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The Drappie from the Highland Line

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Spring 1991, with permission

A phantom railway line runs through the manager's office and visitor centre at the Aberfeldy Distillery. All that remains of it is a flat embankment of grassland and traces of masonry where steam locos once rumbled over the driveway.

But when this most attractive distillery was built here in 1898, overlooking the swollen River Tay and the winding road through Grandtully to Perth, the railway line was an important factor in its location.

For the Aberfeldy was designed to be a blending malt to fatten and enrich whiskies of the Dewar dynasty, which grew from a wine and spirit wholesale operation based in Perth. So, in the 1890s, access to a railway line (with a private siding) was a significant business asset.

But there was more. These "Breadalbane lands" of upper Perthshire had a long tradition of whisky-making from the time when this most worthwhile activity of prudent and inventive farmers became something to be licensed and policed by the Excise - with a bit of undeclared distilling on the side. All of these pieces of the whisky mosaic have thrived in this luscious, wooded backwater.

There had been another distillery close to Aberfeldy, called Pitilie. This been a typical farm-based operation of the mid-19th century. In Aberfeldy Past and Present (N.D. Mackay, 1954) there's a description of the remains of this distillery which took its name from its water-source, the Pitilie Burn. The barley was malted at a nearby farm, in a building with a hard clay floor over which the steeped grain was spread to germinate. Mackay tells how this floor was constructed:

"First the clay was spread evenly over the area to be covered. Sheep were then driven over it slowly, to and fro, until it was trampled and packed to a hardness as of concrete; simple, yet effectual."

Not a process, however, that would find favour with today's health authorities Nevertheless, a century later, the floor was still sound enough for the building to he used as a tractor shed.

Pitilie Distillery closed in about 1867: but the fact that its burn water had been proved in whisky-making was another factor in siting the Aberfeldy Distillery. So when you sip the Aberfeldy you are saluting a vanished cratur from another generation.

The busy Dewars were expanding their blending and bottling operation in the late 19th century, and began to build or acquire malt distilleries to safeguard their production. There was a nostalgic aspect in their choice of Aberfeldy, for the original John Dewar's crofter parents had lived in this iovely strath.

Here they wanted to produce a good blending malt, a whisky of high quality which was neither too assertively peaty nor too light in character. They got it right: for today, with the Aberfeldy part of the United Distillers group, its whisky has a nutty robustness halfway between the tang of Lagavulin and the subtlety of Rosebank, which are Islay and Lowland malts. Yet the Aberfeldy is undoubtedly a Highland style whisky.

The design of the Aberfeldy Distillery clearly marked the advance from farm-based production to an industry in its own right. The buildings form a long, continuous row. The barley was delivered at one end, at the barley lofts, and passed in a production flow through the steeps, malting floors, kiln, dressing, mashing, washback and distilling sections to emerge transformed ar the other end, where the casks were filled and taken to the adjacent warehouses.

Nowadays, as is the case with most such distilleries, the malting is carried out elsewhere. Aberfeldy gets most of its malted barley from the Glenesk Maltings, Montrose, and its requirements are for a medium-peated grain.

This distillery was expanded in 1972 from one pair of stills to two. But the manager, Brian Bisset said a highly traditional approach to whisky-making remained paramount, with wooden washbacks rather than stainless steel, and with no computerisation. "Here, we still work by skill and judgement rather by machine programs."

He has worked at many malt distilleries - North Port, Glenlossie, Mortlach, Glentauchers, Dailuaine, Strathisla - before going to Aberfeldy nearly eight years ago. What struck him immediately about the Aberfeldy operation was the exceptionally slow distillation rate of the wide-necked stills. Before the spirit is captured, the foreshots are allowed to run for a long time, up to three times as long as at some other distilleries, in his experience.

"It is a gentle distillation which produces a purer and gentler spirit," he said. "This gentleness was clearly what the founders sought in a good blending malt. "

But not all of this mellow Perthshire beastie disappeared into the blending vats. Some has long been available as a single-malt through the independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail: and in 1988, thanks to Brian Bisset's persistence (he put the idea to Sir Norman Macfarlane, chairman of Guiness plc!) the distillery has organised its own bottlings. Three butts were selected for bottling in 1988, rising to ten this year. The label says " 15-year-old", but in fact the actual age has been from 17 to 20 years.

Current policy dictates that you will probably have to travel to the Aberfeldy district to buy some. Which makes the Aberfeldy a true vln du pays, a rare prize to be sought out near its birthplace.
© (1991) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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Reproduced from the Balblair distillery pamphlet by Gordon Ballantine & Son

Balblair, after Strathisla, is the oldest working whisky distillery in Scotland and is situated in one of the wildest and most beautiful parts of the country. This is the part of Ross-shire where the burns flow down Struie Hill to water the farmlands of Edderton, the "parish of peals", and the shore of lhe Dornoch Firth. Balblair is Caelic for "battlefield" or "town of the plain", both descriptions which have held true since the Vikings came a thousand years ago.

Many inhabitants of the county bear the name of Ross, and in the history of the distillery a number have played their part. By the late 18th century the leading landowners were the Rosses of the Balnagowan Estate. In 1790, a mile north of Edderton, their lands included the Balblair Farm which stands there to this day. Here, at the foot of a hill by a burn, was the first Balblair distillery.

It was a simple pot still, typical of hundreds on farms up and down the country. Balblair Farm was tenanted at the time by a man named Simpson; in Whitsun 1798, the lease of the farm was taken over by one John Ross. John Ross had been distilling at Balblair since 1790, and it was he who now set about turning a small pot still into a bigger commercial enterprise.

These were different times from the whisky business of today. Peat and water were plentiful locally, but barley had to be milled and malted elsewhere and brought lo lhe distillery by horse and cart. Smugglers flooded the market with whisky of doubtful quality. The Exciseman took every opportunity to extract his cut. Storms lashed the coast and lhe crops. But there was no shortage of demand and John Ross was determined to ensure the supply.

The Balblair whisky distilled by John Ross was a clear, colourless spirit ranging in strength from 90 lo 125 proof, sold straight from the still. The local peat and water gave it the slightly sweet taste and strong aroma which characterise Balblair whisky to this day. In 1800 the accounts book records a cost of 5/- [25p] for a pint of "dramming" or middle strength whisky and ú1.8.0d [ú1.40] for a gallon, strength unstated. John Ross was plagued by bad debts; at one point the Reverend Munro of Edderton owed ú15.10.11d for whisky consumed, a considerable sum.

Money, or the lack of it, was Ross's commonest complaint. But he persevered and by the early 1800s Balblair whisky was being taken by horse and cart to Cromarty and shipped to Leith for sale in Glasgow and Edinburgh. He was still running the farm as well as the distillery. In 1817 he was sequestrated; he soon recovered but cash flow remained a problem. "You should never blamc a poor man" he wrote to one customer in Glasgow, "for not being rich."

In 1822, John Ross produced 2,285 gallons of whisky. His son Andrew joined him in 1824 and by 1833 Balblair was producing 8,573 gallons a year. John Ross had retired by this time, but when Andrew moved up the coast to Brora, his father resumed distilling with a partner from Tain and carried on until his death in 1836.

The sons and grandsons of John Ross operated the Balblair farm and distillery until the last years of the l9th cenlury. Until l864 Andrew was in partnership with his son John McGilchrist Koss, a noled figure in the history of Scotch whisky. John McGilchrist then went to run a distillery at Teaninich and Andrew was joined by Andrew Ross Junior. In 1872 the distillery was expanded uphill, with maltings at the top, then the mash house, the still house and the filling store. The old building became a bonded warehouse and the whole process worked on the flow of the burn.

But Andrew Junior died that same year, and no sooner had the next son James Ross gone into partnership with his father than the latter too died in 1873. This left the young James Ross on his own, but the farm and distillery seem to have nourished under his management. Barnard, the first great chronicler of Scotch whisky, visited Balblair in 1887 and reported an output of 50,000 gallons a year. But in 1894 James Ross gave up the tenancy and moved to another distillery at Pollo. None of his sons went into the whisky business; his father was dead; his brother John McGilchrist Ross had finished at Teaninich and set up his own distillery at Glenskiach, where he would remain for the rest of his working life. The stewardship of the Rosses over the Balblair distillery had come to an end. The new leaseholder was Alexander Cowan, an Inverness wine merchant. If John Ross and his descendants had turned a small pot still into a working business, Cowan was the man who brought Balblair into the 20th century. Like his predecessors he found it an exacting task. Cowan took a new 60-year lease from the Balnagowan Estate. The terms included an advance of ú5,000 and a 2 acre site half a mile away, on which he had within one year to construct a brand new Balblair distillery. The advance was to be paid back by the end of the lease. The annual rent was ú100 and there was a royalty of 10% on profits. The new distillery would include the Excise Officers' houses, and lavatories, and in every respect be up to date.

In return, Cowan received the right to use the name "The Balblair Distillery and Balblair Whisky." He continued to operate the old distillery while the new one was being built; thereafter it was allowed to fall into disuse. The remains of the malting floor were still visible on the old site when Jimmy Yeats, the present manager of Balblair, arrived in 1978.

These were the origins of the buildings and the site of the Balblair distillery today. The present offices, still house, mash house, kiln and barns were all built for Cowan under the terms of the lease. Thc railway had come to Balblair, and brought coal for the stills and boiler, and barley for malting, to the distillery's siding. The whisky was no longer sold straight from the still bul matured in dunnage in casks stored on the damp earth of the warehouse floors, before much of it went to blenders.

But the Budget of 1909 increased the licence fee and the duty on spirit and brought back hard times to distillers. In 1911 Alexander Cowan, like John Ross before him, was sequestrated. Much of what was saleable, both whisky and plant, was taken to meet his debts. The Balblair distillery, with its remaining whisky maturing in dunnage under the eye of the Excise, was run by a skeleton staff through the 1920s and 1930s. After 1932 there was no whisky left at all. This was probably just as well as the next occupants were the army, who commandeered the buildings at the outbreak of the Second World War and stayed for the duration, leaving the concrete floor of the canteen in warehouse Number 3 as sole trace of their tenancy. But the liquidation of the Balnagowan estate in 1941 mcant that the freehold of the Balblair distillery was also now up for sale.

Mr. Robert James "Bertie" Cumming was a Banff solicitor. In 1948, Mr Cumming and his family purchased Balblair from the Rosses of Balnagowan for ú48,000. Like Alexander Cowan, Cumming was determined that the distillery should enjoy a prosperous future.

Balblair resumed production in 1949, and a photograph still hangs there of the men responsible for the first Balblair whisky distilled since before thc First World War. Onc of them, Uisdean (Hugh) Ross, is head warehouseman at Balblair today.

Cumming was an enthusiastic businessman. On one occasion he went into a public house in Tain and after a few drams wrote out a cheque for the entire premises. The cheque was left and he departed into the night. The next day he returned, realising what he had done. The proprietors declined his offer, but were impressed by his willingness to keep his word.

At Balblair he expanded the distillery and built more warehouses. In 1964 he installed a new boiler house with an oil-fired steam boiler, changed the coal-fired stills over to steam-heating and added a wash still. He extended the tun room and installed two more washbacks. The barley now came in by road rather than rail, but floor malting still took place there in the traditional manner.

Balblair was now carrying out up to 16-17 mashes a week, four times the figure during the Cowan years. The warehouses held large stocks of maturing whisky. There was a Balblair Ten Years Old, but most of the whisky went to the blenders: Distillers Company Limited, Bell's, Whyte & Mackay and Hiram Walker.

Hiram Walker were the owners of Ballantine's, one of the biggest-selling blended whiskies in the world. Cumming had sold them his Pulteney distillery some years earlier. Both Pulteney and Balblair were important ingredients in the Ballantine's blend. In 1970 Cumming sold out to Hiram Walker and retired. Balblair, for the first time in its long history, was out of the hands of local entrepreneurs like Ross, Cowan and Cumming, and part of an international group.

