.

Tamdhu tun room and mash house
The tun room has been another significant change in the layout of the distillery.  The room visited by Barnard was a wing off the middle of the main distillery block, the central section of Doig's classic E design, but is now in the mid 1970s building added at the south end of the complex, the old wing demolished and its location now part of the car park.  There were originally six washbacks holding 41,000 litres each but Barnard notes that the building was arranged to allow further backs to be added later.  I’m not sure if that ever happened but the new tun room holds 9 Oregon pine backs at around 50,000 litres capacity each (Udo, 2005).  Barnard had a look inside a back that was nearly finished fermenting and gives us his one and only description of the wash as having a surface with “the appearance of a beautiful piece of rock-work”.

The still house was apparently quite a feature at Tamdhu, although in all respects similar to that at Glen Rothes that he had visited the day before and which he had described as one of the finest in the district and also designed by Doig.  It was a lofty building lit by twenty windows and with two large outside worm tubs.  There were two pot stills then which Barnard describes as being “of the O.G. shape, which the Manager is of the opinion are more efficient than the old fashioned ones, and of much better appearance”.  I can only imagine that he here meant ‘ogee’ shape, that sweeping double curve from base up through the shoulder and onto the swan neck on a pear shaped still, without the interruption of a reflux bowl or constricted neck.

The stills were increased from two to four in 1972 and then following that 1973/4 rebuild they were increased again to six.  The moving of the mash tun and the tun room from the middle wing allowed the expansion of the still house northwards as part of an overall increase in production at a time when the whole industry was doing well.  The distillery capacity is 4m litres per year placing it around the top quarter mark in Scotland.

Tamdhu warehouses
Barnard noted two large warehouses across the yard and they have been substantially added to since; a mixture of dunnage and racking warehouses now form the largest part of the complex.  A row of workers houses sat near the entrance and another four were built in the early 1900s and a further four when the Saladin maltings were installed in 1949, these later additions overlooking the maltings.

Tamdhu was founded by a consortium of blenders that included William Grant of Highland Distilleries, a company formed by the merger of his Glen Rothes distillery and Bunnahabhain distillery in 1887 and which formally took over Tamdhu in 1898.  This new distillery was built during the boom years just before the Pattison collapse but it survived along with the other two, although silent later from 1927-47 (Udo, 2005).  In 1999 Highland Distillers was bought by the 1887 Company Ltd, 70% owned by Edrington and 30% by William Grant & Sons (MWYB 2011).  At times it was worked in tandem with Glenrothes distillery by the same staff until it was mothballed in 2010, the stills and maltings both then falling silent.

This turned out to be a temporary closure though as the distillery was sold to Ian MacLeod Distillers in June 2011 and production restarted in January this year after a break of just 18 months.  Ian Macleod already bottled a 16yo Tamdhu independently but most of the previous production went into blends including Famous Grouse.  Tamdhu has normally always been lightly peated and it will be interesting to see what style(s) the new owners will produce going forward.  Tamdhu single malt is to be relaunched with new branding next year after only limited availability and as special releases and independent bottles in the past (MWYB 2011).

Tamdhu station before renovation this year
The obsolete Knockando railway station (the line was removed after closing in 1968) was renamed as Tamdhu by the distillery in 1977 when they converted the station building into the distillery visitor centre.  The buildings have very recently been given a renovation by the new owners but there are no plans to reopen to visitors yet.  Although the distillery is a little way of the trail it is worth a detour to visit the location, or take a walk along this glorious stretch of the Speyside Way that now follows the railway path.

Barnard tried a wee sample of the Tamdhu before leaving, pronouncing it as excellent, and notes that of the many hours spent there “time has indeed flown with us this day, but it has not been misspent”.  Hear, hear! to that Alfred, and may time forever flow for Tamdhu’s future as surely as the Spey flows by their doors.  I hope to visit again and not misspend some time there now that they are back in production, perhaps if that station building once more echoes to the sound of weary travellers in need of sustenance.

River Spey rapids below Tamdhu
Barnard left with a parting glance up and down the Spey before driving the long road back to Rothes.  The Spey rumbles through this pass just 200 meters away from the distillery, tumbling over the boulders carried down from the hills beyond and flowing timelessly on while the railway above it no longer rings to the vibrations of steel.  Not forgetting the extended scenic beginnings to his report, Barnard’s final verse is given to another (unaccredited) romanticised description of splendour:

“It is the land of beauty and of grandeur,
Where looks the cottage out on a domain
The palace cannot boast of.  Seas of lakes,
And hills of forests. –Torrents here
Are bounding floods; and there the tempest roams
At large, in all the terrors of its glory.”

