Bristol Distillery

Bristol Distillery, England.

Extract from Alfred Barnard’s historic tour of every whisky distillery in Great Britain, published in ‘1887’

Bristol occupies the position of being the leading grain port in the Bristol Channel, the rates for handling grain being much lower than those in force at the other leading ports. The line steamers running to the port from the United States and Canada, include vessels of the Dominion, Anchor and Great Western Steam-ship lines, and at each of the Docks there is a perfect system of warehouses and transit sheds; rails run alongside from the Great Western, Midland and London and South-Western Railways. Mr. F. B. Girdlestone, Queen Square, Bristol, is the General Manager of the Port and Docks Company.

The Bristol Distillery is said to be one of the oldest in England, having been founded in the 17th century. In the days when Bristol was one of the chief wine emporiums of the kingdom it flourished, and was an extensive work. In 1761, when the Duke of York visited Bristol to receive the freedom of the city, the old malt spirit made in Cheese Lane is said to have been freely distributed among the populace. In the year 1863, Mr. Board, the father of the present managing director, who was previously connected with the Distillery, formed it into a Limited Liability Company, but none of the shares were offered to the public. No alterations were made in the working of the place or the buildings by the Company, except turning some substantially-built houses on the property into Bonded Warehouses. The establishment is on an extensive scale, and replete with machinery and vessels of a most scientific type. The premises, which occupy both sides of the street, cover an area of 73,930 square feet; all the buildings, which are mostly of granite, are very lofty, and built round various quadrangles and paved courtyards, entered by spacious archways, and reminding us, as we passed through, of some Spanish convent, all being so quaint in style and construction. The narrow street divides the Distillery and Corn Stores from the Bonds and Spirit Store.

We first entered the Corn Stores, which comprise a block of buildings, four stories high and run over the archway leading to the southern quadrangle, where, in the two upper lofts, the various kinds of malt and grain are stored previous to their being treated before going to the Mill. They are capable of holding 4,000 quarters of grain, and are connected to a second block, which faces the entrance gates by a gangway, and the top floor therein is also used as a Corn Store. At the time of our visit all these great floors were so full that in many places we had to walk on the sacks of corn some five feet from the floor to reach the different divisions.

Arriving at the end of the top floor of the first-mentioned Corn Building, we followed our guide up a narrow stair to a platform, some 8 feet wide, which runs through the roof of the next building, abutting on the river. It leads to the trap door or landing stage, hanging over the water some 60 feet, and is used for unloading the grain direct from the steamers below. When the grain reaches the platform, it is shot into the various open bins underneath or wheeled to the Stores where required. Retracing our steps to the starting point, we turned to the right, and passed through an arch protected by a stout iron door in case of fire, which swung back lazily to our touch, and gave admittance to the Mill Building, which contains several floors, the first being the Grinding Room; here there are six pairs of Stones, a Grist and Malt Mill, and other machinery. Ascending to the floor above, we found ourselves amid clouds of dust, for here many persons were busy weighing off the meal into sacks of four bushels each, and stacking them up to the roof. Mounting another ladder, we reached the Hopper Loft, where the grain drops from the spout of the elevator into the Hopper which feeds the Mill. Over this floor is a Meal Loft. Immediately adjoining there is another building of two stories devoted to the same purpose; also over the Draff House a spacious Meal Loft, which was filled to the ceiling with meal in sacks ready for tipping into the Mash Tun feeder. We passed into another apartment at the back of this house, which is also a Meal Loft, and adjoins two other floors, used for storing the grist. All these Meal Lofts are round and about the Brewing House, and conveniently communicate with the Tuns.

Fixed on the wall we noticed a handsome set of Wash Pumps, for pumping the liquor from the Wash Regulating Reservoir to the Stills, and a self-containing one of gun-metal, for pumping water into the Refrigerators, which is driven by an Otto Gas Engine. In a section of this building there are three Spirit Receivers, of 5,000, 4,000, and 2,000 gallons content, two Safes, a large Worm Tub, two upright Refrigerators, and a Lawrance Patent Refrigerator. We next passed through the large quadrangle to a smaller one, in the centre of which are four large spent Wash Tanks. Our guide next conducted us to the Engine Department, and led the way to the principal Engine-house, a lofty stone structure, of neat elevation; the roof is of an ova shape, and the dome lighted by ornamented glass; part of the paved floor is raised several feet, and reached by handsome stone steps. It contains a noted “Watt” steam-engine, kept beautifully bright, erected in 1821, of 70 indicated horse power, which works as well as any of the new engines.

Another house contains a condensing beam engine, of 20-horse power, of even more ancient date. There are three steam-boilers for the Still; one of them is a double furnace Lancashire boiler, 32 feet long and 9 feet in diameter; the others are 20 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. After inspecting these, we crossed the roadway to the Spirit Storage Department; the buildings connected there – with are all enclosed. We first entered the Spirit Store, containing five timber Spirit Vats, holding together 37,360 gallons; and then the four large Bonded Warehouses, the walls of which are all twenty inches thick; one of them is more lofty than the others, and is fitted with gauntree platforms five stories high. The Vatting Warehouse is the largest we have seen, and contains eight vats, reaching from floor to ceiling, which contained at the time of our visit 71,556 bulk gallons. On our way back to the Distillery proper, we noticed a massive pipe across the road overhead, stretching from the Receiver to the Spirit Store, allowed under an old Act of Parliament.

We next drove to the various Malting Works connected with the Distillery, and first inspected the David Street Maltings, which cover an area of 3,600 square feet, and are three stories high, one of which is used for storing barley, and the other two for malting, and each contains a cemented Steep, capable of wetting 120 bushels at one time. At the end of these floors there is a Kiln, 24 feet square, floored with Worcester tiles and possessing open furnaces. Continuing our explorations, we tame to the Bread Street Maltings. They cover an area of 3,500 square feet, and consist of a Barley Loft and two Malting Floors, with Steeps and Kiln, the same as the others.

Unity Street Maltings, which cover 2,400 square feet, are similarly arranged, but are of smaller dimensions. The next place visited was Dundas Wharf, Redcliffe, where the Company have large bonded stores and corn lofts, a lofty block of buildings, covering an area of 12,360 square feet, with landing stage and appliances for unloading and loading direct into or from the steamers. The basement and ground floors contained at the time of our visit over 300 butts and hogsheads, and here also there is a blending and bottling room. Over the Warehouses are three Corn Lofts, and a donkey-engine of 6-horse power is used for hoisting the grain to the different floors.

One hundred persons are employed in the Distillery, and six excise officers. The “make” is Grain Whisky and plain spirit, the latter being sold to Rectifiers for the manufacture of gin; the former is sent to Scotland and Ireland to make a blended Scotch and Irish Whisky, for which purpose it is specially adapted, and stands in high favour.

The total annual output is 637,068 gallons, which is sold principally in Leith, Belfast, London and Bristol.