Since 1970 there have been a few technical changes and a greater sense of security at Balblair. Floor malting has stopped and malt comes in by road. There are up to 20 mashes a week and the distillery can produce up to 1.5 million litres of alcohol a year. Balblair whisky is as popular as ever.

The merger of Hiram Walker with Allied Vintners saw the creation of a new company, Allied Distillers, in 1988. On their behalf Balblair has become a showcase for visitors from all over the world. But in 1990, its bicentenary year, Balblair first and foremost continues to be what, with interruptions, it was always meant to be: a working distillery, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the working year. This will surely continue to be the case, at least as long as the water flows down Struie Hill to Edderton, "the parish of peats", and the sea.

© (1990) George Ballantine & Son Ltd.

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Bruichladdich Distillery

Reproduced by permission of the Bruichladdich Distillery Company Ltd

'The "Islays". . . will always stand in the first rank of stylish whiskies'.

So wrote 'Little John', a correspondent in the Scottish Wine, Spirit and Beer Trade Review in 1887, six years after the Harvey brothers, Robert, William and John, had chosen Islay as the site of their new distillery.

The Harvey family, of Yoker and Dundashill, had an unrivalled experience of distilling going back at least into the 1780's. Their choice of Bruichladdich was no doubt made in the light of the growing trade in blended whisky, where the strongly-peated Islays were valued for their ability to impart their rich flavour to the lighter grain and lowland malt spirits. A paragraph in the Oban Times for 7th May 1881 stated that the new distillery was 'about to be erected' and by 26th November it was reported that it had been 'very expeditiously put up, and (was) now about ready to start working'.

The attractions of the site included the nearby pier, and the 'excellent' water. The then novel technique of concrete construction was adopted, and John McDonald of Tollcross, Glasgow employed as builder. The coppersmith work was undertaken by Bennett & McLaren, also of Glasgow.

Alfred Barnard, who visited the distillery on his monumental tour of the mid 1880's, commented that Bruichladdich was 'One of the finest and most healthy spots in Islay'. The distillery was externally much as it is today 'a solid handsome structure in the form of a square and entsed through an archway, over which is a fine stone-built residence for the use of the partners when staying on the island'. The stills were coal-fired, from the outside, and produced 94,000 gallons annually.

The Harvey family interests were consolidated under the style of the Bruichladdich Distillery Co. (Islay) Ltd. in 1886, and this company continued to operate the distillery until the inter-war years, when it was forced to close down. The massive expansion of the United States market in the late 1930's brought American investment into Scotch Whisky distilling. Joseph Hobbs, with backing from National Distillers of America, began to buy up closed distilleries, and in 1938, in partnership with Hatim Attari and Alexander Tolmie, he acquired Bruichladdich, transferring it rapidly to Associated Scottish Distillers Ltd., the distilling subsidiary of Train & McIntyre, owned by National Distillers.

Train & McIntyre passed to the Distillers Company in l9S3, but in the previous year Bruichladdich had been sold to Ross & Coulta, the Glasgow flrm of whisky brokers. They held on to the distillery until 1960, when it passed to A. B. Grant's company Bruichladdich Proprietors Ltd. Mr. Grant's takeover followed the freeing of Scotch Whisky exports from post- war rationing, and the new company began a programme of modest expansion of output which, by the time of Ross Wilson's visit in 1962, had nearly doubled capacity from the original designed volume. This was accomplished in part by abandoning malting on the site, supplies being brought in instead by puffer.

Invergordon Distillers bought the distillery in 1969 as part of a programme designed to create an integrated distilling group. They added two stills to the original pattern, in 1975, skilfully enlarging the mash-house and tun-room so as to retain the original outline, taking capacity far beyond the original design, up to 800,000 proof gallons, or over 2 million O.I.M.L. in the new metric system. Invergordon and the Islaymen who work in the distillery continue to produce the rich, 'stylish' whisky for which Bruichladdich has been renowned for a century. $BACKTAIL EOF cat >$DEST/bushmill.html< Bushmills $BODYCOLOUR

Raise your Glass to the Prince across the Water

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Winter 1991, with permission

There's a comfortable, mossy patina in the long, low buildings reflected in the still water of the dam. But there are other causes for reflection at the handsome distillery of Old Bushmills, in County Antrim.

Apart from a new enterprise at Cooley, in Eire, Old Bushmills is the only true legal malt whiskey distillery operating in the whole of Ireland. How can this be? Making whiskey was supposed to be an Irish secret, stolen by the Scots who couldn't even spell it properly.

Earlier this century, there were as many as 37 distilleries in Ireland, but they were killed off by commercial imperative. Dennis Higgins, the deputy MD at Old Bushmills, says that a generation ago, the Irish distillers strenuously objected to the legal acceptance of grain whisky. And of course, the blending of malt and grain under the name of 'Scotch' was a key to the dramatic expansion of the industry in Scotland.

So while Scotch took over the world, Irish whiskey languished - apparently for a principle with which members of a malt whisky brotherhood such as ours would have a sneaking sympathy.

Scotch blended whisky benefitted from the huge market of the British Empire: and it was also well-placed to seize a share of the sleeping US market, wakened by the end of Prohibition. According to Dennis Higgins, Irish whiskey suffered an unlucky backlash in America: many brands of home-made hooch, peddled by gangsters in the Prohibition speakeasies, had been given Irish names for spurious authenticity, which did nothing for the reputation of the real stuff later on.

One other factor contributes to Old Bushmills being Ireland's sole malt. Other Irish single whiskeys produced at the Midleton distillery complex in Eire are distilled from a mash that contains only a proportion of malted barley, mixed with either unmalted barley or other unmalted cereals such as wheat or oats. This is a traditiorlal practice but, obviously, whatever the result is, it ain't pure malt.

So Old Bushmills distillery, situated 55 miles north of Belfast, is a great survivor. The right to distil here was first granted in 1608 by James I of England: in contrast, the first actual distillery licence granted in Scotland was The Glenlivet's in 1823, although various kinds of distilling legislation had existed for centuries previously.

Three kinds of whiskey derive from Old Bushmills: there's the standard blend called 'Bushmills', the luxury blend containing some sherry-casked malt called 'Black Bush', and the one we are concerned with here, 'Bushmills Malt'. The water source, St Columb's Rill, runs through the distiUery grounds before it joins the River Bush.

The stream flows over peat and basalt, but peatiness is not a characteristic of the result, a light and elegantly rounded dram with an elusive character that sets itself apart from the Scotch Lowland style. Dennis Higgins said that the tradition of peatiness had disappeared from Irish whiskey-making many years ago

When the celebrated Alfred Barnard visited Bushmills around 1884, he found it used only locally-produced barley; and malting, of course, was done on the premises. But since the early 1970s, Old Bushmills has bought in its malted barley, taking a third of the production of Northem Ireland's only commercial maltsters, with additional supplies from Eire and Scotland - and occasionally from France. Provided that it comes from the recognised barley varieties, the grain itself does not contribute any detectable difference in flavour, and the distillers are looking for maximum yield.

Oldest it may be in one sense, but Old Bushmills distillery has had to renew itself. A traumatic event was a fire in 1885 which destroyed practically all of the buildings and equipment. But three years later, an engraving in The Book of Antrim shows the distillery completely rebuilt and back in business, with author George Henry Bassett's admiring observation: 'There is nothing old about the place except the whiskey'.

On my visit in June, a new fermentation hall was being built, its breezeblock walls disguised by rough-cast, and with small windows to help it blend with neighbouring buildings. A sensible subterfuge when you have 50,000 visitors a year. The present fermentation vessels - five of Oregon pine and two of stainless steel - will be replaced by ten stainless steel washbacks. These will receive the worts from the mash tuns at an original gravity 'in the high 50s'.

Only distiller's yeast is used at Old Bushmills. Fermentation is vigorous, producing after about 45 hours a wash containing 7.5 per cent alcohol by volume, twice as strong as that in a beer or ale producing process.

The spirit here is triple-distilled, using four wash-stills and five spirit-stills and therefore a complicated shuffling of batches that it would take a mathematician to fathom. Each fermentation fills three wash stills at about 16,000 litres capacity, while each spirit still handles about 9,000 litres.

[...] Two of the wash stills are unusually shaped, the neck ending in a flat top and with an offset lyne arm. This was to accommodate the drive for the 'rummager' when the stills were direct-fired: but heating is now done through an internal steam coil. The spirit stills are particularly elegant - high and slim - and reckoned thus to produce a lighter spirit. Although some parts of the stills have to be renewed at five-year intervals, some components are a century old.

Old Bushmills comes off the third distillation at a powerful 80 per cent alcohol by volume, reduced to 63 per cent before filling the casks. After maturation the whiskey emerges at around 50 per cent and is further reduced for bottling

The distillery is unusual too in that it employs three full-time coopers. Its blends are unusual also, in that they contain only Old Bushmills malt married to Irish grain whiskey from Midleton. Blending is carried out at the distillery, and also bottling of the three products. This, of course, is unusual. Here's to happy non-conformity.
© (1991) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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The Man who built his own Washbasks

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SWMS newsletter, Summer 1994, with permission

The headline is an exaggeration of course hut that's headlines for you. Archie Ness, now manager at Craigellachie, didn't really build the distillery's washbacks himself. But he was certainly involved, back in 1964, when he was a young member of staff and Craigellachie was being completely rebuilt.

In the Sixties and Seventies, the Scotch whisky industry was going through one of its periods of optimism. A few new malt distilleries were being built, but large numbers of older plants were being extended, and Craigellachie, Speyside, (dating from 1891) was one of these. It was being "doubled up" from one pair of stills to two and - with the exception of a few buildings like the traditional, long, low maturing warehouses, with their earthen floors - everything was to he torn down and replaced.

This might have been sad, hut it was also essential. The original buildings and layout had been designed by a well-known 19th century distillery architect, Charles Doig of Elgin. But the coming of automation marked another stage in the progress of whisky distilling - a development that had raised a local, farm-based activity into an international business. The original buildings were no longer adequate.

Archie Ness, who had joined the distillery as a mashman a few years earlier, was able to watch this amazing transition take place. Incredibly, the rebuilding and re- equipping of the distillery took only nine months. In particular, he remembers the building of the eight wooden washbacks, the huge vessels in which the liquid is fermented, a job contracted to a firm of coopers from Glasgow.

This company brought to Craigellachie the thick, heavy staves of Oregon pine which had already been shaped with plane and spokeshave, along with the massive iron hoops which would hold the constructions together. The traditional wooden washback is, after all, not unlike a gigantic barrel standing on a broad base.

Archie Ness was one of the squad of distillery workers who helped to assemble the washbacks under the supervision of the foreman cooper. With the wooden staves held in place, the metal hoops were forced downwards into position. This had to be done evenly, by several men working from a platform round the washback and striking the hoop in unison with heavy metal "pokers". It was painstaking - "and," said Archie, "very hard work."

Thirty years on Archie Ness is back at Craigellachie Distillery, where he learned the distiller's craft. The washbacks he helped build are still in business, part of the process now delivering 47,000 litres AV of wonderful Speyside malt each week. The learning of management skills took him to other plants in the United Distillers group - Balmenach, Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Convalmore, Glenlossie, Speyburn, Imperial, Cardhu... In Speyside, you don't have to travel far to change your distillery.

In Craigellachie, the distillery that bears the village's name is known locally as the "White Horse distillery". This is because it's an important constituent in that blend which is now the biggest-seller in Japan. But it has links that go back to the island of Islay and the era of illicit distilling.

There, around 1740, a local entrepreneur ran ten "bothies" distilling whisky which, of course, was then drunk unmatured. In the early l9th century, this skill was legalised and developed into the distillery called Lagavulin ("the hills in the hollow").

In 1878 a man called Peter Mackie joined the company. He was to become one of the great pioneering enthusiasts for Scotch whisky - "Restless Peter", his staff called him - and having learned his craft on Islay he went into partnership in 1888 to build Craigellachie. It was he who developed the White Horse blend and took it to conquer world markets.