The first four lines here almost describing a scene that you could witness along the Spey both then and today; the latter full sentence remarkably sounding like a nod to the Muckle Spate that so shaped the landscape here.

I managed to trace the original verse, which was shortened and paraphrased by Barnard, to an 1833 play called The Wife by the early 19th century Irish dramatist James Sheridan Knowles.  The description in the play (in full below) actually refers to Switzerland, a country I hope to visit sometime ere long to catch up with departed whisky friends from Edinburgh.  Whisky-News.com is written by Patrick Brossard of Switzerland and he introduced himself to me on this blog just two weeks ago so finding this verse now carries an element of propinquity to it.  There is a picture of the inside of Tamdhu’s Saladin boxes on his site if you are curious about them.

If this wasn’t a romantic description of Switzerland then it most certainly could have been of the Highlands of Scotland (except, perhaps, for the vineyards):

“It is the land of beauty and of grandeur, lady!-
Where looks the cottage out on a domain
The palace cannot boast of.  Seas of lakes,
And hills of forests! Crystal waves that rise
‘Midst mountains all of snow, and mock the sun,
Returning high his flaming beams more thick
And radiant than he sent them.  Torrents there
Are bounding floods; and there the tempest roams
At large, in all the terrors of its glory.
And then our valleys! Oh! They are the homes
For hearts.  Our cottages, our vineyards, orchards,
Our pastures studded with the herd and fold!
Our native strains that melt us as they sing them!
A free – a gentle – simple – honest people!”


Friday, 8 June 2012

Cardhu (Cardow) Distillery, Knockando

Barnard’s journey to Cardow Distillery (as it was then known, and up until 1981) was in the afternoon and began with a quick stop at Dailuaine Distillery which he had visited before.  The order of his reports suggest that this was after visiting Cragganmore in the morning and he says that after the halt he had a long drive in the opposite direction which would match coming from the Ballindalloch area, though that makes it a very long day of travelling.

From Dailuaine he crossed the Spey at the Bridge of Carron and states that “Cardow is 4 1/2 miles from Carron, which is the nearest railway station”, a distance confirmed by today’s helpful AA route finder as being roughly the same when taking the road due north from Carron, round the Monahoudie Moss and then west to the distillery (4 miles that should take you 15 minutes apparently, or 30 minutes if you stop to take as many photos as I did!).  The initial stages of Barnard’s journey were through “birch plantations, which at times seemed to overhang the river”, those plantations now mostly fir trees with birch and other species in smaller patches.

Colourful view north from Carron Station
The journey (and sharp exercise apparently – perhaps they walked alongside the carriage some of the way) stoked up a mighty appetite amongst Barnard’s party “soon allayed by the well-known hospitality of Mrs. Cumming, the proprietress of the Distillery”.  This would be Mrs Elizabeth Cumming, the daughter in law of the original founder of a distillery at Cardow and one of the earliest women to run her own distillery.  She had taken over the running of the business in 1872 and remained in charge until 1893, overseeing the tripling of capacity by the construction of an enlarged distillery between 1884 and 1886.

The first Cardow Distillery was built at Cardow farm on the site of a previous illicit distillery where the founder John Cumming was occasionally caught and fined until he licensed it in 1824.  His wife Helen was a well known character in the industry and we will hear more about her later.  Barnard witnessed the old distillery buildings, describing them as “most straggling and primitive” but does not describe them further as he states that they will shortly be demolished.  The new distillery was built just a couple of hundred metres away and was “a handsome pile of buildings…built on the most approved plan, and with all the latest improvements and appliances”.  Barnard’s description hereafter was relatively brief and to the point for him.

Model of malting process

I arrived at Cardhu to take one of their tours and joined Andrew as he guided an international mix of fourteen fellow pilgrims round the establishment, some of which still dates to around Barnard’s time, other parts from a 1960s rebuild and expansion.  We began in a small visitor centre where a display area was set up to entertain us before the tour and where we were introduced to the malting process.  Barnard had viewed the single malt barn and the kiln which were of standard description; now there are two old barns and kilns but they have not been used as such since 1968 when malt barn no2 was converted into a warehouse.

