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Abbey Street

The below is taken from The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard first published in 1887.

Abbey Street Distillery, Londonderry.

It was almost with regret that we once more entered the train, as we realised that with the next stoppage our pleasant Irish Distillery Tour would come to an end. On leaving Limavady Junction, the rail runs close by the shores of Lough Foyle, and we were soon in sight of the Donegal Mountains. The tops were cloud-capped, here and there broken by a conical peak which appeared as though it had detached itself from the mass; the shadows of the setting sun were falling on the slopes, and the whole range had a mournful and oppressive look. On the right we caught glimpses of gentle hills, covered with plantations; here and there a village, and anon some ancient church, with its tower rising above the trees. All too quickly we found ourselves gliding into the station, and as we neared we had a view of Derry, the ancient city, and the prominent chimney-stacks of the Abbey Street Distillery. On emerging from the station we drove across the fine bridge, which is an ornament to the river and city, and sought our hotel for rest and refreshment.

The old-established Distillery which heads this Chapter, is the largest in Ireland; the buildings alone cover eight acres of ground. It is situated in the heart of the picturesque old city, the chief town of the county. The original name of the city was Derry, and it still retains its popular title. The name is from the Irish “Doire,” which signifies a place of oaks. About the year 1613 the English prefix of London was imposed upon it by the Irish Society, incorporated by charter of James I.; the name of Londonderry was retained for many years by the colonists, but has now fallen into popular disuse. The town is of ancient date, and was many times besieged and plundered by the Danes. In 1689 occurred the famous siege of Derry, and the galant struggle of the besieged, and how they were relieved, are matters of history.

The Distillery is close to the walls of the city, which are in perfect state of preservation, and the ramparts thereon afford a fine promenade all round the town. “Roaring Meg” is still there, but let us hope she will never be called upon to frighten another enemy. But to return to the Distillery. It would be impossible to describe fully the shape and position of the buildings, as they cover such a large area of ground. They are erected on the slope of a hill, and have, from time to time, been added to by the grandfather and the father of the present proprietor. At the end of the last century, it is recorded in the statistics of that period, that is was then used as a Distillery. In 1826 it came into the hands of Mr. Andrew Alexander Watt, grandfather of the present proprietor, who was a leading merchant and alderman of the city, and head of most of the principal charitable institutions.

The water used in the Distillery comes from the Glashaugh Hills, and is collected in reservoirs on the Distillery property; besides this supply, there are wells in the yard for reducing and cooling.

The Wheat and Maize Stores are of immense proportions, as the following figures will testify: - No. 1 Building consists of three floors, 200 feet long by 150 feet, and contains 2,000 tons of wheat and barley; No. 2 Building is 200 feet long by 60 feet broad, and contains 1,000 tons of maize; No. 3 Building is also 200 feet long by 80 feet broad, and hold 2,000 tons of maize; No. 4 Building has four floors, each 150 feet long by 60 feet wide, and at the time of our visit contained 1,600 tons of grain. On the opposite side of the way there are two lofty Barley Floors, connected by a bridge. The floors are 200 feet long and 160 feet wide, and contained 2,000 tons of home-grown barley. Adjoining this is another four-storied building, 150 feet long by 60 feet wide, which contained 1,600 tons of barley, oats, and maize. The corn is elevated to the various floors and buildings by a steam-hoist. There is a Flour Mill in connection with the premises and business, the property of the proprietor, where a large trade has been carried on for some years past.

Adjoining No. 4 Building, there is a large dry Corn Kiln, called the “Malakoff,” with the old-fashioned cone at the top; there is an archway through it leading to the Distillery buildings; the Kiln is capable of drying thirty tons every twenty-four hours. Attached to the Barley Floors there is another huge Kiln, which will dry thirty-four tons every twenty-four hours. The Malting House, No. 1, is one of the largest floors we have seen on the island; it is 300 feet long and nearly of the same width, and is capable of seating 2,500 persons; sixteen tons are malted here in one Steep four times a week. The Steep is of metal 50 feet long and nearly 9 feet wide, and is one the same level. Attached to this floor there are two Malt Kilns and two Deposit Rooms. All the Kilns are covered with wire-cloth flooring. No. 2 Malting House is of the same size and proportions, except that the Malt Deposit Room is somewhat larger; here is a timber Steep. The maize and malt are both sent by elevators into the Mill building, which has six pairs of stones. The Grist Loft is said to be the largest in the Kingdom, being 300 feet square. Screws and elevators take the grist into the Hoppers, which are placed over the Maize Tun, a fine timber vessel, entirely closed, 22 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep, having the patent double-action stirring gear. The malt runs through Shoots from a Grist Loft overhead into the three Mash Tuns. It must be borne in mind that the Maize Tun also discharges an equal quantity of its contents to these three Mash Tuns.

The Draining Tuns are of the following measurements: - Nos. 1 and 2 are 14 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep, No. 3 is 24 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep. From these vessels, the liquor goes, by gravitation, into two large Underbacks, each containing 4,000 gallons. From thence it is pumped by three-throw pumps into Worts Receivers, thence through three of Morton’s Refrigerators on to the Washbacks, of which there are fifteen, averaging 27,000 gallons each. It then goes, still by gravitation, into two Wash Chargers, fine stone vessels, one of them capable of containing 50,000 gallons, the other (the intermediate) not so large. The worts are then pumped into the two Coffey’s Patent Stills, situated in the Still House, a large and lofty structure, seven stories high.

Here there is also a fine double-action plunger pump to feed the Wash Still, which is on the ground floor of the building. The spirit then passes through a Morton’s Patent Spirit Refrigerator into the two large Spirit Receivers. Here is a splendid Safe, also a Sampling Safe. The spirit then runs into the four Vats in the Spirit Store, each capable of holding 10,000 gallons. The fusel oil from the Stills is used for lighting purposes, and supplies all the lamps in the place; it has a spiritous smell and an all-pervading odour unmistakable.

In the sub-basement of the Still House there is a small engine, used for pumping water by a large set of three-throw pumps from a deep well, which gives a continuous supply of icy cold water winter and summer. The Engine House is arched in with brick, so that it would not be affected in case of fire. It contains one of the finest and largest engines in any Distillery in Ireland - of 230-horse power. There is also a smaller one of 50-horse power for use in the event of a break-down. We also noticed five of Galloway’s patent boilers, 30 feet long by 7 feet, and four Heating Tanks, capable of holding 12,000 gallons each. As a prevention against fire, main pipes are placed all over the buildings, with stop-cocks and hose. There are on the premises five huge Warehouses, containing at the time of our visit, some 30,000 casks of Whisky.

The Cooperage is on a large scale, the Engineers’ and Fitters’ Shops are supplied with an engine and steam lathes. Adjoining them is a Carpenters’ Shop, large Stables, and general stores. The two chimney stacks are 130 feet and 160 feet high respectively, and are landmarks for shipping in the river; 160 men are employed upon the premises.

The make is Patent Grain Whisky. The annual output of this Distillery is about 1,260,000 gallons; the plant, however, is capable of making up to about 2,000,000 gallons if required.

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