The site of Craigellachie Distillery was chosen for the usual sound reasons. There were good rail communications in those days. The buildings were erected beside the River Fiddich which supplied cooling-water and power: for until the 1964 rebuild, a water wheel drove the rummager in the wash still. And there is the whisky-making water itself, taken from a spring on the nearby hill of Little Conval and collected in the large Blue Hill dam which is up to 40 feet deep. Craigellachie has never been troubled by summer water shortages.

When Archie Ness first joined the distillery in 1962 it had up to 50 employees, compared with 10 today. It had its own floor maltings, kiln and small cooperage. He gained experience in every stage of production, but enjoyed most the pre-automation days in the tun room. This is where the ground malted barley is mashed before the wort is sent on her fermentation.

It was an interesting, active job, constantly checking the temperature of the "liquor" and adjusting it manually with a cold-water valve. In those days, water was applied to the ground malt four times, at increasing temperatures, and drained off four times. The fourth water was basically to help the mashman push the spent flour towards a central sump, which he did from above with a long-handled shovel. Nowadays, this job is done by a mechanical plough and only three waters are applied.

The arithmetic of production is neatly organised, and distiller's arithmetic has a marvellous logic. Each 5-day week, 117 tonnes of malt is converted into 13 mashes, producing 26 runs of wash and 16 runs of spirit. What it doesn't produce is runs of tourists: Craigellachie Distillery, rebuilt for efficiency rather than charm, is not part of the whisky trail.

Every Friday the manager and his panel gather to nose some samples of the week's production. This is a highly specialised form of nosing, because they are assessing very strong, unmatured spirit: yet it is the ultimate form of quality control. At this stage they look for a waxy sweetness, and any peatiness should he barely discernible.

Less than a tenth of this noble stuff is bottled as a single, hut it's given 14 years in the cask. That's some years longer than the average Speyside. But its journey to your glass, via Archie Ness's hand-built washbacks, is never less than an adventure.
© (1993) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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Picking a bale of Whisky at Deanston

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Autumn 1993, with permission

Somewhere near the ancient Perthshire village of Doune, you take a B-road. Then an even narrower B-road. Then on the edge of the chattering waters of the River Teith, you discover an 18th century cotton mill.

It is undeniably a cotton mill. The size and the stately proportions proclaim it as such, although you'd be hard-put to find a cotton mill still operating in Scotland. Yet all the signs, from the buzz of industry to the plume of steam, tells you that this place is still in business. The secret lies inside.

This is a cotton mill that became a malt whisky distillery, and did so with great alacrity, as if it was discovering its higher role in the world. All the facilities were there: plentiful water for power, which was also soft water for whisky- making, a sylvan setting, an optimistic climate in the distilling industry when the transformation came about in the mid- Sixties.

The malt is called Deanston, [...] But, with the conventional picture of a malt whisky distillery in [one's mind], [one] could hardly imagine its birthplace.

So first, let us go back to 1785. That is when the cotton mill came into being, to be described in The First Statistical Account of Scotland as having "the most perfect machinery in the kingdom" The owners were four brothers, one of whom was associated with Sir Richard Arkwright, English inventor of the water-powered spinning frame.

But here's an interesting touch. "The English had annoyed Sir Richard so much by invading his invention he resolved to instruct young Scotsmen in the art, in preference to his own countrymen." Oh dear.

The mill passed through several hands until it ceased production in 1965. So then, an enormous complex with vast storage space came on the market and attracted the interest of Brodie Hepburn Ltd, at that time the company operating the nearby Tullibardine Distillery. It seemed ideal for warehousing. But when they inspected it (and remember, these were highly optimistic times) their?? minds turned inevitably to a new distillery.

The waters of the Teith were analysed. Flowing from feeder streams high in the Trossachs, filtered through granite and running over peat beds, this stuff was far too good for the cotton business. Not only that, but the river gave the mill its own power supply through two turbines, one of which has been working faithfully since the mid-Twenties. Incredibly, this set up produced so much juice that it could sell the surplus to the national grid.

The water-power is conducted to the turbines from a 1.5 mile man-made lade, later returning to the river through 300-metre tunnel of splendid arched masonry. The water arrives at two huge cast-iron flumes which once fed four gigantic overshot wheels, each rated at 80 horse-power: a gem of the Industrial Revolution now adapted to a later century.

In partnership with the mill owners, Brodie Hepburn plunged so enthusiastically into the conversion work that this superb cotton mill started producing its first malt whisky only 10 months after the deal was agreed. The first drams were bottled as a five or six-year-old single called "Old Bannockburn" and put into a blend named ??Teith Mill".

The strategy of the new company, Deanston Distillers Ltd, was to buy an established blend brand-name and use their malt as the basis. This didn't happen, and in 1972 both Deanston and Tullibardine distilleries became part of Invergordon Distillers. In 1982, Deanston was mothballed.

Now we come to the story of Deanston as it is today. In 1990 the distillery was bought by Burn Stewart, the Glasgow company of blenders and bottlers ambitious to expand into distilling. (These ambitions were underlined in July this year when the company bought the faltering Ledaig Distillery on the Isle of Mull [see Still Life, Page 7.]

Deanston's new manager Ian MacMillan, was one of the first to inspect the new acquisition beside the Teith. The mothballed distillery, hidden inside the cotton mill, was complete all right: but there were archaic parts of the operation that had to be improved.

One was the system for filling the eight 60,000 litre washbacks. The worts were pumped in from above through a single dismountable pipe of copper and plastic, rather like a garden hose. So a first job was to instal permanent stainless-steel pipes and valves, to fill the washbacks in a more efficient and dignified fashion, incorporating an in-house cleaning system.

But there was much about the quarter-century-old fittings that gave pleasure. From the four 25-tonne malt bins, the barley is conveyed to an unusually elegant wooden-panelled room where the 1966 Porteous mill grinds away in some state. The elevators that convey the grist, and the equipment for extracting dust and pebbles, are neatly encased in wood.

The enormous cast-iron mash tun, open-topped and with a false bottom of brass plates, is a high-quality piece of engineering made by an Alloa foundry that no longer exists. Newly refurbished, it is equipped with a mechanical mixing-rake, circling on a track of fixed cogs. Ian MacMillan finds its gentle mixing action superior to the blades of the more modern Lauter tun: it produces a dark, clear, unclouded worts, free of solids.

Deanston's two pairs of stills (by Archbd McMillan and Co, Prestonpans) are large and bulbous but also high.

Unusually, the lyne arms from the swan neck to the condensers are set at a slight upward angle, aiding the reflux action which give a purer spirit.

One of the maturing warehouses is beautiful beyond description, a former weaving shed from 1785 of arched stone roofing that would bring a hush to a chateau in Burgundy. Here and in more modern racks, the distillery can store 45,000 casks, and the oldest Deanston they hold is the 1967.

But of course, the whisky stocks they took over were of somebody else's distillation. It will be the next millennium before we taste the Deanston presided over by lan MacMillan. What will it be like? "Even better," he said (and he has been checking on its progress).

His aim and that of production director Billy Walker, after months of initial experimentation, is to use only the residual peaty phenols of the Teith's soft waters and to mash with unpeated malt from Angus, East Lothian and Moray. "The result will be a lightly-peated sweet whisky with the flavour of the malt dominant."

An eighth of Deanston's new production, matured in whisky and bourbon refill casks and possibly with no sherry-cask whisky involved, will be bottled as the single, maybe from the year 2000. So . . . patience, friends.
© (1993) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Autumn 1991, with permission

Every malt distillery has something that catches the eye, something that needs explaining. A framed notice in copperplate hand-writing on the wall of the manager's office; an inexplicable piece of brass rubbing in an outhouse. At Fettercairn Distillery, it's running water.

At first, it looks as if the spirit still has sprung a serious leak. This of course, would be a disaster of the first magnitude. Bells would be ringing, klaxons sounding, and people would be running round in circles. With buckets. Also, there would be a distinctive and very expensive smell in the air.

But none of these things is happening. Everything's cool. Yet this colourless liquid is streaming down the burnished neck of the still, from just below its elegant curve.

But yes, it IS running water. It's caught in a neat gutter that encircles the neck just above its lower flange, and returned to its source. Cooling water.

As far as I know, no other malt distillery uses this method of cooling while the spirit still is running (although the Dalmore Distillery, linked to Fettercairn under the banner of Whyte & Mackay, has the still necks enclosed in water jackets).

It is, of course, one of those traditional practices you often come across in the distilling business. Nobody can be sure who introduced it, and nobody can explain why - if it's THAT important - it isn't common to all distilleries. And while the principle seems sound enough, nobody can produce any scientific data to measure its effectiveness. But because it has always been done at Fettercairn, you can be sure it will continue for as long as the light gold, spicy malt is produced at this delightful place in rural Kincardineshire, south-south-east of Speyside.

Distillery manager Steve Tulawicz explained that this exterior cooling of the still neck was used when the middle cut of spirit was running from the still - the highest quality of new whisky which would go into cask. It was used to assist the 'reflux' action (the word means 'flowing back') in which the heavier. unwanted alcohols hitting the cooler neck were thrown back into the boiling action. When the middle cut gave way to the feints - which must join the foreshots to be redistilled with the next batch - the cooling water was switched off.

Fettercairn, established in 1824, is described as Scotland's second-oldest licensed distillery. All the signs of antiquity are there - the mellow courtyard, the long and low warehouses, with the casks of maturing whisky stacked three- high on wooden rails. There are 14 of these warehouses, reeking magnificently. The stable block has been cleverly and expensively adapted into a visitor centre: where there was once fragrant dung, the flooring is now more expensive.

Modern practices live side-by-side with the traces of the old. The former floor-maltings are no longer deep in sprouting barley, for the ready-kilned malt is now bought in and stored in the three 40-tonne bins. But here you can still see the strangely-shaped barrows, each with two wooden wheels, called 'steep barrows', which could hold a hundredweight of soaked grain. They were loaded from an overhead hatch, and the barley was then wheeled across the floor and laid out to germinate.

But though the dried, malted barley may come to Fettercairn now by monster lorry, it is treated with the respect it deserves. Samples are taken, nosed, and rubbed in the palm. It goes to be milled, and the proportions that go into the mash tun are 20 per cent husks, 10 fine powders, and 70 middles. These proportions have to be carefully monitored to get good drainage and maximum extract.

There are Lauter tuns here, with a false floor made of stainless steel plates that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; it can be dismantled for cleaning. The worts have to be cooled to about 21°C before loading into the washbacks, otherwise the temperature would kill the yeast. And for this procedure, Fettercairn has a star performer - a cooler made in London by the Aluminium Plant & Vessel Co Ltd in 1938, probably the oldest one in the industry, spotless in its paint and brass.

There are eight Oregon pine washbacks in which the fermentation takes place. The Fettercairn Distillery has used a primary cultured yeast with brewer's yeast being added, but has been experimenting with cultured yeast only. Each washback takes 26,000 litres of worts, which leaves space for the build- up of the fermentation 'head' over 54 hours. The two pairs of stills are capable of producing 1.6 million alcohol-litres of the finest malt whisky each year.

Like many Scotch malt distilleries, Fertercairn also processes visitors. For part of the tour, the guides are able to take visitors into a bonded warehouse to see the filled casks silently performing their secret alchemy. ln the way of these things, it took eight months to have a small patch of one warehouse 'debonded', so that tourists can stand in silent wonder behind glass walls. A prominent position is given to a quartercask and butt of 1939 Dalmore. 'ThĘ last time we bottled some of that,' whispers Steve Tulawicz, 'it was sold in Japan for £2,000 a bottle'

Nearly 30,000 visitors tour Fettercairn Distillery every year. But they can only enter the 'de-bonded' capsule to pay homage, eight at a time. The roof of the viewing gallery is perforated, so that the aroma of maturing whisky can reach the eight noses. What an aroma! It's the smell of history mingling with anticipation If you breathe deeply, it follows you outside ...
© (1991) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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Glencraig: The special one that got away

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SWMS newsletter, Spring 1994, with permission

The Glenburgie-Glenlivet Distillery does not exactly flaunt itself. It lies up a Morayshire back road between Forres and Elgin without even a sign to declare its presence. It is a distillery that metaphorically keeps its head down and gets on with the job.