Cardhu kilns and maltings
The original mill was powered by a large 18 feet diameter waterwheel, presumably powered by the Cardow Burn that feeds a small dam beside the site and a larger one further upstream.  The process water was and still is piped over two miles from a spring on Mannoch Hill, yet another distillery making use of this important watershed.  I’m going to have to take a proper count of the number of distilleries that rely on Mannoch for water in one form or another - it may be more than Ben Rinnes and perhaps more than any other hill in Scotland since the Campbeltown heydays when Beinn Ghuilean was the filter for the waters of Crosshill Loch.  The peat used at Cardow was also cut from moss land on Mannoch Hill but today the malt is almost unpeated.

The mash tun was originally quite small at just 12 feet wide by 5 feet deep and there were 6 washbacks holding 18,200 litres each.  The current tun is a much larger stainless steel full lauter vessel that produces 35,000 litres of worts per mash to fill into one of the ten washbacks, eight of Douglas fir and two of stainless steel.  Fermentation is a fairly regulation 72 hours.

Cardhu Distillery, main buildings built 1960
The stills were quite small at first, 9,100 litres for the wash still and 7,300 litres for the spirit, and the spirit was condensed in a cement worm tub that no longer exists.  There were two more stills added (together with a larger mash tun and new washbacks) in 1899 and a further two in 1960.  The wash stills now take a 17,375 litre charge and the spirit stills 14,780 litres.  The lyne arms on the wash stills are horizontal but they rise very slightly on the spirit stills to create a lighter, yet still oily spirit that is condensed in internally placed shell and tube condensers.

Cardhu Warehouses, built 1880s
The new distillery was capable of producing 273,000 litres p.a. but working to 182,000 litres at the time, compared to 114,000 litres p.a. at the old farm distillery.  The capacity of those six stills is now 3.2m litres placing Cardhu inside the top 50% in Scotland by volume.  Only bourbon casks are used for the 12yo single malt but some of the production is matured in sherry casks, all intended for blending.  There are around 7,500 casks in five dunnage warehouses around the site but most of the production is for blending and is stored in central bonds.  There is a dedication stone on the front of warehouse no.7 inscribed ‘E.C. 1884’ in recognition of the founding of the new site by Elizabeth Cumming.

After use of both Cardow and Cardhu as distillery names at different times in the past, the official name was fixed as Cardhu in 1981 and has remained as such ever since.  Cardhu is from the Gaelic for black rock although why this name was chosen for the location I don’t know.


Barnard’s reporting of Cardow doesn’t stop there though.  He returned to the distillery around seven or eight years later as part of his research for a chapter in a pamphlet he wrote for John Walker & Sons Ltd which also included reports on their Kilmarnock operations and Annandale Distillery that they took over soon after buying Cardow.

Cardow was sold to John Walker & Sons Ltd in September 1893 and Barnard mentions it was quite recent so his journey here is soon after.  He also mentions that Elizabeth Cumming had retired from the distillery but still retains the house and farm, and her son John had taken over as manager and was also appointed as a Director of John Walker & Sons.  Elizabeth died in May 1894 so this dates Barnard’s second visit to late 93/early 94.

He prefaces the Cardow section of the pamphlet with two unaccredited verses from an 18th century Scots song called The Banks of Spey which records the songwriter’s love for the beauties and glories of that great river.  More than half of his report is taken up with scene setting and introducing a little of the character of the main protagonists in the distillery’s history.  He also includes a few etchings of the operations which are very helpful.

His report begins by recording that Cardow, or Car-dhu (that spelling here recognised for the first time by him) was famous for its fine make of “water of life” for which he helpfully provides the phonetic “wishk-a-beh” to aid his London readers for when he later records the generic Gaelic name of Usquebaugh when referring to illicit production.  He then repeats his journey up from Carron station in a similarly evocative style to his earlier report and notes that Cardow has now become “quite a little township” with a “pleasant and busy appearance”.

He then introduces us to a page and a half of detail about the lives of three generations of the Cumming family who had founded and developed the business up to that point, although he does get most of the relevant dates and their ages wrong so perhaps he was recording from local oral tradition rather than documented evidence.  The original farm distillery was founded by John Cumming and his wife Helen (Barnard calls her Ellen), originally as an illicit operation but then licensed from 1824.

