Extract from Alfred Barnard’s historic tour of every whisky distillery in Great Britain, published in ‘1887’
WE left Elgin by the night train for Keith, where we found excellent quarters at the Gordon Arms, one of those rare old-fashioned hostelries, which are fast passing away. Mr. Barclay, the jolly landlord, received us on our arrival, and made us exceedingly comfortable, during our fortnight’s sojourn at his house. The next morning we again entered the train, this time bound for beautiful Craigellachie. From Keith the track strikes off abruptly to the left, alongside the river Isla, into a picturesque country of woods and stream, where the undulations of the ground have necessitated short tunnels and deep cuttings. We had here at intervals such pictures of rocky ridges, wooded plantations, miniature waterfalls, river and mountain, that it all seemed like magic, and when we finally emerged from the last intersection, suddenly found ourselves at our destination. Craigellachie is a good hiring station, and it is well for travellers to know this, otherwise they may have to retrace their steps for many a long mile before they can procure a horse and vehicle; so few of these railway stations in the Highlands possess hiring accommodation. On our arrival we secured a stout horse and trap from Charlie Stuart, the proprietor of the hiring establishment, who personally coached us to Aberlour. It was a lovely day, and we started off in high spirits. After passing through the village of Craigellachie, we came in sight of the magnificent iron bridge, which crosses the Spey, near its junction with the Fiddich River. The bridge springs from a rock on the western side of the Spey, and is of 100 feet span. The road of access to the bridge is most picturesque, being cut out of the face of the solid rock, amid scattered firs of the impending mountain. For two miles the four se of the river is very beautiful, and in some parts the road overhangs the boiling stream. We were quite sorry to diverge from this path, but we had come to our journey’s end, for on our left, hidden among the trees, lay the Distillery, the object of our visit. Aberlour is a charming village, at the root of Benrinnes. This grand mountain is 2,765 feet above the level of the sea, and from its summit ten counties, from Caithness to Perth, are visible. On the east shoulder there is a spring, which develops into a small pond, and near it, we were shown a cave which James an Tuam, or James of the Hill, a noted freebooter, made one of his coverts. The water from this receptacle runs down the mountain side, and, before Teaching Aberlour, farms a beautiful cascade, called the Lynn of Ruthrie. It has a fall of 30 feet, broken in its descent by a projecting rock, and is received into a gloomy pool below. Above the fall the rocks are covered with trees, which reverberate the sound of the water, and greatly contribute to the interest of the scene. The Bum from the pool is now cal led the Lour, and runs rapidly to the Spey. The Spey is, in volume of water and extent of basin drained by it, the second river in Scotland. It rises in Badenoch, about six miles from Loch Laggan, and flows for about 100 miles. I after flowing for about a mile from the source it expands into Loch Spey, after leaving which it flows eastward to the sea, receiving in its progress the Marky, the Calder, and a number of smaller streams. It takes rank, as a salmon river, next to the Tay and the Tweed.
The Aberlour–Glenlivet Distillery, distant about a quarter of a mile below the waterfall, is built on the banks of the Lour, about 300 yards from its confluence with the noble river Spey, which here rushes northwards to the Moray Firth, and a like distance from the Aberlour Station of the Great North of Scotland Railway. The work, a perfect model Distillery, was rebuilt in the year 1880, and covers two acres of ground. It consists of a triangular block of stone buildings, of neat appearance, and conveniently arranged for the various processes of distillation. Our guide, Mr. R. Gauld, the Brewer, first took us to the Malt Barn, a handsome building, 121 feet long and 40 feet deep, at the end which are two concrete Steeps, capable of wetting 70 quarters of Barley at One time. Ascending a stone stair we came to two Grain Lofts, one above the other, capable of holding together 3,000 quarters of barley. At the angle of this building is the Kiln, measuring 25 feet square and floored with wire cloth. It is heated by peat in open chauffeurs. A doorway from the floor of this building lead us down 10 feet to the Malt Deposit, below which, at a depth of 13 feet, is the Mill Room, containing a pair of Malt Rollers, driven by water. This apartment is 30 feet square and 13 feet high. The malt is passed to the Mill through a batch in the floor, to a hopper over the cylinders, which pulverize the malt. After being ground, the grist passes into another hopper over the Mash Tun in the room below.
The Mash and Still Houses are about 50 feet long by 30 feet broad, and contain an iron Mash-tun, 12 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep, possessing the usual stirring gear. On passing through the hopper referred to, the ground malt falls into the Steel’s Mashing Machine, which mixes it thoroughly with the hot water before it falls into the Tun below. The wash is cooled by being pumped up through a pipe 200 feet long, which is immersed in the Worm Tank, which is the only Cooler. We then ascended a staircase to a lofty apartment, called the Tun Room, over the Mash House, where the floor is concreted, and which contains five Washbacks, each holding 4,000 gallons. The liquid, after fermentation, runs by gravitation into the Wash Charger and from it to the Wash Still, which has a capacity of 1,600 gallons, thence into the Low-wines and Feints receiver, from whence the immature spirit runs by gravitation into the Spirit Still, holding 1,200 gallons, and after that process it runs as a pure spirit through the Safe into the Spirit Receiver. All these latter vessels are in the upper flat of the Still House, and both Stills are of the old Pot kind. The plan of the cooling is novel. The Worm Tank is formed of concrete, 50 feet long by 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep, divided by a partition along the centre, a continuous body of water capable of, and used for, turning two wheels, rushes along the one side and back the other, over the worms, proving the simplest and most effectual condensing method we have met with. The lower flat of the Still House is sunk 10 feet on the side opposite the Copper and Stills, so that the coals are emptied from the cart through a shoot and landed beside the furnaces without any further labour; here there is accommodation for holding 50 tong of coal.
The next compartment is the Spirit Store, where there is a Vat containing 1,750 gallons, which receives the spirit from the Stills. Here the Whisky is casked, branded, and gent into the Bonded Warehouses, two in number, roofed with corrugated iron, and built with stone. One of these Warehouses is of three spans, each 40 feet wide and 100 feet long. The other is a two-decker, 80 feet by 40 feet, and there were 2,000 casks of Whisky of various ages stored in these Warehouses.
There is no steam power in this Distillery, the continuous flow of water being sufficient to drive all the machinery, which includes grinding, mashing, elevating, steering, and pumping. Several industries are carried on. We visited one or two of them, notably the Cooperage and Cask Sheds, spacious buildings, neatly arranged and possessing the necessary appliances for sweetening and repairing. Adjoining is the carpenter shop and smithy, and across the yard the stables and cart sheds. Near the entrance there is a small office for the Distiller, and another for the Excise. The Manager resides in a neat house adjoining the barns. The Whisky is pure Highland Malt, and the annual output is 80,000 gallons, which is sold principally in England and Scotland.
The chief Excise officer is Mr. F. J. Ivinson.