There's a reason for this. Glenburgie's job is to produce high-quality malt whisky for blending purposes -- reliably and efficiently -- adding its special qualities to the Ballantine's range and others such as the export blend Old Smuggler. Its owners, Allied Distillers, do not bottle the Glenburgie as a single, although it has been bottled by Gordon & MacPhail and, of course, at cask-strength by the Society as No 71.

But if almost all of the Glenburgie "disappears" into the blends which make Scotch whisky an international phenomenon, let us think now about a whisky from the same distillery which has almost completely vanished. But not quite.

This is called Glencraig. Between 1958 and 1981, the Glenburgie-Glenlivet Distillery had two contrasting pairs of pot-stills, one pair of the familiar swan-necked shape and the other pair with shorter, cylindrical necks. These were known as Lomond stills.

Because of the quite different character of the whisky these stills produced -- richer and heavier, although from the same mash -- their product was given another name, Glencraig. Of course, none has been produced since the Lomond stills were replaced by swan-necks in 1981. So the Society's new bottling of this whisky, as No 104, is a taste of a disappearing heritage.

In the Fifties, Glenburgie belonged to the Hiram Walker stable of Scotch whisky distilleries and a spirit of experimentation was abroad. The idea was to widen the character and style of the company's malts with stills which altered the "reflux" action by passing on heavier vapours to the condenser.

The Lomond stills were designed to this end, made by coppersmiths in Govan, Glasgow, and installed in pairs at Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Inverleven. (Only one Lomond still -- a wash still in tandem with a traditional spirit still -- is thought to survive in operation, at Scapa Distillery in Orkney.)

At Glenburgie-Glenlivet, the whisky from the Lomond stills was named after the late Willie Craig, the company's production director. His son Bill, now retired after becoming general manager of Hiram Walker's Highland malt operations recalls this episode -- and also the fact that not all malt connoisseurs were convinced that the Lomond stills significantly altered the character of the dram.

Feel free to argue about this, of course, if you order No 104. It's not likely to be around long, for the Lomond stills had to be dismantled before they were removed from Glenburgie, a very interesting distillery established in 1810 and now managed by Brian Thomas.

There is one unusual consequence from this time. Because the Glencraig from the Lomond stills had to be kept apart from the Glenburgie, there had to be two separate spirit safes and spirit receiving vessels. These survive: so Glenburgie is probably the only small malt distillery with just two pairs of stills which enjoys this doubling-up.

Among Glenburgie's other historical relics is the tiny cottage-like building which first housed its original offices and maturing cellar. Here is an indication of how the whisky business has grown.

It has changed, too. The time when every distillery had its resident excisemen is recalled by a door which once closed off the cabinet where the excise officials kept their hydrometers and other instruments for checking the government's share. On the back of this door, generations of excisemen scrawled their names, the way school pupils once did on their desk-lids.

But in whisky-making today, Glenburgie-Glenlivet has another distinction. It is one of the few distilleries where at the mashing stage, four waters are applied instead of the usual three.

First, of course, the malted barley (grown in Moray or Tayside, brought in at about 100 tonnes a week) is ground in the Porteous mill. Brian Thomas tries to produce as fine a grist as possible, which is always a balance between extraction of the sugars and drainage requirements. He is working on proportions of 11 per cent flour, 22 per cent husks, and 67 per cent middles.

The first water is pumped into the mash tun at 63.5 degrees C, and it takes two hours to complete the filling. In due course, the worts progress to the fermenting stage. When the second water is added at 95 degrees, from a smaller tank, it is sprayed from above to get a good even mix through the "bed" of grains. This raises the temperature of the "bed" to 80 degrees. These worts then go to fill the same washback.

Two final waters are sprayed into the mash tun, by which time the temperature has reached boiling point. They extract the final traces of sugars from the mash, and are retrieved to form the first waters of the next cycle.

Brian Thomas's ideal final product is a sweetish, fruity and estery whisky. He believes strongly in the effect of yeasts upon the final spirit, and unusually employs two distiller's and two brewer's yeasts for each fermentation.

We lifted the lid on one of the 13 washbacks and looked inside. The fermentation had died back, and we saw a dense and creamy head, the colour of an Italian footballer's suntan. "That's what you want," said Brian. It smelt delicious. God, I could have taken a dram of that and it hadn't even been distilled. I had a good sniff, and I can smell it still.
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Where the Peat still reeks in the Old Way

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, with permission

The 'Pagoda Roof' is a malt whisky distillery's most instantly recognisable feature. Take it away, and you don't seem to have a distillery any more. It would be like having a French vineyard without a chateau.

It was as recently as the 1890s that these steeply-pitched roofs with the pagoda caps started to appear above the square-built kilns of malt distilleries. They are, basically, very attractive chimneys. Their height and the design of the vent at the top allowed an improved draught for the peat fires below as they dried the malted barley.

It's now the 1990s. With the great bulk of barley now being treated in industrial maltings, the function of the pagoda roof has been lost. It's simply embellishment, a distillery's visual identity.

But not quite. A handful of Scotland's malt distilleries still kiln a proportion of their malt in the traditional way: and one of these is Highland Park, the most northerly in Scotland; set dramatically on a hillside above Kirkwall in Orkney.

To stand outside the kiln and see the peat-smoke foaming away before a stiff breeze is a rare experience. It must compare with that of a steam-buff, watching a powerful 4-6-2 charging a gradient. Except that outside the kiln house the energy is expended silently as the soft reek feathers in the wind and disappears.

Inside it's different: the peat furnace roars and crackles and sends out a heat that would singe your eyebrows. Jim Robertson, the genial manager of Highland Park distillery, says that at the centre of the peat fire temperatures can reach a startling 1,200 degrees C; but ideally, it is kept to 800 degrees. On the drying floor above, the malted barley in whose honour this peat is burning roasts happily at 60 degrees, for two days. The eight tonnes of soaked barley that go in emerge when dried, weighing about 6 tonnes.

This ancient drying technique is essentially a crude one, and so the condition of the drying malt must be carefully monitored. An Orkney gale blowing across the pagoda vent might increase the draught through the fire to such an extent that six hours are cut from the drying time.

Highland Park malts and kilns one fifth of the barley it uses. In the kiln, peat is burned only when the moisture content of the malt is above 25 per cent; for only at that stage will the reek stick to the grain and impart its glorious flavour. This takes about 12 hours. After that, the drying process is completed by burning coke.

The other four-fifths of the distillery's barley comes by sea from industrial maltings on the Scottish mainland. The order is that it should be completely unpeated. Highland Park depends on its own island peat for its character. It's a particularly heathery kind of peat, cut from banks at Hobbister by a JCB with a specially-shaped digging tool, designed to replicate as nearly as possible the traditional shape of hand-dug peat blocks. Only Orkney peat will do, says Jim Robertson.

The distillery's barley store holds 600 tonnes of grain. The first stage, of course, is to steep each batch in water for two days ro start the germination process. Then the grain is taken to the traditional floor maltings and laid out as a 'piece' for seven days. At least every eight hours, the grain is turned by a hand-operated machine rather like a lawn-mower, with paddles instead of blades. A hand-pulled plough is taken through the 'piece' to disentangle the sprouting roots. Eventually it's ready for the kiln.

After milling, the dried malt is mashed for 5.5 hours. The distillery has 12 washbacks of 292 hectolitres capacity, and two are filled from one mash. At peak production, Highland Park makes 13 mashes a week, although nine is more normal. Distillation is handled by two pairs of stills - a modest production line for one of Scotland's most distinctive drams.

For maturing its own fillings, Highland Park puts about a tenth of the whisky in sherry casks and the rest in bourbon. This assertive spirit is an essential constituent of several blends. But when it's bottled as a single malt at 12 years old, considerably more than one-tenth of the content will be from sherry casks.

Jim Robertson has an amusing testimonial hanging framed in his office. Dated 1914, it's from Alan Walker of the Johnnie Walker family. 'I am in the process of conversion,' he wrote, 'to the idea that Highland Park is the only whisky worth drinking, and Johnnie Walker only for selling to deluded sassenachs.'

But a glance through the membership list of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society shows that the sassenachs are better-informed these days.
© Anthony Troon, SMWS

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The Gentle Prince of the Isles

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Summer 1992, with permission

When literary people think of the Isle of Jura, they are usually thinking about George Orwell and '1984'. Orwell completed this futuristic novel in 1948, while living on the island in the farmhouse of Barnhill. But with the passage of time, two things have altered.

One is that the year of the novel is now in the past, and the awesome imagination of Eric Blair (aka G Orwell) doesn't seem excessive any more. The ominous presence of 'Big Brother' and the cynical manipulation of thought are hardly strange to us these days.

The other change is that the Isle of Jura Distillery is back in business. It's thought to have been established in 1810 and rebuilt 60 years later, but closed Jown during the First World War. After further rebuilding, it began to produce malt whisky once again in 1963. Thus it was no more than a sorry unproductive hulk, in a magnificent inner Hebridean setting, while Eric thundered at his typewriter a few miles along the coast.

Here's the big question: would his predictions for '1984' have been a little less pessimistic if there was a chance of a dram down the road? Literary purists might see this as a trivial issue: but whisky purists might not.

A fascinating characteristic of the Jura dram is that it is produced a short swim away from the island of Islay, yet it differs so remarkably from those seven neighbours. Experienced tasters will detect some saltiness in it, yet none of the seaweed pungency to be found - in varying degrees - in the Islay malts.

Distillery manager Willie Tait emphasises that, at the maturing stage, there is no attempt to induce flavour into the Jura malt. Less than a tenth of the bottled product will have been held in sherry casks, and the rest in second-fill Scotch whisky casks - from which, therefore, the vanilla influence of the original bourbon filling will have been largely removed. 'We find,' he says, 'that this reflects the character of our whisky without unnecessary enhancement.'

Whence does this island whisky from the Invergordon stable derive its glorious gentleness? Soft water from a spring called Bhaille Mharghaidh is used in the mash. It has flowed over rock and does not carry too many traces of peat.

The malted barley (some of which actually comes from Islay, curiously enough) is only slightly peated: the strength is calibrated at two parts per million of phenols, compared with 50-plus in the case of such lusty next-door malts as the Ardbeg and the Lagavulin.

Then we have the Jura stills. The two pairs of low wines and spirit stills are among the tallest in the industry: their height, of course, is a factor contributing to a light and pure spirit. Unusually, there's little visible difference in size between the wash and spirit stills, which are heated internally by copper coils pulsing with steam.

Willie Tait, who has the unflagging enthusiasm for his job characteristic of distillery managers (and the patience to describe its minutiae) explains that when the charger holds 48,000 litres of wash, this is divided between the first pair of stills. The liquid will reach the lip of the 'man-door', the access hatch which opens for inspection and cleaning.

With the steam on and the wash boiling, the liquid rises quickly into the neck of the still. 'When you get to that stage you must take the steam off. That's called braking the still.' I love that expression, with its steam loco connotation.

Then the heat is allowed to rise slowly until the still is running at a simmer, staying at that pace for around eight hours until a hydrometer reading shows there is no more alcohol in the distillate.

The second distillation in the smaller spirit stills is taken even more gently. These stills will run for 11 hours, but will be producing the precious middle cut' for only a third of that time There are two steam coils in each still and while the middle cut is running, one of these coils is shut down so that the young Jura comes into the world very slowly and gently.

At birth it will be about 70 per cent alcohol by volume, and this is reduced to 63.5 per cent by adding water from its mother spring. And from that point onwards the whisky will be contained only in oak vessels until filling into barrels.

There is much more to be learned at the Jura Distillery, but I have concentrated on the distilling process because of its primary influence on this distinctive island malt. There are the earthen-floored original maturing warehouse with its craftsmanlike roof joists, dating from 1810, now used as a repairing cooperage; the CIP (cleaning in place) system for the mash tuns and washbacks which was unique when installed; the balance of cultured and brewer's yeast to give a quick start and long-running fermentation.