Site of original distillery at Cardow Farm, Cardow Burn in front
The illicit dealings and Helen’s involvement in keeping the gaugers at bay form a large part of his story.  The key elements I would share here are that Barnard at least tries to present a balanced view of these operations, reflecting both the legal and romantic aspects and the view of both the authorities and the smugglers without any judgement on his part.  He introduces Helen with note of her remarkable character and many resources, and tells a story of how she would welcome the gaugers as guests in her home while at the same time alerting other smugglers in the district as to their presence by raising a red flag once they were inside.

He suggests that John died in 1839 at the age of 64 and was succeeded in the business by his son Lewis who was already a partner and who for some years “was really the active spirit in the concern”.  John actually died in 1846 at age 72 and I think the year 1839 must have been when Lewis had begun taking over the running of the distillery.  Both John and Lewis are recorded as being intimate friends of the founders of Glenlivet and Glen Grant distilleries and often worked in co-operation with them.

Lewis had doubled the production of the distillery to around 25,000 gallons (114,000 litres) p.a. but he died in 1872 and was succeeded in the business by his widow Elizabeth. She oversaw the biggest change in the distillery’s history by building the new distillery in the 1880s as mentioned earlier.  She also sold the worn out stills from the old farm distillery for £120 in March 1886 to William Grant who was building Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown at the time.  Barnard is very praiseworthy of her abilities in both commerce and in the operation of a distillery, but described in that Victorian way that also reflects this as being the exception for a woman.  Her son John had been assisting her in recent years and that brings us up to the point of sale to John Walker & Sons and Barnard’s description of the current operations.

He here introduces me to an archaic word that I shall steal and use again – desideratum – which my Collins dictionary defines as something lacked and wanted but most other sources define it more positively as something wished for/desirable/essential; I think Barnard used the latter meaning here when discussing the availability of pure air and the open situation for malting that Cardow enjoyed.  There was still only one malting and kiln at that time but the second and larger pairing appear on a map surveyed in 1902 and plans suggest it was added after 1896 as part of expansion under the new owners, along with the two new stills in 1899.

Johnnie Walker rooms with malt barn no.2 and kiln behind 
The remaining operations are much as before, except for there then only being four washbacks, down from six recorded in his first report.  He mentions the worm tub again and here records its location as “just outside the walls of the still-house”.  One of the etchings shows the front elevation of the distillery and includes the word ‘Condenser’ in its caption, the concrete worm tank there seen on a raised section in front of the still house and beside the offices.  If a worm tank had continued to be used here then the already oily spirit may have been more like that noted by Barnard in his first report – “of the thickest and richest description, and admirably adapted for blending”.

Cardhu distillery offices and still house behind left
He records two large warehouses that had recently been erected and could store up to 1.3m litres, plus six others of lesser importance but which were “filled with whisky, some of which is of great age”.  He then enjoys a refreshment of a “nip of Cardow which had been maturing for fifteen years”, by far the oldest whisky I recall him mentioning in his book.  A 15yo limited release called The Managers Dram was bottled in 1989 for distillery gifts and the SMD Staff Association, available at premium prices if you can find any today.

John Walker & Sons was taken over by DCL in 1925 and thus ultimately part of Diageo since its formation in 1997.  Cardhu distillery is considered by the group as the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker whisky with some Cardhu appearing in every version of their famous blends and at the very heart of the Black Label.  Cardhu is also infamous for another episode in more recent history that I have to mention to complete the story, partly because Barnard was almost prophetic when he signed off his second visit with the words “there has never been sufficient made to overstock the market”!

Cardhu was a major catalyst for the current naming restrictions for Scotch whisky which were introduced by the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009.  Back in 2002, when stocks of Cardhu were so low that they were struggling to meet demand particularly for their main market in Spain, Cardhu 12yo Single Malt was withdrawn and a replacement Vatted Malt was launched under the description ‘Pure Malt’.  This was met with consternation by other industry players who complained about it in 2003 claiming that the use of the term, and the fact that the bottles and labels looked very similar to the single malt version and still called it Cardhu, would lead to confusion amongst consumers.  After discussions with the SWA the Pure Malt version was withdrawn in 2004 and the 12yo Single Malt was relaunched in 2005.  It is currently the biggest selling single malt in the Diageo range (MWYB 2011) and the 6th best seller in the world.

