Bon Accord, Scotland.
Extract from Alfred Barnard’s historic tour of every whisky distillery in Great Britain, published in ‘1887’
WE arrived at Aberdeen, the “City of Bon Accord,” very early in the day, having started from Insch by the first train. We made our way direct to the Imperial Hotel, and were delighted with the quarters we had chosen. After breakfast we strolled forth to explore the Granite City, or, as it has been aptly termed, the cc Silver City by the Sea,” and were struck with its cleanly and beautiful appearance. All the buildings are erected with solid blocks of greyish white granite, and most of them are of handsome elevation. Aberdeen ranks next to Edinburgh and Glasgow in point of importance, and is the capital of the north of Scotland. It stands between the rivers Dee and Don, the farmer being crossed by four bridges, one of them a stone bridge of seven arches, built in the sixteenth century by Bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar. Union Street, which is a mile long, is without doubt the most attractive part of the city, and contains same beautiful shops and magnificent buildings. Part of the Street is carried over a ravine by means of a granite bridge, consisting of one arch of 130 feet span, 44 feet in. breadth and 50 feet above the surface of the ground below, and we were informed that it cast upwards of GBP 13,000. Near this bridge we noticed a bronze statue of Prince Albert, by Marochetti. The chief attraction, however, is the Municipal Buildings, situated at the eastern end of Union Street. It is one of the largest and most imposing granite buildings in Scotland, and its most striking feature is the tower which rises to the height of 190 feet, from which we had a fine view of the City stretched out like a panorama. There are many places of interest in this City, notably King’s College, founded in 1494, a stately fabric. Marischal College, founded in 1593, was united to King’s College in 1859. Aberdeen has for ages past been the seat of learning and culture, and its various libraries contain a rich mine of literature. Having occupied a couple of hours in our explorations, we returned to our hotel to equip ourselves with the necessary papers and introduction for our visit to the Bon Accord Distillery, resolving to complete our tour of the City the next day.
Our route to the Distillery was through the noble market buildings, up Union Street, and along the Bon Accord Terrace. Here we turned sharply to the right, and descended a steep hill into Union Glen, the most prominent object before us, on the opposite slope, being the Distillery. There is a lively rivulet running past the works called the Ferry Hill Burn, but its waters are not used in the works, and it is allowed to pursue the four se of its own sweet will unmolested into the river Dee.
Bon Accord-” good agreement “-was the watchword of the Scotch on that win try night in the old churchyard, when the English were attacked by the townspeople in the time of Wallace. Without this password they would not have been able to distinguish friends from foes.
The Distillery dates back to the year 1785, when it was an old brewery, and supplied the notables of that period with its famous “stingo.” It adjoins the property of the old Union Glen Distillery, built in the year 1820, and which was dismantled in 1855, the Stills and other vessels being purchased by the farmer proprietor of Bon Accord Distillery. In the year 1876 the whole of the Bon Accord property was acquired by the present limited company, who made extensive alterations and improvements to it; but early in 1885 all the old buildings, except the No. 4 Granary and No. 2 Malt Barns, were burnt to the ground, and, as an evidence of the enterprise of this company and the diligence of the contractor, we feel bound to state that the whole Distillery, with the exception of the ancient buildings referred to, was rebuilt on a larger and more modem style, fitted up and furnished in eleven months.
The Distillery, built of solid granite, is of handsome elevation, and covers nearly three acres of ground. The work consists of a quadrangular block of buildings, with a projecting wing on the left at the back of the new offices and board room. We were admitted to the spiritual precincts through a postern gate, and found ourselves in a covered roadway or four t, 140 feet long and 16 feet wide which leads to all the departments of the establishment We made our tour of inspection under the guidance of Mr. John Thomson, the manager of the Distillery, who explained to us the arrangements and modus operandi as we went along. We were struck with the neatness and order displayed in every department, and the ingenuity which had contrived the arrangement and position of the vessels. Our guide first led the way to the Barley Lofts and Maltings, 50 that we might follow the process from the beginning. These Maltings are built on the steep part of the hill, and a roadway through an outer yard on the same property has been constructed to the doors of the Barley Lofts, so that the grain can be tipped direct on to the floor without the use of hoists or elevators. We began to ascend the moment we left the covered roadway, and gradually passed round by means of staircases to the south-east angle of the Work, where are the Nos. 1 and 2 Maltings, built in the share of the letter L, and which farm the wing of the Distillery before referred to. One of these buildings, which is designated as the No. 1 Granary and Maltings, is 154 feet long and 49 broad. It is a lofty structure, and is divided into three floors, each of which is well lighted and supported by massive iron columns. The top story is the Granary, and same idea of its size and capacity may be ascertained by the fact that it will hold 5,000 quarters of barley. At its northern end there are two Steeps, each capable of wetting 60 quarters at one time. These metal Steeps are sunk into the floor, and their contents discharged on to the lower floor by the simple contrivance of a lever screw, which raises the sluices from the bottom. This Malting Floor is concreted, and of same dimensions as the Granary above. The third or basement floor is a Bonded Warehouse. We now raid a visit to the No. 2 Granary, which communicates with the others, but is not quite so large. Here there is a Cock-loft in the roof 128 feet long and 19l broad, holding 2,000 quarters of barley, whilst the Granary floor underneath, which is of the same length, but 40 feet broad, will hold 3,000 quarters of grain. Under this floor there are two Warehouses of same dimensions. Before leaving this section of the Works our guide conducted us to the platform on the roof to see the huge Water-Tank, which covers part of the No. 2 Granary, and holds 45,000 gallons. We may here state that the Company possess a well about 100 feet deep, which cast GBP3,000 to sink, and it is that water which is pumped up to this tank. Where we stand is the highest point of the Distillery, and the prospect, although not extensive, is interesting, embracing on one side the city, with its monuments and stately buildings, the harbour and the German Ocean; and on the other, the Strawberry Bank, crowned by Bon Accord Terrace and at the back, the grounds of Willowbank.