And then, of course, there are the matchless views from Jura. George Orwell would have been familiar with those: but I'm sure he would regret missing the rest.
© (1992) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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Laphroaig: History

The Johnstons, who started Laphroaig Distillery, were of MacDonald stock, being descenders of MacIan of Ardnamurchan. After the 1745 rebellion, three brothers of this Clan came to Islay to farm - Roland at Corairan, Alexander at Tigh Cargaman, now Port Ellen and Duncan at Tallant. Two sons of Alexander, Donald and Alexander, started farming at Laphroaig some time between 1810 and 1816. They started a small distillery there. Donald Johnston is entered with the Excise as Distiller in 1826. He bought out his brother in 1836 and became the sole owner. The land was then owned by the Campbells and he was their tenant.

Donald died in June 1847. He had survived only two days after falling into a 'Burnt Ale' vat at the distillery. Donald had been married twice. He left one son and four daughters by his first wife and one child of his second marriage. He left no will but had deposited in the bank at Bridgend £250 for each of the daughters of his first marriage. His son, Dugald, was then only eleven and there was no one to run the distillery. It was leased to Graham of Lagavulin for nine years until Dugald became of age to take over. The trustees of the estate were the above mentioned, Graham and his cousin John Johnston of Tallant, who had married Donald's sister Mary. Dugald took over the running of the distillery in 1857 and the Lagavulin people continued as agents until 1907 when the agency was terminated.

Dugald Johnston continued as Distiller until he died in 1877. He left no heir. As his sister, Isabella, had married Alexander Johnston of Tallant, he became the next Distiller and ran the distillery on behalf of his wife and her sisters. He died in 1907 having been pre-deceased by his wife, who had left her share of the distillery to him. After his death there was a long court case which culminated in the distillery being inherited by his two sisters, Mrs William Hunter and Miss Katherine Johnston, and his nephew, Mr J Johnston Hunter, who was then Chief Engineer with Glasgow Tramways lived in Lenzie.

In 1908, Mrs William Hunter's son, Ian Hunter, who had completed his training as an engineer, was sent to Islay to look after the interests of his mother and his aunt. Ian Hunter's father was a seed merchant in Leith and his Aunt was farming at Tallant Farm in Islay.

During the period 1877 to 1907, the distillery appears to have prospered and the following buildings were erected - Byre in 1884; Laphroaig House was also re-built in 1884; Stables in 1888; and No.3 Warehouse in 1889. Mackie and Company (Lagavulin) seem to have taken over most of the output and, after Mr Alex Johnston's death, the new owners felt they were not getting a fair deal and took Mr Mackie to court, terminating his agreement as agent. He was so- annoyed that he gave instructions to his men to pull out the stones at the lade so that no water would come down to Laphroaig. After a court case, he was required to put things right and restore the water supply. He decided to make Malt Mill Whisky with stills the same as those at Laphroaig and he also enticed Laphroaig's Brewer to work for him at Lagavulin. However, despite his having Laphroaig's Brewer, he did not make anything like Laphroaig Whisky.

Because of the various court cases, money was difficult when Mr Ian Hunter came to Islay. He had quite a struggle to keep things going, particularly as a new lease was due to be made with the owners, Ramsay of Kildalton. Mackie and Company, Lagavulin, had put in a higher offer to rent Laphroaig. However, eventually everything was straightened out and in 1921, the owners decided to sell the estate and gave the Distillers the first opportunity to buy the land. This applied to Ardbeg and Lagavulin as well as Laphroaig. Again Mackie tried to outbid Laphroaig without success. After the completion of the purchase, it was decided to increase the capacity of Laphroaig and, by 1923, the capacity was doubled and the Maltings, as they now stand, were completed. A new wash still and spirit still, duplicates of the existing stills, were erected.

The agents at that time were Robertson & Baxter, who were very helpful to Mr Hunter during the re-building and afterwards.

About 1927, Mr Hunter decided to terminate the agency with Robertson & Baxter and sell direct from Laphroaig. He continued to do this until he died and his policy was carried on until Long John took over in 1972. The distillery had its ups and downs, particularly in the 1930's, but managed to struggle through and maintain its good name in the blending trade.

In 1928, the Laird of Islay House asked Mr Hunter to supply whisky for his son's coming of age (now Lord Margedale) and it was then that the blend Islay Mist was created. It was thought that Laphroaig might be too heavy for everyone's tastes so a de-luxe blend of Malt Whisky and Grain was made up. It proved so popular that it was decided to market it commercially and it has become known in many parts of the world as de-luxe blend with the Islay peaty flavour. It was not until after the War that it was exported in any quantity and McPherson, Train & Co. were appointed export agents.

Laphroaig continued to be popular as a Single Islay Malt Whisky and also much in demand as a blending whisky. During the 1960's and 1970's, under the guidance of Long John, the distillery capacity was increased without losing any of the old character of Laphroaig.

Mr Ian Hunter inherited the distillery when his mother died in 1928 (his Aunt died in 927 and his cousin in 1922) and ran it as sole partner until 1950, when he made it into a private limited company with himself as Managing Director, Miss B Williamson as Secretary and Director and his lawyer, Mr D McCowan Hill as Director. Mr Hunter died in 1954 after a long illness (arterial sclerosis) and Miss Williamson succeeded as Managing Director. She continued in this capacity until Long John took over control in 1967 when she continued as Chairman and Director until 1972 when she retired.

The cottages at Laphroaig were started in 1939 but, owing to the war, only one block was completed and the others could not be built until 1945 when Mr Hunter was able to obtain a permit and was the first in Islay to start building at the end of the War.

No.7 Warehouse was built in 1928/29 and No's 1 and 2 Warehouses in the 1930's.

Laphroaig is now one of the single malts within Caledonian Malt Whisky Distillers, the specialist malt marketing whisky division of Allied Distillers Limited. The portfolio also includes The Glendronach, Miltonduff and The Tormore.

© Allied Distillers 1995

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For further information, please contact:

Miss Silvia Corrieri
Caledonian Malt Whisky Distillers
2 Glasgow Road
G82 1ND

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We have to thank Bessie for this one

By Pip Hills
Reproduced from the SWMS newsletter, Winter 1993, with permission

Reading Barnard immediately after a visit to Laphroaig distillery, one is struck by how much remains as it was when the Baedeker of Scotch whisky visited it in 1886. The means may have been different - a ridiculously small aircraft of the elastic band variety, apparently held together by rivets, as opposed to Barnard's boat, and a bus where he had a horse and cart - but the end is much the same. The distillery is of very old-fashioned type, lying in a hollow by a little bay. The beach where the puffers pulled up to unload coals is still suitable for small steamers, the pretty little burn still brawls through the policies and the view across the Sound of Jura to the Isle of Gigha and the Kintyre coast has changed not at all.

Perhaps the visitors have, somewhat. We had a contingent of Japanese whose visit, it seems, was a reward for sales achievement. If ever I am to be marooned on a desert isle with a bunch of salesmen, I sincerely hope it will be with Japanese.

Their natural courtesy and intelligence, as well as their good humour, would make it a pleasure. Having over the last year spent a fair bit of time in Japan and in the Hebrides, I can see a few reasons why there seems to be a natural affinity between the Japanese and the Scots. (The good guys on both sides, that is, not the shits, of which both nations alas have their share.) Besides a liking for whisky, there are strong cultural affinities, standards of behaviour and systems of belief.

The Islay people, say Barnard, are very hospitable. Then as now. Laphroaig is not one of those outfits which lie like litter on the whisky trail, traps for tourists, painted and neat so that busloads of geriatrics will commend them for their tidiness. It is a working distillery and looks it, though clean enough for any granny. It doesn't turn tourists away but it does not cater for busloads of the terminally bored either. If you want to see it, you must ring first and arrange to visit - not a great disincentive. The return for such a small effort is disproportionately great, for there is a strong likelihood that you will be shown round by the admirable Iain Henderson himself, the distillery manager. He is a big improvement on the lassies in blazers and kilts that you get at the showbiz end of the whisky business.

Iain describes how he first came to know Laphroaig. As a young man in the 1950's - he is not so old now, so he must have been very young then - he was the engineer on a British merchant ship, sharing a piece of the Indian ocean with a hurricane. The crew having adopted drams as a prophylactic against irregular motion, whisky stocks ran out before the hurricane did, so crew were forced back onto the chief steward's stock of Laphroaig. This, the product of some shady barter arrangement, lasted long enough for the young Henderson to acquire the taste.

This story is told because there seems to be some lesson in it. Quite what that is, is not immediately apparent, but it may become so as the Laphroaig goes down. There can be no doubt, it is an acquired taste. You either love it or you hate it; few are indifferent. Even those who dislike the stuff will generally admit that there is a very fine whisky under the peat reek.

The latter is the main reason for the very distinctive nose and taste. The distillery malts a large part of its own barley and on almost any working day, the distillery can be found by nose alone, if you happen to be downwind. It has a proper malthouse with several floors where the barley is malted in the traditional manner and a kiln where it is dried. The kiln has proper pagoda roofs and altogether the whole thing looks and smells as it ought. The malt, once dried, is sweet, crisp and incredibly smoky.

There is a widespread belief that the peculiar flavour of Islay malts is caused by their littoral location, hence descriptions of them as being seaweedy and full of iodine. While the influence of the sea cannot be discounted entirely, it must be negligible by comparison with the effect of the peatsmoke from the malt kiln. Certainly, when Barnard asked the then distillery owner, the latter was quite clear that it was the peat that mattered. It would be interesting to see a highland whisky made from heavily-peated malt. The nearest we have is probably Clynelish, which could easily be mistaken for an Islay, for it has a more peaty nose than some of the Islays, such as Bunnahabhain or Bruichladdich, which use lightly-peated malt.

Besides the malthouse at Laphroaig, the distillery has the usual complement of mashtuns, washback, stills, etcetera. There are six stills, of the swan-neck variety. The process of shifting spirit from one still to another is a complex one, requiring fine judgment on the part of the stillman. Iain explained that though this, like much of the rest of the distillery, is fairly old fashioned, the owners see no reason to change it, on the very good ground that since the present kit makes some of the best liquor on the planet, change is unlikely to be for the better.

The distillery guards its water supply most carefully. It owns all of the land from which flows the burn which supplies the mashtuns. There are no cows or sheep on the moor, or any human intrusion, so that the distiller may be sure that all of the influences on the water supply are as natural as possible. It appears that the greatest care has been taken of the quality of the materials from a very early date.

The distillery had for many years the distinction of being the only Scotch malt distillery owned and run by a woman. Bessie Williamson joined the company in the 1930's as a chemist. She rapidly came to take control of the production process and in the early 1950's became owner. She continued to run the business and the distillery until the 1960's. Her expertise in and love for her product is sufficient evidence, if any were needed, of the falsity of the macho image of Scotch whisky in general and Islays in particular.

The Laphroaig is matured at the distillery in American bourbon casks. In the warehouse, the Conduce origins are sometimes evident on the cask ends, which bear stencils of Jim Beam and Jack Daniel. The proprietary bottling of Laphroaig are at ten and fifteen years old, all from bourbon casks.

Laphroaig is the market leader in Islay malts, and may take most of the credit prominence of whiskies from that island in world markets. Annual sales are an astonishing - 80,000 cases of the stuff, which just goes to show that if you have a taste for tar, you are not alone.

Allied Distillers, who own Laphroaig distillery, have an understandable confidence in the quality of their malt whisky. [...] Laphroaig use only bourbon casks for maturing their spirit. There are sherry butts in the warehouse, but these belong to customers who require such maturation for their blends. The bourbon is all in American white oak. [...]
© (1993) Pip Hills, SMWS

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Distilling Wisdom under the Folly

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Spring 1995, with permission

The first glimpse of Oban is spectacular, no matter how you approach the town. From the North, the A85 descends through a cleft in the ridge and, as it winds down the hill, the town with its bay spreads out below. The railway is no less dramatic, for it emerges from a cutting suddenly into the middle of the town, and the trains come to a halt a few paces from the shore. But the best approach is from the sea, by way of Kerrera Sound or, from the North, by Dunollie Castle on the point. Then the town appears as a semicircle; an amphitheatre whose terraces are streets of grey Victorian villas backing on to a cliff surmounted, improbably, by what appears to be a minor coliseum.

