Extract from Alfred Barnard’s historic tour of every whisky distillery in Great Britain, published in ‘1887’
THERE is a cordiality and absence of ceremony about Scotch hospitality which we always thought very delightful. It is hospitality not measured by the quantity of meat and drink set before you, characterized by a total absence of all affectation with a desire to welcome you and contribute to your happiness which, in our experience, does not altogether accord with the character for gravity and reticence sometimes attributed to the race. We, though passing guests, were generally treated like old friends, and made free of the house, horses, and vehicles.
Kirkcaldy is a busy manufacturing town and a royal burgh. Unfortunately, we had not much time to explore this interesting and historic place, as our trap was waiting, so we at once started for Auchtertool, a distance of four miles, being driven by our worthy host, who knows well how to manage the ribbons. We had a high-spirited horse, and bowled along at a splendid pace through a most delightful country. For several miles our drive was all up hill, and when we reached the Auchtertool church the view was surpassingly grand, embracing a fine view of the sea, which included the Isle of May, Bass Rock and North Berwick, the three Lomonds, and the Cullaloe Hills. On reaching the top of the hill, the Distillery lay directly below us, with its white and brown buildings looking like a small colonial settlement. Entering the covered archway, we drove down the short roadway to the office, and commenced our inspection.
There is something decidedly quaint and striking in this Distillery. It consists of a number of irregular buildings, connected with one another and disposed in the form of a hollow square, with a Kiln at one end rising a little above the rest of the buildings. Just outside and across the road are the new maltings, to which we shall refer later on. The Auchtertool Distillery covers our acres of ground, and was founded as a Brewery in the year 1650. In the 18th century it was noted through Fifeshire for its excellent brew, and had its praises sung by the local poets. In 1845 this ancient establishment was turned Into a Distillery, and, in the quality of its new beverage, has continued the reputation of the production from these works. The estate which adjoins is farmed by large holders of land, and fine crops of barley are raised thereon, which is used in the Distillery, supplemented with the produce of neighbouring farms. Agricultural operations in this district are in a very advanced state, and the country is famous for its fine barley and wheat.
The works contain three large Barley Lofts, with Steeps at each end. One of them is very large, and capable of drying 100 quarters at one time. Underneath these Lofts are the Malting Floors, all of them concreted. Connected with this building are three Kilns, floored with iron plates, and peat only is used therein to dry the malt. These Kilns being slightly elevated above the next building, which contains the two Malt Deposits, the dried malt falls through a shoot, and no manual labour is required. We were next taken to the Mill Building, which is close to the Malt Deposits, and contains a fine set of Malt Rollers. After it is ground the pulverized malt is raised by elevators to the Loft above, where it is weighed into bags of 200 cwt. ready for use. These sacks are afterwards tipped into the hopper of a Steel’s Mashing Machine, through which the grist passes into the Mash Tun.
We then descended a staircase into the Brewing Department, where is to be seen the Mash Tun, 18 feet in diameter by 5 feet deep, with the patent stirring gear, and the iron Underback, which receives the worts from the Tun. The two heaters which supply hot water to the Mash Tun are copper vessels, and are placed on one side of this house, and the Coolers, which are on the old-fashioned principle, cover the roof. The worts are pumped from the Underback into the fermenting vessels. We then followed our guide up another stair-ladder into the Back House, an apartment entirely devoted to the fermenting process. Here we were shown eight Washbacks, or Fermenting Tuns, each having a capacity of 2,780 gallons. The revolving switches therein, for keeping down the fermentation, are driven by steam power. The worts, after this process, change their name into wash, and we followed it into the Still House, a very old-fashioned building. Here the wash is received into the Wash Charger, into which it runs by gravitation. This vessel is of timber, and is placed above the Stills on an elevated platform. Both the Stills are of the old pot kind, and of the following capacity:- The Wash Still 2,500 gallons, and the Spirit Still 1,360 gallons. Distributed about in this house are to be seen the Feints Charger and Feints Receiver, the Low-wines Receiver, Spirit Receiver, and the safe and sampling apparatus. We next crossed the yard to the Spirit Store, passing on our way the Worm Tub and Refrigerators. In this Store there is a vat which holds 2,000 gallons, also the casking apparatus. Following our guide we took a peer at the nine Warehouses, which are scattered round the establishment. Some of them are very spacious, and they are all well ventilated. At the time of our visit they contained 2,275 casks of Whisky and were not full; as a matter of fact, they will hold, if necessary, 6,000 casks. A special feature in this Distillery is the Cooperage, a huge warehouse used in the olden days of the brewing, as a store. It is now converted into a cask shed, and contained at least a thousand empty sherry casks waiting to be filled, and in the adjoining building the coopers, looking very picturesque in their leather aprons, were busy purifying, sweetening, and repairing casks. We just looked in at the smithy and carpenters’ shops, and then crossed over to the stabling and cart-sheds, where we were shown seven cart-horses, magnificent creatures, well adapted for carting the loads of Whisky down to Kirkcaldy Station.
We next paid a visit to the new Maltings, recently erected on a slope of the hill in front of the Distillery. They are 178 feet long and 60 feet wide, and, with the buildings adjacent, cover an acre of ground. The top floor is used as a Barley Store, and contained, at the time of our visit, 1,800 quarters of home- grown barley, but they can store 6,000 quarters. The Malting Floors are underneath, and at the end there is an enormous stone Steep. At the end of the building there is a handsome tower, which forms the Kiln. It is very lofty, measures 48 feet by 33 feet, and is floored with perforated iron plates. The Malt Deposit is on a lower floor in the next building, and so arranged that the dried malt falls therein by gravitation. On the opposite side of the enclosure there is a capital Draff House and Spent Wash Tank, conveniently arranged for sale and delivery to the farmers. The dreg and wash are conveyed through pipes under the roadway, from the Distillery to this receptacle. In the courtyard were four large stacks of peat, piled as high as the buildings. Mr. Bartholomew has provided comfortable dwellings for all his employees, and excellent residences for the Excise officers, of whom there are three, the chief being Mr. A. W. Ping’. The Whisky made at Auchtertool is pure Malt, and the annual output is 86,000 gallons. It is principally gold in England and Scotland.
As we drove along home, the last lingering rays of the setting gun were falling on the russet coverings of the trees, and the hills, which now began to darken the horizon, were flushed by the sunset, and before we reached home the sea, which now al most appeared at our feet, was enveloped in mist.
We rattled along in high spirits, enjoying the drive, and regretting that we should not have the same pleasure for many a long day.