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|
|Original Bridge of Avon, built 1800|
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|
|Craggan More from the A95 above the distillery|
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.
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|
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.
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.
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)!