A lasting result of this episode is that the term Pure Malt is now a prohibited descriptor for Scotch.  Ironically, this was a term that Barnard used to describe the whisky from quite a number of single distilleries (as well as Campbeltown, Islay, Highland and even just ‘fine’ whisky on one occasion) but he doesn’t provide any such descriptor for Cardow in his first report!  The closest he comes is noting in his second report that Cardow had “made a mark for itself, independently of the Speyside and other Glenlivet makes” – his italics.  The current regulated descriptions for Scotch can be found in the 2009 Act available from the SWA – knowing what Barnard would have made of it all is perhaps a desideratum [thanks Alfred ;)], but sadly we will never know.


Friday, 1 June 2012

Cragganmore Distillery, Ballindalloch

After Dailuaine Distillery Barnard’s reports follow a rather round about route, first recording a trip up the Spey valley to Cragganmore Distillery one morning, then seemingly back to Dailuaine for a quick stop and then northwest to Cardow in the afternoon.  Criss-crossing the countryside between these places would have entailed some arduous travelling no matter which direction he took but he faced it with no criticism or sign of weariness.

It would seem that he began that day on an early train from Keith to Carron via Craigellachie, recording that they left Carron soon after breakfast, but then took a carriage drive for over two hours from Carron to Cragganmore despite the railway line continuing up stream from there and with Ballindalloch station very near to Cragganmore.  Perhaps the Strathspey Railway didn’t run too often then, or his off-peak saver didn’t allow him to travel when the sun was up.  Actually, Barnard wasn’t one for using saver cattle class tickets as we shall see in a later report.

Whatever the reason for the change of transport he seemed to enjoy the varied scenery and the sun breaking through as they passed by the Ballindalloch estate.  From here the road diverged to turn back on itself as it descended into the River Avon valley, with the main route at that time continuing on to Glenlivet but now turning through a long sweeping bend with a steep ‘oh my god, brake!’ angled descent (it’s a ‘can we make it in third gear all the w…no, no we can’t’ type of ascent when arriving from the west).  River Avon is one of those tautological names that often occur in the landscape, ‘Avon’ being the anglicised version of the Gaelic ‘Abhainn’ which translates to English as 'river' to begin with.

'Palatial entrance' to Ballindalloch Castle
Barnard records passing the “palatial entrance to the castle of Ballindalloch, and immediately afterwards crossed the bridge over the river Aven (sic), a fine stream, which takes rank as the third in Scotland for salmon fishing”.  This old bridge, built in 1800 from stone with a large single arch and a smaller storm channel, stills leaps across the Avon beside the gatehouse, the main road now crossing by a modern concrete lump of traffic management just upstream.  A few people were on the old bridge as I stopped by, the occasional fleeting glimpse of a leaping salmon drawing their attention away from that later disfigurement that blots the landscape.  Who does a thing like that, and have they been released on parole yet?! Hrmpf; I will spare you a picture.

Original Bridge of Avon, built 1800
I have to tell you about the intriguing motto inscribed on the crest above the gatehouse – “Touch not the cat bot a glove”.  This is a motto of Clan Macpherson who have long been associated with Ballindalloch Castle, Sir George Macpherson-Grant being the then resident and landowner from whom the Cragganmore distillery land was leased.  The motto means don’t touch the cat unless its claws are ‘gloved’ i.e. sheathed - a warning to all who do business with the clan not to cross them, and wise words whenever one engages with a member of the feline species (I’m sure my scar will fade eventually, and I’m sure that cat is still sitting in the sunbeam it refused to be moved from).

Anyway, I drove across the carbuncle (…) and followed Barnard down the steep hill towards the distillery where “the beauty of the Spey valley is enhanced by the contrast it offers to the wild and rugged scenery around it”.  I think the new bridge designers may have used that as their get out clause – make it ugly so it will enhance the beauty of the Spey!  As if it needs it.  I’ll stop now.

Ballindalloch Station and the Speyside Way
Barnard then passed by the Ballindalloch railway station at the foot of the hill, perhaps now kicking himself for not waiting for the local service*.  The railway crosses the Spey nearby and the lattice girder bridge built in 1863 still sits on its stone supports, now carrying the Speyside Way.  The section of the original Strathspey Railway from here to the Bridge of Carron is the only stretch that followed the north bank of the Spey, the sections south to Abernethy (Nethy Bridge) and north of Carron to Craigellachie all meandering along close to the south bank.  Although Cragganmore was built close to the railway, the first distillery in Speyside to do so, there was no siding running in to the distillery grounds so casks would be carted the short distance downhill to the goods yard beside the station.