Although this is the principal entrepot of the West Highlands, it is important to grasp the scale of the town. From MacCaig's Folly (the Coliseum affair) the cliff falls seventy feet or so, and to walk in a straight line from its foot to the shore will take you all of three minutes. Between cliff and strand are a sea wall, a road, some shops and a distillery.

The distillery is a range of fine, warehouse-like buildings surmounted by an iron-banded chimney. The buildings are of grey granite like the villas, and they are subject to what seems a local obsession with architectural form, for the surrounds of windows and doors are painted, as if in emphasis of their function. The chimney is red brick, painted red.

It is a very urban distillery; economically, spiritually and geographically. If the bay were a lamp, its light would be the distillery and the island of Kerrera the focus of its illumination. About two centuries ago, distillery and town were founded by the Stevensons, a family of entrepreneurs of startling ambition and energy. The present distillery offices are housed in their former residence. The distillery is one of the largest employers in the town and the distilling staff are the aristocracy of local labour.

The water for the whisky comes from a loch in the hills behind the town. The name of the loch is easy to say but, in the true tradition of Gaelic orthography, almost impossible to spell. The malt, which is lightly-peated, is not made locally, but is delivered by truck from a central maltings. It is steeped in a stainless steel mash tun and fermented in four wooden washbacks: vessels which, like the whisky casks themselves, are made by a cooper and depend for their impermeability solely upon the fit of stave against stave. The staves are twenty feet long.

The still house is tiny: a wash still and a spirit still proceed at a leisurely pace in a finely-balanced distillation. Both are swan-necked and the spirit still has a lyne pipe which bends at a curious angle as it passes through the wall to the worm condenser - which is not a worm at all, but a series of copper pipes which run back and forth, the length of a stainless steel tank. They do not look like a worm, but they do the work of one, and Ian Williams, the manager and distiller, explains that the bent pipe and the stretched worm are only two of the individual features whose influences combine to produce a highly-distinctive distillate.

Not least among those influences is Ian himself. A tall, fair Aherdonian, he has worked in the whisky industry since shortly after leaving school and has been at Oban as manager since 1983. Two things are immediately evident: his total dedication to his distillery and his confidence in his company. The latter is well-justified, for Ian has found ready support in the upper echelons of the company for his determination that every idiosyncrasy of the distillery be preserved, despite the continuing cost of doing so.

This is worth mentioning, for large distillery groups often take stick for actions which appear to reflect the short-termism typical of so much of British industry. In fact, the whisky industry has always had long perspectives: they are intrinsic to a product which needs ten years between production and sale. Nonetheless, it is good to be able to report that United Distillers, the proprietors of Oban distillery, appear to be well aware that the individuality of the distillery is essential to the character of the malt, and are prepared to sacrifice profit in the long-term interest of quality and identity.

It is a view which will support both tradition and innovation. When the mashhouse needed to be rebuilt, Ian asked that it be kept traditional: no automation, no computers, just the attention of a conscientious mashman. This was duly done. On the other hand, when he sought to respond to the growing demand for distillery tours, he was able to convert the old filling store into a highly-successful visitors' centre. Its tableau of caveperson eating fish is a useful illustration of the advance in table manners since the Upper Mesolithic, but a bit over the top as an introduction to whisky. That apart, however, the whole thing is well done and the punters love it.

They love the whisky too, and with reason, for it is good stuff. It is matured in refill casks for fourteen years and the result is an excellent dram of considerahle character. One's only grouse, from a Society point of view, is as regards the casks. These are supplied by the parent company's cooperages. They are well-chosen to ensure a consistent maturation of high quality but of course their very consistency leaves little scope for the kind of variation which we in the Society are normally able to exploit. Ian Williams is in no doubt this is the best sort of cask for the maturation of his spirit. It would be churlish to disagree with such conviction.

Ian's assurance on matters to do with his distillery is balanced by a becoming modesty in most other things. It is a characteristic which has universal appeal and no doubt is a factor in the demand ahroad for his services as one of UD's brand ambassadors. A Scottish distillery manager is the genuine article and is regarded as an exotic in places like Japan and America, hence the proliferation of requests for Ian's presence. It is not uncommon for such celebrity to go to the head and it is pleasing to be able to report that Ian Williams seems to be largely immune. He rations his overseas visits quite severely, arguing that his value and his authenticity lie in his being the manager of Oban Distillery, and that he can't claim to be that if he is all the time traipsing off to foreign lands.
© (1995) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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Scotch Whisky Distillers of To-day: Pulteney

Pulteney Distillery, Wick. Proprietors: James and George Stodart, Ltd.

By Ross Wilson, M.A.

Since its acquisition in September, 1955, by Hiram Walker and Sons (Scotland) Ltd., Pulteney Highland malt whisky distillery has been practically rebuilt and equipped with modern plant. First installed on its present site in 1826 after years of distilling by the founder further inland, Pulteney is the farthest north of any distillery on the mainland of Scotland. It is not more than 20 miles from John o'Groats. Wick is, of course, a seaport town. Its name is of Scandinavian origin and signifies an opening, or a bay. It is from that that Wick derives its chief importance as the great emporium of the herring fishery of Scotland.

Robert Louis Stevenson went to Wick late in the last century to get engineering experience from the building of a breakwater and has left us his impressions of the town, which, he wrote, " lives for herring. A strange sight it is to see (of an afternoon) the heights of Pulteney blackened by seaward-looking fishers, as when a city crowds to a review— or, as when bees have swarmed, the ground is horrible with lumps and clusters; and a strange, and a beautiful sight to see the fleet put silently out against a rising moon, the sealine rough as a wood with sails, and ever and again and one after another, a boat flitting swiftly by the silver disk. This mass of fishers, this great fleet of boats, is out of all proportion to the town itself; and the oars are manned and the nets hauled by immigrants from the Long Island (as we call the outer Hebrides), who come for that season only, and depart again, if ' the take' be poor, leaving debts behind them. On a bad year the end of the herring fishery is therefore an exciting time; fights are common, riots often possible; an apple knocked from a child's hand was once the signal for something like a war; and even when I was there a gunboat lay in the bay to assist the authorities.

" To contrary interests, it should be observed, the curse of Babel is here added: the Lewis men are Gaelic speakers, those of Caithness have adopted English; an odd circumstance if you reflect that both must be largely Norsemen by descent."

A pity R. S. L. was not alive to visit the town and record his impressions after it voted itself " dry." It certainly adds to the uniqueness of the whole that a pot still distillery should operate most actively in a " dry " town ! The town itself is divided by the Wick river, and that part on the south side, where is the distillery, is called Pulteney Town. Also on the south side of the bay stands the ruin of Auldwick Castle, said to have been built before the twelfth century— " the Auld Man o' Wick " is the more usual name still —while 20 miles away to the north is John o' Groats. Near " the Auld Man o' Wick" is one of the most remarkable stacks—isolated pillars of rock for which the coast of Caithness is fam.ous—of the coastline, called The Brough. This immense oval-shaped rock is about 300 feet high and 600 feet long, is perforated from end to end, and the passage is so large and the water in it so deep that a boat can easily pass through it in fine weather, while the interior is lit by a large space in the centre with an opening through the top. In all, the scenery is magnificently rugged and impressive, though inland from the coast it is bleak, with scarcely a tree visible for miles.

Pulteney is also one of the oldest distilleries in the north, although it has been vastly and thoroughly reequipped with the very latest aids to distilling. It was founded in 1826, after the reform and rationalisation of the distilling laws in 1823 which practically ended illicit distillation, by a Mr. James Henderson who had earlier had a small pot still distillery further inland for nearly 30 years. Thus it could be claimed that the Henderson family firm were distillers from the beginning of the nineteenth century. It remained in the hands of the family until the sorting out of the whole industry after World War I when it was taken over, in 1920, by James Watson and Co., Ltd., of Dundee, and in 1923 was acquired by John Dewar and Sons Ltd. It was closed down in 1926, as Scotch Whisky and the nation, indeed the world, entered a difficult phase, and did not resume production until the freeing of the distilling industry from the shackles of war and postwar governmental restrictions in 1951. It was then owned by Mr. R. Cumming, of Banff, from whom the present proprietors acquired it in 1955. Since then, improvement and enlargement have been the order of the day until now it can claim to be one of the most advanced and up-to-date pot still distilleries in the Highlands of Scotland.

Founder Henderson made his move to the present site by the sea, not solely because of the reform of the distilling laws, but because of increasing demand for, and popularity of the whisky he made. There was not then the current practice of blending malt and grain whiskies the patent still which produces grain whisky had not been invented—and although there might be mixtures of different malt whiskies sold, more often they were retailed as individual single malt whiskies. So Mr. Henderson, when he found demand for his whisky increasing so much moved nearer the coast as the simplest method of meeting that demand. No railway then existed, and the port of Wick provided the only means of transport to the south, to Leith, the east coast and London. Although later taken up by the blenders. to blend with grain whisky, Pulteney malt whisky also persisted in sales as a single malt whisky throughout provincial towns in Scotland and England until quite late in the last century. The distillery's nearness to the sea also helps in the disposal of the effluents from the distillery, always a major problem to those who have not this convenience. In the founder's day it had not become the problem it is today, but by the end of that century Pulteney was producing over 80,000 gallons of whisky a year and had it remained on its original inland site the problem would have become really serious. Similarly, nearness to the sea and the port of Wick meant that barley could be shipped in usually of the best Aberdeenshire quality as well as being later brought by road and rail transport. The existence of Loch Hempriegs in the vicinity meant, too, that water could easily be brought to the plant.

For many years, until the great re-equipment year of 1959, the barley brought in was stored on arrival in three large lofts capable of taking 2,000 quarters at one time. The steeps where the barley was soaked to initiate malting, or artificial germination on the malting floor, numbered two and were each capable of taking 25 quarters at a time. The wet barley used to be spread out on the two floors measuring 15 feet long by 20 feet wide and allowed to sprout at around 70 deg F., being periodically turned over to control the heat and allow the air unhindered access to the pile. The sprouted barley, now replete with the desired enzymes cytase and diastase, was then dried in the kiln over a slow-burning peat fire. Founder Henderson and his descendants used only peat for that drying, but even before the kiln was demolished in 1959 coke was also being used to round off the drying operation, as public taste was turning away from too much peatiness in the resulting spirit.

It is just at this stage of operations that the impact of the new ownership of 1955 and the insistence on the latest aids to distilling strikes the visitor today. It was in 1959 that the firm demolished the maltings and the kiln, its necessary adjunct. Since then, as with Glenburgie and Miltonduff distilleries, the task of making the malt has been taken off the shoulders of the distillery and the malt now comes direct from an associate company which concentrates solely on the production and provision of the malt to the plants. That associate company is Robert Kilgour and Co., Ltd., of Kirkcaldy, by the Firth of Forth and in the ancient Kingdom of Fife. The malt is sent in bags to Wick by rail transport and is taken to the distillery by motor lorry.

The malt used to spend some 48 hours in the kiln absorbing the tang of the peat, the scent of the Scottish countryside. That no longer delays the distillery, but the malt has still. of course. to be received and today there exist at Pulteney the very latest in intake and storage equipment to handle the malt. There are three malt deposits, each capable of containing 1,600 bushels. Similarly, for the next ordeal to which the erstwhile barley has to undergo there is now the latest in equipment. That ordeal is dressing and grinding and it is now performed in a Porteous four-roll malt mill and malt dressing plant. This deals with 48 bushels an hour to provide the broken malt for the next phase.

