Extract from Alfred Barnard’s historic tour of every whisky distillery in Great Britain, published in ‘1887’
OUR last expedition was by steamboat; today we journeyed by rail, starting early that we might have time to explore the neighbourhood of Denny and the surroundings of the Bankier Distillery. The scenery through which we passed, after leaving Linlithgow, was very interesting. Pretty hills enclose pleasant looking valleys, and the meadow lands and plantations were as gay with wild flowers as a bit of tapes try. As we proceeded, the landscape appeared even more pastoral: little streams ripple in and out through the waving cornfields, and the soft beauty is much enhanced by the distant back-ground of verdant hills. There were times in the history of Scotland when this now peaceful district was the scene of carnage and strife, but happily “the sword has been changed for the ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook.” Castlecarey, one mile distant, is the nearest station to the Distillery. This place was an ancient fortress on the line of Antonius’ wall. The fort is nearly effaced, and we saw nothing but a few remains of a keep or fosse. The Roman Wall runs through Castlecary, for many miles parallel with the remarkable river Carron, which runs a four se of fourteen miles through this district, falling into the Forth at Grangemouth. There are ‘many waterfalls on this river, the finest being called Auchintilly “Linn spout,” this cascade is well worth a visit. The Carron is certainly the most historic river in Scotland; when the Roman Empire was in its glory this river formed the boundary of its conquest in Britain. Many a bloody battle has been fought on its banks, but it has now ceased to roll its stream to the din of arms, and lends its aid to trade and manufactures, supplying not only the paper mills and printing works of Denny and district, but also the great reservoir of the Carron Iron Works, the most extensive iron foundry in Europe. Macneil, a native poet of this county, expresses himself thus:-
“Round Carron’s streams, O classic name !
Whar Fingal fought, and ay ow’rcame,
Whar Ossian wak’d, wi’ kindling flame,
His heaven-taught lays;
And sang his Oscar’s deathless fame
At Duin, na bais!”
On leaving the .train we walked to the Distillery, as there was no sign of a vehicle of any kind, or place where a machine could be hired. Our war lay alongside the railway track for half a mile, and then diverged into a country road, here and there overshadowed by trees. The Distillery is planted on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal, which at this point has a beautiful and picturesque appearance. The Canal runs through a glen forming a part of the Netherwood Estate, and in same parts the richly-wooded plantations slope down to the water’s edge. At its extreme end the valley is crossed by a noble railway viaduct of great length and height, which adds to the beauty of the view.
The Bankier Distillery was built in the year 1828, by Daniel Macfarlane, of Paisley, but previous to that time it was a noted corn mill. The buildings are of stone, handsome in appearance, and cover six acres of ground. They are built on the slopes of a hill, at the bottom of which runs the Bonny River; whilst at a higher elevation, and cutting the left wing of the establishment into two parts, falls along the Doups Stream, which turns the overshot water wheels and supplies all the tanks. It rises in the Lower Grampians, and is of excellent quality for mashing purposes. The premises, which are all arranged with inter- sections of roadways, mostly communicate with each other, and have all the appearance of a country Distillery, bath as regards space and surroundings. As you cross the Canal by the lock-bridge you get a splendid view of Bankier, and a busy scene it is, with the carts going to and fro from the wharf and the continued movement inside the works. The wharf is in close proximity to the western gates of the Distillery, and is the landing place for the barley which comes from Aberdeen and Forfar shires.
We first inspected the two Maltings, each of which is lighted by twenty- four windows. One of these Maltings is 200 feet long, by 60 feet broad; the other is not quite 50 large. The top Boors of bath buildings are used for storing the barley, and each holds about 4,000 quarters. Our attention was called to the Steeps, which are of cast iron, sunk into the Boor, supported underneath by massive iron columns, and are most ingeniously arranged. After the water has been drained off, a circular sluice is raised from the bottom by a lever, and lets out the wetted barley on to the couch below. One of these Maltings is a two-decker and the other a three-decker. All the lower Boors are concreted and used as withering or malting Boors.
We next crossed a footbridge over the stream, which connects the Maltings with the two Kilns and Malt Stores. The former are 40 feet square, and adjoin the latter buildings. A rustic-looking covered outside passage, from end to end of these buildings, on the side of the stream, farms the means of communication through which the malt is wheeled to the Kilns.
We were afterwards conducted to the third and smaller Maltings on the opposite side of the yard, which, like the others, are built of stone and similarly arranged. They comprise a barley Store, with Steep, and underneath a malting floor; the Kiln, which is 24 feet square, farms a wing of the building. All the Kilns are floored with wire cloth, and are heated with peat in open chauffeurs. The dried malt is conveyed by screws to the Mill building, which is in the centre of the four t yard and adjoins the Brewing House. The mill rollers therein are driven by the water wheel, supplemented by steam power when necessary. From the Mill the pulverised malt 15 sent by elevators direct into the grist 10ft, which is over the Mash House.