Ballindalloch Bridge
From there the approach to the distillery crossed over the Burn of Allt-na-creigh by “rather a dangerous bridge” apparently, which I was disappointed to find had been replaced by a wider road with the burn channelled underneath so I couldn’t see what the old fellow was concerned about.  The burn begins on the hill named Craggan More (meaning big rocky place) that rises over 1600 feet to the south of the distillery and is referred to by Barnard as the Craggan Burn that supplied the distillery and powered two water wheels.  It still feeds the dam above the distillery to provide cooling water (and now recorded as the Allt na Criche) but the process water is now drawn from six springs at various points on the hill.

Craggan More from the A95 above the distillery
And so we arrive at one of the distilleries that I had been most eager to visit on this journey.  Cragganmore 12yo was one of the first two malt whiskies I remember really appreciating, along with the Oban 14yo.  It was Diageo’s Speyside representative within the original six Classic Malts and was a catalyst for my love of good whisky, a first brick in the foundations of this adventure taking place some 15 years later and a whisky I still happily return to when not wishing to go peaty too early of a shift.

Cragganmore distillery was founded in 1869 by John Smith, who already had experience as a distiller at first Macallan and then Glenlivet, then south to Clydesdale Distillery at Wishaw, before returning north and leasing nearby Glenfarclas in 1865 and Ballintomb by Carron in 1867, the latter seeming to cease operation soon after and not recorded on a map surveyed in 1869.

Cragganmore was built from greenstone rock hewn from the side of Craggan More and Barnard describes it as “a series of outlying old-fashioned buildings, none of them enclosed” although he later mentions that the main buildings form a quadrangle.  The main buildings today still have an old-fashioned feel to them and they still stand around a quadrangle entered through an ornate iron gate.

Cragganmore Distillery
A number of sources claim that Cragganmore was designed by architect Charles Cree Doig of whom we have heard a lot recently.  A problem here is that said Chaz D was born in 1855 and so would only be 13/14 years old when the distillery was built!  His important work with distilleries was not to begin until the 1880s and unless he was sketching the design for Cragganmore while daydreaming during his school maths lessons (a distraction I can fully endorse) then he would not have been involved in its beginnings.  Even an old distillery brochure refers to it being “designed by the experienced Elgin architect Charles Doig” from the outset.  There could be one of two confusions here - he is recorded as being involved in the refurbishment of the distillery in 1901 and this involvement may have been misinterpreted as being from 1869, or it may have been that the first buildings were designed by the Elgin based firm of architects that he later joined, that firm being renamed as C.C. Doig & Sons in the early 1900s after Charles became a partner and took over the business.  Answers on a postcard…

John Smith’s eldest son William was the manager when Barnard visited and escorted him around the premises.  Cragganmore is now one of Diageo’s distilleries that is open for tours so I very happily joined a lively international group to be shown around by Irene, although unhappily without the dramming they enjoyed afterwards due to my need to drive onward to my next stop; but had the railway still been running here...

Cragganmore malt store in old malting, looking south inside the quad
So, to the granaries, which were situated on the slope of the hill, or not, as they no longer are.  Barnard’s description offers nothing unusual here anyway so nothing really to compare.  The peat though, that’s a different matter.  He records that the malt was dried using peats cut from a moss three miles away.  The peats were dried on the moss for a year and then stored at the distillery for three years before being used, the longest drying time I can recall from his book.  The current whisky has only a very slight smokiness and that comes from around 2% of the barley used being heavily peated and then added to the main bulk of unpeated barley in the mash, rather than all the barley being dried to a low range peatiness.  The malt store is still housed in one old granary building along the south side of the quad.

The Mash House and Still House were originally both in the same building on the south side of the quadrangle but today they are separate and on the east side.  The mash tun was a smallish 16 feet wide by 4 1/2 deep and despite having two waterwheels on site the stirring rakes were here driven by steam.  The tun room held six washbacks at 11,360 litres each and Barnard notes that they were “switched with props in the ancient style” which conjures up images of slaves been driven round in circles, wearing a channel into the floor from their bare blistered feet and spurred on by the promise of some hooch to help them forget.  And they say there are no jobs for students any more!  The current tun is a stainless steel full-lauter which takes a 6.3 tonne mash and there are still six washbacks but now taking 33,000 litres of wort each for a minimum of 60 hours fermentation.

