Ben Wyvis

Ben Wyvis, Scotland.

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

ON Thursday evening we reached Dingwall, which lies nestled at the root of Ben Wyvis and at the entrance to the beautiful Strathpeffer Valley. We strolled out next morning before breakfast to look at the town with its surroundings. It consists principally of one street, and possesses two remarkable buildings, the four t House, an ancient castellated edifice, and the Town House, a dignified looking building, which possesses a spire. In all our journeys, for the last few days, Ben Wyvis has always been the main feature in the landscape. It is 3,722 feet above the level of the sea, and is unlike any other mountain we have seen, being covered to the top with soft green sward, and its summit crowned with snow. It has never been free from snow but once in the memory of living man, and that was in September, 1826. In the old charter of Fowlis it is stated that the forest of Naish is held of the Crown, on condition of presenting at Court a snowball of three wains of snow gathered from the top of Ben Wyvis, on any day in the year on which it may be required. Dingwall is the nearest town to the celebrated watering-place of Strathpeffer, from which it is distant four miles. The drive through the fertile vatter is one of the most beautiful in the district. Everywhere you are surrounded by soft landscapes, luxuriant beauty, and fine hill-screens, all overhung by Ben Wyvis, and enlivened by the lovely stream of Peffer. After breakfast we walked to the Distillery, which is only a quarter of a mile from the town and railway station. It is on the main road, facing the railway and the Cromarty Firth, and was built in 1879. Mr. David Mather, the manager, conducted us over the premises and explained to us the method of working the Distillery. The works, which are of imposing appearance and cover three acres of ground, are erected on terraces cut out of the face of a steep rocky hill same 200 feet high, and are arranged as follows. The Barley Barns are on the top, access to which is had by a road cut out of the hill and leading up from the main road, and on successive terraces are Malt Barns, Kiln, Malt Deposit Room, Mill Room, Mash House, Tun Room, Still House, etc., and on the level, Spirit Store, business and Excise offices. On the opposite side of the road, and connected by a siding with the railway, are placed the Bonded Warehouses, which farm a conspicuous object as you pass along in the train. They consist of a range of buildings 300 feet long and 36 feet broad, and five stories high. The three top flats are devoted to the store of gram and the two lower floors as Bonded Warehouses. In close proximity is the Cask Shed, 100 feet long by 30 feet wide, roofed with iron, and adjoining is the coopery. On this side also there is a large Burnt Ale Tank, conveniently arranged for supplying the farmer’s tanks, or casks, with this valuable cattle fattener.

The water used in the Distillery is brought through a conduit 3f miles from Loch Ussie, and Dr. Stevenson Macadam reports favourably on its virtues. The barley is carted to the Granaries by the road already referred to, and emptied into hoppers in the wall on to the floor, from whence it is sent by an elevator, and endless belt, to any part of the building. From the Grain Loft the barley is dropped through spouts into the Steeps, situated at the south ends of the malt Barns. When the malt has matured on the floors, which are of Portland cement concrete, it is raised by the afore-mentioned Grain Elevator, and, by means of a screw, distributed at the rate of 16 bushels per minute on the wire cloth floor of the Kiln. By a simple arrangement of air passages the supply of hot air to the malt is under complete control. From the Kiln the malt passes to the Malt Depot, and thence into the Malt Hopper No. a huge iron Receiver, capable of holding 1,000 bushels of malt, divided into two compartments of 500 bushels, being the quantity presently used at each mashing. From this hopper the malt passes through the Mill, and is instantly elevated by machinery into the Grist Hopper No. 2, which holds 1,000 bushels of grist, also divided into two compartments of 500 bushels. From this hopper it passes through a mashing machine into the Mash Tun, a vessel so excellently got up as to be worthy of special examination. From the Mash Tun the “wort” Hows into the Underback, and when exhausted the Draff is also dropped into this vessel, from whence it slides through Sluice Ports on to the Draff loading bank. From the Underback, which holds 8,000 gallons, the “worts” runs by gravitation through a patent refrigerator into the Washbacks, which are calculated to ferment 13,000 gallons each. From the Backs it flows into the Wash Charger, and thence into the Wash Still. In thus following the liquid through its various transits we were struck with the absence of pumps. The vapour from the Wash Still is condensed in a tubular condenser, on the principle of the old-fashioned warms, but much more economical of water and space, and more rapid in its action. This condenser is kept sufficiently high to permit of the Low-wines being run through the Safe into its Receiver, and thence into the Spirit Still, all by gravitation. The spirit vapour is similarly condensed, and after passing through the Safe and Receiver it is run into the Spirit Store immediately underneath, where it is casked and rolled across the road, either into the railway trucks or into the Bonded Warehouses. The waste water from the condensers passes over a miniature water-wheel, which drives the agitating gear of the Wash Still. With a view to economy of fuel the .Hues from the Stills are carried under the steam boiler before entering the stalk, and so important is this utilization of otherwise waste heat, that steam in the boiler is got up by this means alone. The steam boiler, which is of large dimensions, serves many important purposes. Besides supplying steam for bath engines, and furnishing the means of rapidly cleansing the various utensils, it is utilized for boiling the water in the two large copper~ in the Mash House. These coppers each contain 7,000 gallons of water, and a steam pipe introduced to each of them makes the contents boil in one hour and twenty minutes. ‘

The Mash Tun is 18 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep, and in the Tun Room there are four Washbacks, each holding 13,000 gallons, and a Wash Charger holding 12,000 gallons. Both the Stills are of the Pot kind, and the following are their capacities. The Wash 4,000 gallons and the Spirit 2,000 gallons. In the Engine Department we noticed a horizontal engine of 20-horse power, and a steam boiler 21 feet long and 7 feet in diameter.

The Whisky is Highland Malt, and the annual output is 160,000 gallons.