Benmore Distillery, Campbeltown.
A WALK of a quarter of an hour, past the quay and across the Kinloch Park, brought us to Benmore Distillery. We could never quite understand why this piece of land reclaimed from the sea, and without a shrub or flower thereon should be called a Park; at present it is a nursery ground for children, and sacred to the repairs of fishing nets and domestic washing. What might have been made a smiling paradise of flowers and greenery down to the very borders of the sea is left a wilderness by a parsimonious local board. It may be that the Campbeltown magnates are satisfied with making fine Whisky, and let things remain as they are rather than as they might be. A thousand times during our stay in the Whisky Metropolis did we wish for the shade of trees, or some quiet sheltered seat whereon to rest and gaze at the beautiful sea, and distant hills which guard the entrance to the bay, and are the redeeming features of the scene. We grew quite fond of these hills; it may be because there was so little else to admire. We saw them from various points of view, from land and sea, under different influences of cloud and sunshine, and to us they often had very striking charms. Westward from Benmore Distillery stood Dalruadhain, the ancient capital of Scotland, where kings and nobles were want to assemble, and whose streets and courtyards were thronged with gallant courtiers and armed hosts. What a change! In the place of strongholds and castles, huge Distilleries have sprung into existence, and in the place of tumult and warlike gatherings we find a peaceful industry and a contented people.
The Benmore establishment is situated in Saddell Street, about a quarter of a mile from the quay, and municipal buildings, and facing the Loch and Kinloch Park. It was the first of the three new Distilleries in Campbeltown, and its outside appearance resembles a public building rather than a manufactory of “Barley Bree.” The edifice, which includes a Manager’s house on the right hand side of the gateway, consists of one square block of buildings erected round a handsome paved court-yard; the whole covering upward of two acres of ground, entirely enclosed. As we pass through the entrance gates a handsome chimney stack comes into view, recently built to replace one blown down some time since in a gale of wind; it is a fine chimney, quite an ornament to the place, and rears its head far above its fellows.
The Manager, Mr. Ferguson, first conducted us to the three large Granaries, which at the time contained upward of 4,000 quarters of barley. From thence we descended to the Malt Barn, said to be the largest in Campbeltown, measuring 156 feet long by 48 feet broad, having a concrete floor and being well lighted. The Steep is made of cast-iron, and when sufficiently soaked with water, the barley is dropped through valves in the bottom, to the withering floor below. From here we passed on to the Kiln, a lofty building 48 feet square, and floored with wirecloth. We noticed a new furnace arrangement connected with this Kiln recently constructed, in which brick had been substituted for sheet iron, which not only saves fuel but creates a greater draught. The Malt Store is 42 feet by 30 feet, and adjoins the Kiln. From here the dried malt is sent through hoppers and elevators to the Mill where it is passed through a fine pair of steel rollers driven by steam. The grist falls into a hopper, from whence it is conveyed by elevators to the grist-loft over the Mash Tun.
We next followed our guide across a short passage and found ourselves in the Mash House, an oblong building wherein is a circular Mash Tun, capable of mashing 400 bushels at each mash, and fitted up with the usual revolving gear, which is driven by steam. Above this vessel we were shown one of Steel’s Mashing Machines, through which the grist is passed, together with scalding water, before it reaches the Mash Tun. Leaving the Tun, the worts descend into the Underback, a vessel made of cast-iron and holding 1,600 gallons. From thence they are pumped into the Coolers, and through a large patent Refrigerator into the Wash Backs. Our guide next conducted us to the Tun Room, a cheerful and beautifully clean apartment, wherein are placed six Wash Backs, each holding 5,400 gallons. The liquor - now called wash - runs from the Backs by gravitation to the Wash Charger, which vessel commands the Stills. By a short cut across a platform we descended a step-ladder, and followed our guide to the Still House, said to be quite a model of its kind, both as regards the arrangement of the vessels and the construction of the building. It contains two Pot Stills beautifully polished, each possessing a patent air valve, and heated by furnaces. They are of the following capacities, 1,200 and 2,500 gallons respectively. From the Stills the vapour passes through the worm-tub a large wooden vessel which stands in the open, and is continually renewed with cold water. The Spirit then passes through the Safe which is placed in the Running-Room, to which place we next directed our steps. It contains one Spirit Receiver, two Low wines and Feints Receivers and Chargers, and Sample Safe. The spirit flows from the Spirit Receiver through a copper pipe into the Vat, which holds about 2,000 gallons, in the Spirit Store, where it is casked, weighed, and branded, and sent across the yard to the duty-free Warehouses, of which there are four, substantially built of stone and brick, and which contained at the time about 3,000 casks. All the work in this Distillery is on the principle or gravitation, and there is only one pump upon the premises. There is a capital Cooperage, Cart-sheds, and Out-buildings.
To guard against fire, every floor is provided with extincteurs and hand grenades, besides a complete arrangement of fire-plugs and sets of hose and reels. The draff is pumped up into a drainer, and by a very simple contrivance is afterwards tumbled into the farmers’ carts below.
The water used in the distilling process is from springs inside the work, and the proprietors consider it superior to the loch water; anyway the sample we saw was clear, bright, and sparkling.
The Whisky produced is pure Malt, and the annual out-put is 125,000 gallons.