Barnard says very little about the two old pot stills, with the wash still holding 9,100 litres and spirit still 5,700 litres.  The stills were doubled up to four in 1964 and they are of a similar size to the originals, the wash charge now being 8,725 litres and the spirit charge at 6,600 litres.  The spirit stills are an unusual design with flat tops and the lyne arms coming off at a right angle rather than a swan neck, a peculiar arrangement I have only seen before on Pulteney Distillery’s wash still.  The wash stills have constricted necks and there are reflux balls on the spirit stills with the spirit condensed in two outside cast iron worm tanks, each pairing of wash and spirit still sharing a tank.

Cragganmore warehouses
There were eight warehouses around the yard, including a new two story warehouse, and holding the equivalent of nearly 1.1m litres from production of 410,000 litres p.a. at the time of Barnard’s visit.  Today there are three dunnage warehouses to the north side, a mixture of old and new at two and three stories high, but not able to store all of the current annual production capacity of up to 2m litres (MWYB 2011).

Barnard notes the proprietor’s house on a rise above the distillery from where he has a “bird’s eye view of the whole work”, and he and his son William owned some of the surrounding farms.  He sadly records the passing of John Smith soon after his visit and his son Gordon then inherited the business, in connection with his uncle George initially as Gordon was only 14 at the time.  The role of the eldest son William who was manager and showed Barnard around becomes uncertain at this time, as is the actual relationship of Gordon to John.  John is recorded as his father but also in some places George is his father, and he is also not recorded as one of John’s sons who are listed as William, Robert, George and John [libindx].  Postcard, answer, etc…

From the outset, the whisky produced at Cragganmore had all been purchased by James Watson & Co, a whisky merchant based in Dundee, and the distillery remained in the Smith family until 1923 when a new company was formed with Mackie & Co (later White Horse Distillers) as joint owner along with Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch (the grandson of the peer who had initially leased out the distillery land) and so Cragganmore became a constituent part of the White Horse Blend and from there ultimately into DCL/Diageo.

Further to my appreciation of the 12yo as a foundation in my dramming experiences, the Distillers Edition that has been double matured in port pipes has long been one of my favourite whiskies.  In fact, since introducing it to a number of people a few years back, I have yet to find anyone who has not enjoyed it with suitable appreciative noises.  A few different releases have appeared and I think my all time favourite of this favourite is the 1993 (bottled 2007).  Sadly there was none of this earlier release left at the distillery as a few other people seem to have had the same idea.  I have recorded my enjoyment of port finished whisky a few times on this blog and this is one of my top two favourites of this style of whisky.  You can keep your wersh wine finishes; the red fruit jam notes and drying aftertaste often found from port finishes works for me and Cragganmore will always be a fondly remembered distillery.

* I wonder if there is another reason for Barnard not taking the train from Carron down to Ballindalloch, and back up before visiting Cardow.  His journey here may have been soon after flooding on the Spey had damaged the Garmouth viaduct near Spey Mouth for a while and led to a confusing description of Barnard’s journey to Inchgower – perhaps there was concern over the safety of other bridges further upstream as well and they were closed for a while.  I’m going to have to add a bit of flood and railway management research to my growing list of outstanding tasks for another time!

A number of anomalies appear from my research here.  John Smith is variably recorded as being lessee at either Ballintomb or Ballindalloch Distillery at the same time as Glenfarclas, but I can’t find a record of Ballindalloch as ever being a name for a distillery, and Cragganmore is located in that district so this may just be a misreport of the Ballintomb name that was licensed in the mid 1800s.  The uncertainty around CCD’s involvement as architect and who Gordon Smith actually was are noted above.

Also recorded sometimes is the distillery being the first to have its own railway siding but this doesn’t appear on any maps I have seen.  It was the first to be built beside a railway in Speyside so maybe the siding has been a misreport of this somewhere as well, unless it was just a private section in the goods yard on the other side of the station.  Any further historical evidence on any of these points gratefully received to put me in my place, but what is not an anomaly is that cat claws are lethal and you really should let sleeping cats lie (ouch)!