Bo’ness Distillery, Linlithgow.
TO reach Bo’ness from Edinburgh we changed carriages at Manuel, which station is in the parish of Muiravonside, one of the most diversified and beautiful districts in the county. Immediately on leaving Manuel, we crossed the River Avon, and had a glance - all too brief - of the lovely Avondale, a pretty wooded glen, through which the river flows over huge boulders, each one of them making a miniature waterfall. Our train emerging from the cutting skirted the Forth to Bo’ness, the journey altogether being accomplished in rather less than an hour.
We were somewhat disappointed with Borrowstounness - or Bo’ness, as it is now called - as the collieries and iron works entirely spoil the look of the place. It is a seaport town, three miles from Linlithgow, on a low peninsula washed by the Forth. A century ago it was one of the most thriving towns on the east coast, and ranked as the third port in Scotland, but when the junction of the Forth and Clyde was affected by the canal at Grangemouth, the last-mentioned place became the chief town of commerce, and was afterwards turned into a separate port. Notwithstanding this, Bo’ness is still a place of some importance, on account of its extensive ironworks, earthenware manufactures, chemical and manure works, and last, but not least, the large Distillery which heads this chapter.
The Distillery, which is about half-a-mile from the station and harbour, covers about four acres of ground, and is situated under the brow of a rocky hill, called the “Pans Braes” indeed, the road at the back of the works, and some of the buildings-are cut out of the solid rock. The establishment was founded in the year 1830 by Mr. A. Vannan, and in 1873 it came into the hands of Mr. Calder, the present proprietor. At that time it was a Malt Distillery, but in 1876 it was considerably enlarged and converted into a Grain Distillery. The works, which have a frontage to the main road and the Forth of some 700 feet, are of an oblong shape and all enclosed. We entered by a gateway, which has a sliding or running door, and which also gives admittance to the railway wagons, there being a siding direct from the harbour and the North British Railway into and through all the works. On the right-hand side as you enter are the new offices for the clerks, managers and Excise officers, and further on the new Grain Stores, Maltings, and Warehouses in course of erection, which, when finished, will be the largest in the district, constituting a solid block of granite buildings, 240 feet long and 150 feet broad.
Our guide first conducted us to the Grain Stores, at the extreme end of the courtyard, where railway wagons were delivering the grain into a large outside Hopper, from whence it is raised by Elevators direct to all parts of the buildings. There are two Kilns adjacent, one of them, a handsome new and lofty structure, 33 feet long by 45 feet wide, floored with iron plates; the other is not so lofty and measures 31 feet by 26 feet. The grain is spread over these floors for drying at a depth of 2 feet. We then crossed the roadway to the Mill Building, which consists of four floors and contains seven pairs of stones, five for crushing maize and the other two for malt, etc. From here we proceeded to the Grist Lofts of which there are three; the top is devoted to maize, the second for ground barley, and the third for malt. At the back of this building, in the open, are placed three Heating Tanks, one holding 7,000 gallons and the other two 8,000 gallons respectively.
Adjoining the Mill is the Mash House, where are to be seen three huge maize Mash Tuns, capable of mashing 30 tons of grist at one time. In the next house there is a circular metal Mash Tun, 25 feet in diameter and 7 feet deep. All the Tuns are provided with the revolving stirring gear, driven by steam. We then ascended a few steps, and found ourselves in the first Tun Room, a lofty apartment, 90 feet long and 50 feet broad, in which stand eight Washbacks, or Fermenting Tuns, each with a capacity of 13,000 gallons. Through a doorway we reached No. 2 Tun Room, which contains other six Washbacks, each holding 6,000 gallons. Over the roof of the first house we noticed four of Morton’s Refrigerators and a Worts Receiver, holding 4,000 gallons. The worts run by gravitation from these vessels into the Washbacks. Abutting on to the Brewing Houses, or Tun Rooms, is an ancient building, which looks like a church ruin, and where formerly the “Sma’ Pot Still” Whisky was made. It is now being demolished to make room for the important extension of the Tun Rooms. In the basement of the Back House are two Centrifugal Pumps and a Donkey Engine of 20-horse power, for pumping the worts up from the Mash Tun into the Coolers, and here also is placed the Underback, which holds 4,000 gallons.