That phase, where the antagonist is hot water, separately and specially heated in large copper heaters, takes place in the most up-to-date mashing plant. The mash tun is some 14+ feet in diameter and some 51. feet in depth, complete with arms which revolve, literally, in every direction at once within the vessel. Four times is that mashing operation performed, with hot waters of increasingly high temperatures. That high temperature enables, nay encourages, the enzymes to complete their task of turning the starch in the barley-malt to suear and then themselves dissolve the resultant saccharine material. After each mashing, lasting some 8+ hours, the liquid, now distinguished by the name of worts, is drained off through the perforated bottom of the tun and the husks of the original malt to the underback beneath the tun. This underback, again the most modern available. can hold 400 gallons and from there the selected worts pass at once to the latest in cooling plant where they are refrigerated to avoid the possibility of false fermentations. In all, some 2,270 bushels of malt are mashed every week at Pulteney and the distillery now mashes some 12,000 quarters of malt a year.

Once more we encounter fresh evidence of the improvements and re-equipment accomplished at Pulteney under the present owners. The fermenting vessels, or washbacks, to which the worts are consigned to be dismembered by the yeast in the process of guided fermentation are now of stainless steel and number four, each being of the size to take 5,600 gallons of wash. As the entire distillery is now powered by electric motors, these provide also the power which operates the switchers which flick back the rising head on the turbulent fermenting wort as the carbon dioxide is driven off into the air to leave behind a week alcoholic solution now };nown as wash. The wash goes to the wash charger: the vessel charges the still, hence the name.

With the stills we meet once again the intervention of the latest and best. In one sense, the stills, of which there are two—one for each of the two distillations needed have changed little over the years. When Pulteney settled down as a popular and recognised distillery, the wash still adopted was capable of holding for distillation some 4,000 gallons. Today it can take 4.700 gallons of wash, or as near as makes no difference. No, the march of progress lies in the fact that instead of the roaring coal fire under the still it is today heated by steam. 1959 was the year of change, as we might expect. In that year, the body of the original still was renewed and steam heating was installed. This gives a more easily controllable temperature and aids in maintaining cleanliness in the premises, for the boiler for heating and providing the steam which vapourises the alcohol in the wash is oil fired. This method of applying the heat needed to effect the distillation has been established in other distilleries of the group and has been found eminently satisfactory. As the alcohol in the still boils at a lower temperature than its encasing liquid. mostly water, it vapourises ahead of most of that water, passes through the head of the still into the worm and is then condensed back into liquid form as the worm passes through its worm tub of cold water.

The burnt ale, or remains left behind as unwanted in the still, poses a problem in disposition to the inland distillery. Pulteney being by the sea does not encounter the same problem. The primary distillate, or low wines, is distilled again to get at the heart of the matter Again in the case of the second still, sometimes called a low wines still from the nature of the product it receives, or a spirit still from the nature of the product it yields, again presents us with this double image of stability and progress. It takes roughly the same quantity of low wines as formerly, some 2,800 gallons, but is, like the wash still, now steam-heated. The body of the original still was renewed in 1959 when the change to the present method of heating was adopted. The first runnings of this slower and more careful distillation are tested in the spirit safe as they come over in the form of a clear, almost sparkling liquid until the preliminary and unwanted higher alcohols have finished, and then the distiller feels he has got to the heart of John Barleycorn and switches the head of the tube from which the spirits are running so as to allow them to flow into the spirits receiver of some 1,700 gallons capacity. Again, guided by experience, he watches closely as the tails, another assortment of unwanted alcohols, are about to come over. They are then switched to join the discarded first runnings, the foreshots. These are later fed into the next charge to be put in the low wines still. Although modern in the sense of being steam-heated with the steam provided by oil firing, the stills are most traditional in every other manner. They are of the oldest pattern known, and it may be recalled that founder Henderson was distilling whisky nearly 30 years before the reform of the legislation governing distilling, and when stills of less than 40 gallons capacity were both possible and permissible.

The spirit received is around 125 degrees proof and water is called in again, this time to reduce its strength to 111 degrees. It has been found by practical experience that that is the most suitable strength at which to lay down the whisky for the years necessary to gain the appropriate maturity. On making, the spirit is a sharp, slightly fiery liquid, though not without its appeal. After some years in the bonded warehouse, it has the suave character this age demands in all things.

That period of " resting " to mature is specially catered for at Pulteney. Even as long ago as the middle 1880's, the distillery had 11 bonded warehouses capable of storing in all some 3,000 casks and one of them alone could hold 100,000 gallons on its three floors.

Today, with demand for Pulteney at an all time high, with the re-equipment of the distillery carried out, with some 262,000 proof gallons of whisky being made each season, there are five large warehouses covering five acres which are capable of storing no less than 1,800,000 proof gallons ! At the time of writing, that accommodation is very nearly all taken up: there are some 1,400,000 proof gallons in bond and by the end of the season there will be more, no doubt, despite withdrawals from bond as the Pulteney malt whisky goes to join its confreres in some of the world's best blends. The warehouses have modern and distinctive features, perhaps the most in accord with latest developments of the age being one of the four new warehouses where the casks of spirit are racked nine high. This is a most striking change from former times when the casks rested two or thee high stacked on each other.

On the last occasion of The Record's visiting Pulteney, what was then described as " an outstanding modern appliance" was noted: a miniature fire engine as provided by James Watson. That firm had the most disastrous experience of fire at its Dundee warehouses and the comment was then made: " One can think of many distilleries in isolated positions that might well be equipped in the same manner and maintain their own 'fire brigades'." Much time has passed since then, and today Pulteney can claim to have the latest in fire precautions and related equipment.

The manager is Mr. Alex. Cruickshank, who is a native of Huntly, Aberdeenshire, a son, it may be said, of whisky-land itself.

It was in 1930 that Hiram Walker, Gooderham and Worts Ltd., purchased a 60 per cent interest in James and George Stodart Ltd. , and it was the " first venture in the Scotch Whisky Trade," as chairman Harry C. Hatch remarked in 1938. By 1936, minority interests of the company, and others, were secured. Like "the Auld Man o' Wick" the company has never looked back and serves as a beacon in its field.

© Pulteney Distillery, Ross Wilson

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Scapa Distillery: Yesterday & Today

Scapa Distillery is on the largest of the Orkney Islands and is in fact one of the two most northerly distilleries in Scotland. The rather desolate treeless landscape of the area is amply compensated by a glorious seascape. Alfred Barnard in his "Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom" describes the scene in 1887: "But the beautiful sea-scape somewhat compensates for this loss (of trees), for sparkling in the bright sunshine are the white sails of ships, and boats manned by crews who know every creek on the coast, and whose voices can be heard singing the favourite "Orkney Boatman's Song." From its cliff-top position on the north shore of Scapa Flow, the distillery overlooks the scene of a more recent event, the burial ground of the German naval fleet which was scuttled there in 1919.

When Barnard visited Scapa he discovered that "The Establishment is certainly one of the most complete little Distilleries in the Kingdom". This is not surprising, since Scapa only opened in October 1885 and was considered at the time to be the most up-to-date distillery in Scotland. Barnard would have found everything still in pristine condition. The distillery had been built by a prominent Speyside distiller, J.T. Townsend, but in 1919 it became the property of the Scapa Distillery Company Limited.

During the First World War, Scapa provided a somewhat unusual billet for ratings from the Royal Navy. In fact, it was saved from complete destruction by a mysterious fire as a result of the quick action by officers and men of the British fleet, who came to its rescue by the boat load! It was silent from 1934 to 1936, following the company's liquidation, and then passed to Bloch Brothers who sold it to Ballantine's in 1954.

The distillery is built on the banks of the Lingro Burn and a large water-wheel still turns, though more for visual effect than to provide power. On Barnard's visit a hundred years ago, the wheel was driving all the machinery, although even then there was a back-up engine in case the supply was insufficient. The Lingro provides water purely for cooling purposes, the production water being piped in from springs at Orquil Farm. Barnard wrote that "The water supply is from springs and from the Burn, from which it is carried a great distance in large iron pipes"

Barnard describes the malting house in detail, but this in fact disappeared in the 1960's. Scapa now takes its malted barley direct from Ballantine's central maltings in Kirkcaldy. The distillery has two large silos at Kirkwall Pier to which the malt is carried by ship, then transported by lorry to Scapa itself.

Barnard was clearly impressed by the new machinery he saw in operation during his inspection of the distillery. Every detail is meticulously recorded, including size and capacities, which gives us an excellent insight into the workings of Scapa a hundred years ago. Some of the equipment may sound a bit "Heath Robinson" to us today, but in essence the operation remains very much as he saw it.There are no microprocessors or other means of electronic measuring or control at Scapa. The task of checking quality falls to Ballantine's master blender at Dumbarton, to whom samples of each distillation are sent.

When Ballantine's took over Scapa, they extended and modernised it, in keeping with their policy of retaining the essential character of their distilleries, including the installation of new copper pot stills. These enormous, shining, stills are the heart and pride of every malt whisky distillery. They shape the final character of the whisky and determine its quality Their design has remained unchanged for many generations and is critical to the character of the whisky produced. There is no real scientific basis for this, it is all part of the magic and mystique surrounding the making of malt whisky. It is interesting to note that the new pot-stills, installed in 1978, are exactly the same size as the ones installed at the end of the First World War. When Barnard visited Scapa he observed that "The Stills are of the newest type and heated by steam instead of fire, and are both fitted with collapse valves, which allow air to enter in the event of a vacuum being formed"

Scapa today is performing about 14 separate mash cycles per week,each of 3.76 tonnes. Eight mashes.are done between Sunday night and Wednesday morning, and a further six between Wednesday evening and Friday midday, thus constituting two separate programmes. Filling is either into used oak Bourbon casks for storage at Scapa, or into bulk containers for shipment to the mainland for eventual blending.

Scapa can produce about 1.5 million litres per year, but current production averages 860,000 litres. In 1887 Barnard records the annual output as being 40,000 gallons (181,840 litres). The high quality of the pure Highland malt produced at Scapa - a good, clean whisky of darkish colour - can be attributed to the individual character of Orkney peat, the excellence of the water and the sea air.

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A Classic at the end of the Road

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SWMS newsletter, Winter 1994, with permission

If you drive to Campbeltown, it always takes longer than you expect. This is an immutable fact of life, like DNA or the tide tables. But if you're hunting down whisky, the tortuously beautiful route down to the end of the Kintyre peninsula is worth every twist and turn.

While each malt distillery is different, surely none is more different than Springbank. A tourist magazine would probably gush that the past has stood still here: but it hasn't. It's just that the experience of the past has not been discarded, while any so-called advances of the present and future are never adopted for simple reasons of economy and efficiency. The whisky comes first.

And the result is a whisky - and a distillery - unique for several reasons. For Springbank does not make whisky the easy way (in fact it makes two of only three surviving Campbeltown malts, Springbank and Longrow: the third, a rarity, is Glen Scotia). Once there were nearly 30 Campbeltowns, a reason why this particular style of whisky still has its own separate classification. But it is no coincidence that the Springbank is still revered as a great classic.

So let's ask how they do it. First you find that the distillery, approached down a battered lane between a depot selling concrete slabs and an evangelical church, is not a beauty designed for sightseer-orgasm It's a working place where whisky has been distilled (legally) since 1828 and (illegally) from much earlier. Travelling abroad, to Italy or the Greek islands, you might appreciate best the places which haven't transformed themselves into fanciful tourist venues. Campbeltown itself, and the Springbank Distillery, have this quality of integrity.

So to the whisky-making. Springbank is the only remaining Scotch malt distillery which conducts the entire process itself on a single site. It starts with barley, and it ends up with bottled whisky. Unusually, it germinates all of the barley it uses in floor malting and dries it in its own kiln. The huge majority of malt distillers now buy their raw material ready-prepared from industrial malting. But Springbank's is the traditional way, the labour- intensive way. the ???? thought had disappeared: and it gives the distillery absolute control over the quality of its whisky from start to finish.

