Bow Street Distillery

Bow Street Distillery, Dublin, Ireland.

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

It was indeed a lovely sight that greeted us as we steamed into the bay; stretched out before us, as far as the eye could reach, were the Dublin Mountains, whose verdant slopes were covered with a mottling of gold and silver, cast by the rays of the brilliant morning sun. Nearing the shore we could distinguish at the base of the hills, villages and gardens of rich foliage, all lying commingled together, making up a picture that it would be difficult to describe. On the sea, the waves, which sparkled in the sunlight, were just sufficiently agitated to make the movement of the vessel enjoyable, and the ocean was here and there dotted with white sails flitting across its surface, all helping to complete the harmony of the scene.

These vaults have for centuries been a subject of curiosity and philosophic research on account of the extraordinary antiseptic power they possess; bodies deposited there many hundred years ago are still in such a state of preservation that their features are easily discernible, and the bones and skin, which are of a dark colour, are quite perfect. We noticed that the coffins had in most cases mouldered away, and there was not the least smell discernible either from the old bodies, or those more recently entombed. The walls, roof, and atmosphere of these vaults are perfectly dry, the floor is always carpeted with a thick covering of dust, and the ceiling festooned with heavy curtain-like cobwebs, which it is believed receive and absorb the moisture as it ascends from the bodies; in addition, the walls and floor are composed of a stone said to be peculiar for its resistance of moisture. In some of the recesses, the bodies, which are all at full length, are placed one upon another almost to the roof, like so many piles of merchandise, in others, strewed on the floor. It did not seem like death to us, and the scene lacked the awful solitariness of the grave. One of our party raised the arms and legs of a body on which the flesh still clung; we were also shown the skull of a man who had been beheaded, its eyes covered with the piece of crape used at his execution. The open mouth of another body disclosed a false tooth attached to the others by a band of gold, which shone as brightly as on the day it was affixed. In one vault we saw the remains of a person who died at the advanced age of one hundred and eleven years, and the body, which has rested in this mansion of death for a century, is as completely preserved as though it had been embalmed, although not a remnant of the coffin now remains. Here also are two bodies in an even better state of preservation, which were deposited in the vaults a hundred and fifteen years ago. We also noticed that the floral wreaths on coffins placed during the past year were still in good condition. Having completed our inspection of these venerable relics of mortality we returned to the light of day, and resumed our journey to the Distillery, some 200 yards distant.

The Bow Street Distillery, which is one of the oldest in Ireland, having been established about the year 1780, covers upwards of five acres of ground, and is a quarter of a mile from the Four Courts, and about half a mile from Sackville Street, credited with being the broadest street in Europe. The water used in the Distillery is obtained from two deep wells on the premises, noted from time immemorial for its quality, purity and suitability for distillation purposes.

The works originally belonged to an aristocratic trio, consisting of an Honourable, a Baronet, and a General, and it was from these gentlemen that the grandfather of the present proprietors purchased the works at the beginning of this century. During the past forty years they have been considerably increased, and partly rebuilt, while nearly every department has been supplied with new and improved machinery. Passing under the archway, we found ourselves in an extensive oblong court, where a very busy scene presented itself – workmen were hurrying to and fro, carts laden with Whisky were leaving the Stores, and casks of all sizes were strewn about the place. It was with difficulty that we picked our way through it all and reached the offices, which consist of a spacious suite of apartments for the partners, Distillery clerks, and revenue officers. We were conducted over the extensive works by the Manager, and commenced our inspection at the Barley Stores and Maltings. The first building entered was a lofty four-story structure, each floor measuring 126 feet by 48 feet; the top used for barley, and the two underneath, which possess the usual steeps, are for malting purposes. Attached to these is a large Kiln, 48 feet by 60 feet; this lofty building is the very perfection of cleanliness, the walls being painted a light drab colour, and the pillars bright scarlet. It is heated by four furnaces, and the floor above is laid with perforated Chester tiles. Our guide informed us that at Drogheda Messrs. John Jameson & Son have other three large Maltings and two Kilns on a more extensive scale than these.

Resuming our inspection, we were next conducted through the ten large Corn Lofts, three of which measure 96 by 84 feet; three, 126 by 60 feet; three, 92 feet square; and one, 225 by 48 feet. From these Lofts we ascended a long flight of steps to the two Corn Kilns, painted in the same style, and with open roofs, as the Malt Kilns already described. One of them is 38 by 35 feet, the other 47 by 28 feet. The grain is raised to all the floors by means of a hoist, but the dried Barley is sent by elevators from the Kilns to the Mill. This latter next claimed our attention, and is quite a little work in itself, the building having been divided off into Machinery and Mill Room, Hopper and Grist Lofts, and four large Grist Rooms. The Mill contains the ponderous grinding machinery, and four pairs of millstones.

The grains are pumped into large tanks, shot into a grain hole, and disposed of to farmers and dairymen; the spent wash is also sold to these people after the spirit has been extracted from it.

On leaving the Mash House we entered the Tun Room, where there are ten Washbacks, clean wooden vessels, each holding 35,000 gallons; afterwards to the Still House, one of the oldest buildings in the works, which contain the Wash Charger, Stills, and other vessels. When the brewing period is passed, the wash is conveyed into the Wash Charger, which has a capacity of 40,000 gallons, from here the wash descends by gravitation to the two Wash Stills, each holding 24,000 gallons. These Stills, in addition to fire, are heated by steam coils.

From these vessels the spirit, or low wines, ascends to the Worm Tubs (there are two, each fitted with two copper worms) through which the spirit passes, and thence through the Safe to the Low Wines Receiver. The Safe is 20 feet long, and most unique in its construction; it was designed by Mr. Lockhart, the late Brewer in the establishment. From the Low Wines Receiver the vapour is pumped into the Low Wines Stills, which have a capacity of 14,500 and 13,000 gallons respectively. From here it ascends and descends as before to the Feints and Spirit Receiver, and from this vessel the spirit is pumped into one of the Vats (there are three, holding 17,000 gallons) there to be reduced as required, casked, weighed, branded, and sent to the Warehouses. The Feints are pumped back again to the Low Wines Still to be redistilled. All the Stills are Pot Stills, and were made by Messrs. Miller & Co. It may here be remarked that the Warehouses belonging to the Distillery usually contain about 25,000 casks of Whisky.

On the other side of the Still House is the Canpit Room, where there are five Receivers, two of them Low Wines, two Feints, and one Spirit. The Racking Store, a good substantial building, contains 6,000 gallons of duty-paid Whisky of various ages, for the convenience of customers.

The Engine Department is an important one in this establishment. It contains two fine engines, one 35 and the other 16-horse power; four boilers 20 feet by 8 feet, 30 feet by 8 feet, 36 feet by 8 feet, and 38 feet by 8 feet diameter respectively; and in a building 94 feet square we noticed a vast store of coal ready for use, which, we were informed, amounted to 1,400 tons.

There are ten sets of three-throw metal pumps on the premises, and a fine handsome brass three-throw spirit pump.

Three hundred men are employed on the works, and it is a notable fact that the operatives are never turned away except for misconduct. We noticed many hale and hearty old men; one old veteran was over eighty-six years of age.

The Chimney Stack is a fine structure. It was built in the year in which the Queen was born.

On the works are comfortable quarters for the managers and subordinates, and capital offices for carrying on the business of the Distillery and the Excise.

There are eight excise officers employed on the premises and at the Warehouses.

The annual output of this famous Distillery is about 1,000,000 gallons.