We were next conducted to the Still House; it is a stone Building 80 feet square, and contains a fine Coffey’s Patent Still, with all the usual connections. On one side are two Wash Chargers, each holding 13,000 gallons, from whence the wash is pumped up to the Still; At a higher elevation, and near to the top of the Still, are two timber Worm tubs, oblong in shape and plentifully supplied with water; also a safe and sampling safe. On a lower gallery are placed the two Spirit Receivers, holding 2,276 and 2,285 gallons respectively, and the Ether Receiver holding 136 gallons. This last mentioned vessel receives the impure spirit thrown off in evaporation, whilst on the landing-stage above the Wash Charger are the hot and cold feints Receivers, the hot holding 1,000 and the cold 1,150 gallons; also a hot feints condenser and a large copper “oil-trap,” which receives the feints and fusel oil thrown off from the Still, and separates them, the oil remaining behind and the feints being pumped up to the Still for rectification. We next came to the Spirit Store, a conveniently arranged building underneath one of the Grain lofts. It contains two Vats, holding 4,578 and 4,988 gallons respectively. On the opposite side of the way is the draining tank fixed on the top of a lofty tower, under which the railway wagons run to receive the draff whilst the liquor is drained back into the Mash House. The draff is pumped direct from the Mash tuns to this tank, a distance of 500 yards. Under the principal Tun Room is the patent Yeast House, where a large and remunerative business is carried on. Here the yeast from the fermenting backs is collected into three tanks. Afterwards these yeast skimmings are pumped into an accordion-shaped iron press - a German patent - containing twelve leaves or intersections, which are covered inside with linen cloth of various textures, forming separate divisions, through which the yeast is driven by great pressure. The dough-like material which exudes from the last intersection, is then collected and passed through a fine sieve, whilst the liquid expressed or squeezed therefrom runs into a tank, The yeast material left in the sieve, which looks like flour cakes, is afterwards weighed out in 7, 14, and 28 lbs; and pressed into conical bags and shipped off to England and Germany.
Adjoining the Mash House is the engine department, which contains a horizontal engine of 50-horse power; two others of 9-horse power; six steam-boilers, 20 feet long and 7 feet in diameter; and nine pumps, one of them being a three-throw pump, for pumping wash to the Still. Adjacent are the Stores and Cooperage, as also the stables, cartsheds and other buildings. Outside the gates and on the opposite side of the main road are two Bonded Warehouses, 150 feet long and 120 feet broad, containing 5,000 casks of whisky. At the side of these premises are two enormous tanks for spent wash. Here the liquor is drained off and pumped by an engine kept for the purpose to a higher tank, from which the farmers take it away. The dreg which remains behind is packed into bags and sold to the dairymen, and some of it is shipped to Ireland. The manager’s house, formerly occupied by the distiller, is a picturesque place, with pretty gardens, &c., and adjoins the works. Of late many important additions have been made to the plant and buildings, including new malt Kilns, grain stores, and grain distributing machinery. The grain stores are on the “Bin” principle, and the machinery for filling and discharging them has been designed and constructed by Mr. R. G. Abercrombie, Alloa, who has brought the work to a very successful issue, notwithstanding the fact that the rather scattered positions of the various buildings (caused by peculiarities of the ground), necessitated a good many special contrivances, involving many navel details, in the various elevators, screws, and shoots. The distribution of the grain is done on the “gravitation” system, the elevators delivering it at a height from which it descends by gravity, through iron shoots to the various buildings, no screws being used except in conveying grain from the “Bins” to the elevators. Forty men are employed in the Distillery, and five excise officers, the supervisor being Mr, Wm. Ross.
The make is pure Grain Whisky, and is sold principally in Scotland. The annual output is 870,000 gallons.