Several things have made this possible. One is that the business has remained in the hands of the same family since per-legal days. Another is that it doesn't keep the stills hammering away, day and night, in pursuit of some productivity record. It buys as much barley as it believes market conditions indicate, malts it and kilns it - and only then, when the bins are stocked with up to 200 tonnes of malted barley, does it start distilling. So in the average year, the stills will be operating for a total of only four months.

This is viable because the men who steep the barley, germinate it on the malting floors and dry it in the kiln, then change jobs to operate the mash tun, the washbacks and the stills. At the same time, Springbank's tiny bottling plant - ???feel with matured?? whisky from is own warehouses - works all year round. And something like 99 per cent of Springbank is bottled as a single- malt, which is also very unusual.

Director John McDougall, who has worked in distilling for 30 years and says he's "one of a dying breed" (although he looks extremely healthy), told me that computer ???manages] microchip whisky was an alien culture to Springbank. His whisky was made by real people. In fact, Springbank has a permanent workforce of 24, more than double that of an obsessively modernised distillery.

But brewer Hector Gatt showed me how even on the traditional malting floors reintroduced two years ago, the advantages of electricity are not ignored. The sprouting barley is turned by a machine resembling a lawn-mower. But when this breaks down, which is not impossible, the men sigh, reach for the old wooden shovels which stand by in readiness against the wall, and laboriously turn the grain in the old way, by muscle- power.

There are changes also at the kiln, hut nothing that you'd notice. The peat used for drying (more for Longrow, less to make Springbank) is now brought in from Islay. Once the distillery had its own local peat-banks, operated by two employees who would vanish up to the moor in April to cut and stack the aromatic fuel, and would rarely be seen again until October. Longrow, the more heavily-peated of these two malts, is quite a rarity and isn't made every year.

There's a row of three stills at Springbank, hut this doesn't mean that the whisky is triple-distilled. Oh no. Nothing is that simple here. Hector Gatt told me that in precise terms, it was distilled "two-and-a-half times". Because this sounds impossible, it requires some explanation.

From any of the six larch-wood washbacks, the liquid goes first to the wash-still. Unusually (again) this is heated by a live flame from beneath, which requires a "rummager" - a sort of copper chain-mail mat - to circulate inside and prevent burning. From here, the low wines are treated again in the two spirit stills.

But one of the great characteristics of Springbank is its "body" - what some tasters would call its chewy quality. If the whisky was too strong in alcohol it would also he too light. So the stillman will add a small quantity of low wines from the first distillation to the liquid which is to go through the third still. How much to add is a matter of experience and fine judgement. You couldn't program this into a computer.

Then it goes for the long sleep. Springbank is bottled at 12, 15, 21, 25 and 30 years old. (Longrow, which is double- distilled, is usually bottled at 19 years.) So maybe, when you try Springbank, the great Campbeltown survivor, you now understand why it's...rather different.
© (1993) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Winter 1992, with permission

I went there to celebrate a centenary; and ended up with two. It was an irresistible coincidence: the one- hundredth distillery to grace the bottling lists of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society just happened to have celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary last year.

We are delighted to have made the century. There are fewer than 100 malt distilleries presently working in Scotland, and only 120 or so whiskies available in cask - if you count the now- matured product of defunct distilleries.

It is significant also that our hundredth whisky is so rare as a bottled single malt that it has eluded even the experts. in his Malt Whisky Cornpanion, Michael Jackson lists it as one of six which appear never to have been bottled as singles in recent times, even by independent bottlers. So mark well our tasting notes on No 100: you are unlikely to see them elsewhere.

Characteristically, the Srrathmill Distillery hides irself shyly behind trees in a dip off the main road through the attractive town of Keith, Banffshire. Its boundaries are marked by the northerly River Isla, which runs parallel to the nearby Spey, and by the rusty (but usable) railway line to Dufftown with an ancient siding into the grounds.

River water for cooling, spring water for distilling, rails for transport, and a sylvan setting. What else could a 19th century whisky-maker ask for? But one intriguing question is this: how long has whisky been made in this perfect location?

Most authorities say that Strathmill Distillery was converted from a flour mill in 1891, but was first called Glenisla-Glenlivet and renamed in 1895 when it was bought by Gilbey's for £9,500. The flour mill was said to have stood there since 1823. But another account suggests that the flour mill itself was a converted distillery building, called Strathisla, from which the distilling equipment was removed in 1837. To confuse matters further, the present-day Strathisla- Glenlivet is one of Keith's three other working distilleries, and was originally called Milltown.

However, the Strathmill Distillery passed to International Distillers & Vintners in 1962 and is operated by Justerini & Brooks. It produces 52,000 alcohol-litres a week, all of which goes into blends (including ISB Rare).

Indeed, the last known record of Strathmill being on sale as a single malt is in a Gilbey's advertisement of 1909. It was bottled at five years old and sold for three shillings (15p to you) with a penny back on the bottle. The agents for Strathmill were family grocer's shops in Elgin, Craigellachie, Rothes and Lossiemouth.

To mark last year's centenary, the two oldest butts in the warehouse - 25 years old were bottled for employees and fortunate guests. The distillery manager, Randolph Winchester, had a collector on the phone next day offering him £250 for his bottle, a proposition he politely declined.

The manager has worked at the distillery since 1959 - his first jobs were shovelling coal for the stills and assisting in the cooperage so he has seen the stills converted to oil-fired steam heating and the coopers depart. He has worked in every department at Strathmill. One of the roughest jobs was cleaning the interior of the wooden wash-backs with heather brooms (called besoms)

First, he even had to go out and pull up the heather. The stalks were then bound to an eight-foot long pole and he stood inside the washbacks, scouring with that besom until his shoulders ached.

Of course, much has happened at Strathmill since. The mashing and fermenting vessels are now of stainless sreel and it is, in fact, one of the neatest and cleanest distilleries you could hope to see.

Each week, 126 tonnes of lightly peated malted barley is delivered by road, often from maltsters in Buckie and Pencaitand. This makes 14 mashes, after the malt has gone through the German- made Miag six-roller mill and been conveyed to the mash-tun in proportions of 15 per cent husks, 77 middles and 8 per cent flour.

There are six 46,500 litre washbacks for fermentation, generated by equal quantities of Maurie and DCI yeast. Entering the wash receiver at 32 degrees C, the liquid has its temperature more than doubled by recycled heat before going through the first distillation. Strathmill has two pairs of stills. The spirit stills are among few in the industry fitted with 'purifiers' which retrieve the heavier fusel oils erc and return them to the distillation, while the lighter vapours continue to the main condenser.

With the wash stills taking 45 minutes to come to the boil and the spirit stills one hour, Strathmill performs its miracle on a six-hour cycle. The middle cut comes through at 71 per cent Alcohol by Volume and is reduced with spring water to one of two standards for filling - 68.5 or 63.5 %

The magnificent copper stills were smartened up with a coat of lacquer for the cenrenary - unfortunately, as it turns out. The lacquer has not withstood the heat and has taken on a streaky pinkish look. Mr Winchester may well return to the old practice of having the bare copper rubbed over weekly with vegetable oil, giving a superb burnished appearance.

The Strathmill is matured for 10 to 12 years, in sherry butts or whisky hogsheads. in the low-roofed, earthen- floored warehouses. A typical delivery to the blender will incorporate about 37 per cent from ex-sherry casks

At this gem of a distillery, I heard the tale of the 'whisky fountain'. In the original buildings, whisky straight from the still was run into open vessels with a mug placed handily 'for any passer-by on friendly terms with the management to help himself'

I looked everywhere but damn - it was gone.
© (1991) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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The Spirit of the "Little Dark Hill"

By Anthony Troon
Reproduced from the SMWS newsletter, Winter 1990, with permission

All true lovers of Scotch malt whisky know how the spirit is produced. But here's a short resume for those who have forgotten:

There are only three ingredients - barley, water and yeast. The barley is steeped in water and allowed to germinate. The germination is stopped by heating, and the malted barley is dressed, milled, and water is added to make a "mash". Yeast is added and fermentation takes place. When this is completed, the liquid is distilled and stored in casks to mature.

End of resume: but of course, it is the many, imponderable variations at every stage of the process which makes every malt whisky distinctive.

Until about 1950, almost all malt distilleries could be expected to carry out the entire process on the premises, from buying in the grain to laying the spirit down to sleep in casks from their cooperages. And the traditional malting process was a particularly sensitive and laborious one, in which the soaked barley •vas laid, one foot deep, on stone floors to germinate.

This could take up to 14 days. During this period the malting barley had to be turned over many times by distillery workers using wooden shovels. This controlled the build-up of temperature in the lower levels of the grain, which would stop germination. Unhappily, the repetitive work with the shovel also gave some of the workers a muscular condition which they called "monkey shoulder" - a precursor of the "repetitive strain injury" which is known today among computer operators. There's an irony.

But 40 years ago, two things happened almost simultaneously that transformed this part of malt distilling. The first was the introduction of the "Saladin box", a French invention from the l9th century which mechanised the turning process. The second was the concept of industrial maltings, in which the barley was delivered to big, centralised plants where it was malted (usually in revolving drums) and sent to the distilleries, dried and ready for the mash.

But one malt distillery was left in a sort of time-warp by these changes. This was the Tamdhu-Glenlivet Distillery on Speyside, established in 1897. It was among the very first to instal Saladin boxes, a move which greatly increased its malting capacity, allowing it eventually to build a new kiln, put in new stills and treble its output.

The bulk of the other distilleries were slower off the mark. They might well have been thinking of putting in Saladin boxes - but the intention was overtaken by the rise of the big, centralised malting plants and that was where they looked for their ready-malted barley.

The result is that Tamdhu, whose Gaelic name means "the little dark hill", is the only malt distillery using this intriguing process. A few still have floor maltings. Glendronach and Balvenie still treat a little of their barley this way: but at Highland Park, Bowmore, Glengarioch, and possibly Ardmore, floor malting is done on a serious scale.

The Saladin box is a concrete trough with a perforated floor. The steeped barley is poured in to a depth of more than four feet and air is blown through the floor to control the temperature.

For the first 24 hours, the germinating grain is left undisturbed. But then the turning process must begin to dissipate the build-up of heat. The job is done by a bank of six mechanical turners resembling giant, flat-bladed corkscrews, which reach right down to the bottom of the grain. They turn slowly, lifting the lower grain to the top of the heap. As this happens, the row of turners moves slowly from one end of the box to the other, taking an hour to complete the journey.

Over a period of four days, the turning of the grain is repeated every eight hours, or at the discretion of the maltman. Then the malt is ready to be taken to the kiln for drying; in fact, it is sucked out of the Saladin box through a hose and pumped into the drying room, where the drying process takes 18 hours. About six cwts [300 Kg] of peat will be burned, adding its smoke to the heated air and giving the malt a flavour which follows the spirit into the cask, the bottle, and your glass.

The mathematics of this are interesting. Each Saladin box takes two steeps-full of grain; two boxes fill the kiln; and the original 44 tons of barley make 37 tons of malt.

Because all of these processes are carried out at Tamdhu, it has complete control over its own raw materials. This must make it one of the most interesting distilleries to work in; and of course it requires a larger-than-average workforce. The Saladin boxes themselves are now 40 years old and require a bit of careful nursing at times. But without them, this would not be such a unique malt distillery. And "old fashioned" as they might be thought, they give the distillers a cost advantage over bought-in malted barley.

Tamdhu has its own laboratory where samples of barley from the farms are tested for protein and moisture content before being accepted. A new protein-testing machine does in eight minutes a task which once took four hours. The staff are also on the look-out for such horrors as the grain weevil and its friend, the saw-toothed grain weevil. If they find one, the load of barley is rejected - because, statistically, there could be as many as 40,000 of them in a 25-ton load.

When the railway line to this part of Speyside was closed, the station was bought and converted into Tamdhu's visitor centre. But there was one essential change that just had to be made. The station's name was Knockando - which, of course, is also the name of a "rival" malt distillery nearby. The new board on the station platform now reads - firmly and unequivocally - Tamdhu.
© (1990) Anthony Troon, SMWS

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