The Still House and Mash House are under one roof, and form the central and most conspicuous building of the establishment. They are build of stone, in the farm of a triangle, and measure 100 feet by 60 feet. On one side of this house, in the mashing department, are placed two cast-iron heating tanks: one of them is 16 feet long, 10 1/2 feet broad, and 9 feet deep; and the other is 16 feet long, 9 feet broad, and 9 feet deep. The Mash Tun is an iron vessel, 22 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep; it possesses the double action stirring gear, which revolves by steam-power. Below this vessel there is a screw, which conveys the grains direct to the Draff House in the yard ready for the farmers to cart it away. Beneath the floor of the Brewing House is placed the Underback, a vessel 27 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 5 feet deep, which receives the worts from the Mash Tun. All the vessels are beautifully clean, and painted a warm red colour. Close by is the three-throw pump, which is used for pumping the worts into the Washbacks. We then left this building for awhile to follow the process, and were taken to the Back House. This is a very spacious, well-lighted and ventilated room, 50 feet long, by 55 feet broad and 35 feet high, containing 5 Washbacks, of 12,000 gallons capacity each. These have all the most modern fittings of steam piping, &c., for equalising the temperature of the room and cleansing purposes. Above, suspended on iron beams, we observed a large Morton’s Refrigerator and cooling tank, with Yeast Room adjoining. We then retraced our steps to the Still House, to see what becomes of the liquor from the tuns which is now called wash. On our arrival we mounted a central platform, which divides the building, and farms a partial division between the Brew House and Still House. Here is placed the Wash Charger, which holds 4,500 gallons. The wash flows from the tuns into this vessel by gravitation, and the Charger is placed at a sufficient altitude to command the Stills, as thither is the next destination of the wash. On this platform is also placed the Low Wines and Feints Charger, containing 3,000 gallons, and underneath the five Receivers. From this elevation we had a good view of the busy scene below. On our right are the mashmen, busy at their brewing operations; on the left the stillmen actively engaged in feeding the furnaces, polishing the brasswork, or watching and testing the running spirit in the glass safe; and we can but note with admiration the order which prevails, and the quiet and intelligent manner which the workmen perform their duties.
The Stills are of the “Old Pot Kind,” of the following capacities: the Wash Still, 6,551 gallons, No. 1, Low-wines, 1,975, and the No. 2 Low-wines, 1,895 g-gallons. One of them, a steam-jacketed Still, was supplied by Willison, of Alloa, and is fitted with the automatic anti-collapse valve. On the side of the west wall is a low-wines and feints pump and a spirit pump. We then left this interesting department and made our way a few yards up the hill to the Spirit- store, which contains a Vat holding 4,000 gallons and the necessary casking-appliances. From thence we proceeded to the seven Warehouses, which are all detached and built on the higher ground above the Distillery. These spacious Warehouses are built of stone and roofed with slates, and together are capable of storing 4,500 casks. They contained at the time of our visit a little over 200,000 gallons of whisky of various ages, same dating back to 1874- Two of these Warehouses measure 100 feet by 60 feet.
Opposite these buildings, and at the back of the Still House are two cooperages, one for repairs and the other for cleaning and sweetening purposes. In the latter department we noticed the coopers purifying and cleansing the casks by a very simple method. Steam and hot-water pipes are laid on from the boilers, to which are attached double-jointed tubes. The hot-water pipe is first used, and afterwards the steam-pipe is inserted into the bung-hole of the casks. Thus they are thoroughly steamed and sweetened.
Extensive alterations and improvements are being carried on, including re-arrangement of Tun Room, erection of a range of new Tuns, a new cast-iron Wash Charger, with Centrifugal Pump for filling same. The engineering part of the work is in the hands of Mr. R. G. Abercrombie, of Alloa.
We then retraced our steps down the hill and raid a visit to the Engine House, which contains a handsome steam engine and two steam boilers, the latter 28 feet long by 8 feet in diameter. The two chimney stacks measure respectively 100 feet and 75 feet in height at the foot of the hill, and near the bridge which crosses the Bonny Water, is placed the Gasometer and Gas House, as the firm make all the gas that is consumed on the premises. In close proximity is the Smithy, Engineers’ Shop, Store House, Stables, and Cart-sheds. On the canal side of the yard there is a huge Peat-shed, filled with peats dug in the Cumbernauld Moors.
As a protection against fire, water pipes are laid over the premises, to the plugs of which can be attached a set of fire hose, worked by a pump from the water-wheel. The most prominent objects in the yard facing the canal are the two Spent-wash Tanks, of an enormous size, conveniently placed for the farmers carts; the Draff House is also contiguous. On the left side of the Distillery, and quite apart from the works, is built a model Piggery. It is a quadrangular building, with the pig-styes in the central four t, all of which are numbered. One hundred pigs are kept here and fed on the grains and spent wash of the Distillery. They form a very profitable receptacle for the disposal of the draff unsold to the dairymen
We next crossed the Doups stream, and, by a short cut, found ourselves at the Distillery offices, which are newly built and very complete. Those for the use of the firm are fitted up in a handsome and substantial style, the walls and ceilings being richly panel led in oak. On the turnpike road, facing the eastern gate of the works, there is a pretty rustic cottage, occupied by the manager, and at a short distance therefrom are the workmen’s dwellings.
The Whisky distilled at Bankier is now made on North Highland principles, and, although the Distillery is situated in the Lowlands of Scotland, the quality of the spirit appeared to us to be of a most pronounced and excellent Highland style of Whisky. The annual output is 150,000 gallons, the works are, however, capable of producing 180,000 gallons if required.