We now descended to the ground level, and crossed the roadway to the other Granary Building which farms a portion of the old work created in 1788 and spared by the late fire. It is a three story structure, 108 feet long and 19 broad. The top holds 1,000 quarters of barley, the second is a concreted Malting, whilst the basement farms the No. 4 Bond. Adjoining the main building and at the end of the new Maltings there is a lofty Kiln, 36 feet square and 65 feet high, floored with metal plates, heated with peats from Orkney and shut off from the other buildings by a double set of swing iron doors. Exactly opposite and at the end of the old Maltings, and forming a part of the central block, is another Kiln of similar size and dimensions, the intervening space between the two being filled up by the Malt Deposit Room, said to be one of the largest in the north of Scotland ; it is 65 feet long by 33 wide and 16 feet high, holds 1,200 quarters and is filled from either or bath of the Kilns. We now descended by a stair to the Malt Mill, which contains a pair of metal rollers, and is red from a chamber above, which communicates with the Malt deposit through a doorway shut off by a pair of fire-proof doors. On the same floor as the Mill is the Engine House, containing a capital horizontal Steam Engine of 30 horse power, which, with a small donkey engine, used for pumping water to the boiler and driving the chains in the Stills, etc., is the only motive power on the premises, so much being accomplished by gravitation. At the right hand we now pass through a doorway into the Mash House, 34 feet by 27 and 30 feet high, entirely devoted to the brewing department As we pass along Mr. Thomson described to us how the ground Malt is lifted by the elevators to the Grist Chamber above, and we climb a stair to have a peer into the hopper which fills the mouth of the Steel’s Mashing Machine, where the hot Water joins the grist and never leaves its company again until they bath become etherealised, and start on their voyage to minister to the enjoyment of mankind But to return to the Mash House ; on an iron bridge above the Tun are two heating tanks with a capacity together of 11,000 gallons, and underneath, in the centre of the floor, is the Mash Tun, a circular iron vessel 17l feet in diameter and 6 feet deep, containing the usual drawing plates and stirring gear, the draff from which is pumped into the Grains Receiver and can be dropped from there, either into the courtyard or into the farmers’ carts. The Underback, which is constructed of metal, is under the Mash Tun and holds 4,000 gallons. From that receptacle the Worts are pumped by a centrifugal pump to the Worts Receiver holding 3,000 gallons, which rests on three iron beams over the four t-way, and from whence the worts run through a Morton’s Refrigerator into the fermenting tuns. W e now entered the Back-house, a stone structure 50 feet long, 36 wide and 30 high, possessing a double staging floor constructed with stout pine laths. It contains six Washbacks, each holding 10,000 gallons, the switches of which are driven by steam. The basement of this large building is used for cleaning, steaming, and storing casks, and the floor is concreted. We now leave the covered war and pass through an open four t into the Boiler House, which contains a steam boiler 26 feet long and 7 feet in diameter, over which is placed the Wash Charger holding 10,000 gallons. This is rather a good arrangement, as the wash gets warm before running into the Stills. We were now conducted through a doorway into the next building, which is the Still- house. It is 65 feet long, 36 wide, and 30 high, and contains four pot Stills, two of them being wash and two spirit Stills. The former contain each 3,600 gallons, and the latter 2,036 gallons each, all heated by open furnaces. The Worm Tub farms the roof of the boiler house, and is constructed on a new principle. It consists of a deep iron tank, 62 feet long and 20 broad, wherein are coiled four distinct warms, the peculiarity of which consists of the liquor being divided into 16 separate parts, in the centre of the worm, and after running over a hundred feet in this war, is again collected and conducted in one pipe to the spirit Receiver. This worm tank is copiously supplied with cold water through a perforated pipe extending along the bottom the whole length of the tank, and the heated water is taken of the top by an overflow pipe at each end of the tank. On a gallery at the end of the Still-house is placed the safe, also a Low-wines and Feints Receiver, holding 3.412 gallons, and a Spirit Receiver 3,440 gallons.
We now returned to the covered four t and visited the Spirit Store-a neat apartment 50 feet long, 33 wide, and 12 high, containing a Vat which holds 5,000 gallons, and receives the spirit from the Receiver by gravitation. From there we passed on to the Bottling Store, which is at the side of the main entrance, and is 30 feet long, 27 wide, and 15 high, well lighted and floored with cement. The Manager informed us that the Company only bottle for export, and ship same under bond, the brand being the well-known “Cock-o’-the-North.” A representation of the game-cock, forming a part of the Registered Trade Mark of the Company, has for upwards of a century adorned the parapet ,of the main entrance to the Distillery. The four large Bonded Warehouses already referred to, are capable of storing upwards of 8,000 casks, and are all well lighted and ventilated. There is a Cooperage in the outer yard, and good Store Sheds. Over twenty men are employed on the premises, and there are three Excise Officers.
The Whisky is fine Malt, and the Distillery is capable of producing over 300,000 gallons annually which entitles “Bon-Accord” to rank as one of the largest Highland Malt Distilleries in Scotland.