Bowmore Distillery, Islay.
WE found the coach drive from Port Ellen to Bowmore one of the most uninteresting that we had ever experienced. During the journey of four hours we saw but two or three habitations, and scarcely any trees; in all our wanderings we have never travelled by such a dismal and lonely road. Fortunately we were a large party and a merry one, or we should have wearied of this dismal track long before we reached our destination. Sandy, our aged coachman, was a character, and drove us at about the rate of four miles an hour. We continually remonstrated with him, but to no purpose, and plied him with nips of Whisky to induce him to urge his steeds along, but no persuasions would induce him to trot his horses, except at those parts of the road where they were accustomed to increase their speed. Some of us walked many a mile, and were yet able to keep ahead of him.
Within a very short distance of our journey’s end a most agreeable and surprising change came over the scene, and we found ourselves driving beneath trees whose thick branches met overhead, and passing through the well-cultivated policies and rural retreats, which form the aristocratic village of Bridgend. Presently the coach pulled up in front of a picturesque hotel rejoicing in the name of “Beul-an-ath,” the best and only one of any importance in Islay, possessing gardens and grounds of most enchanting loveliness. The hotel was pretty full, but we were able to secure a comfortable bed, and made this place our headquarters for many days.
On the following morning having arranged with our host to provide us with a carriage during our stay, we drove to the Distillery which heads this chapter. A Journey of three miles along the sandy shore of Lochindaal brought us to Bowmore, the capital of Islay, a town containing 800 inhabitants, and built on the face of a hill, at the top of which stands the parish church, a circular white-washed building with a spire.
The Bowmore Distillery covers nearly four acres of ground, and is built on a shelf of the sea coast; the buildings are somewhat scattered, but all enclosed, and entrance is gained thereto through a gateway, from the high road, on the slopes of the hill. This establishment is said to be one of the oldest in the Island, having been founded early in the century by the Simsons, from whose hands it passed nearly fifty years ago to the father and uncle of the present proprietors, who carried on the business most successfully. At the time of their occupation, Bowmore was the only Distillery which was feued, the others being held on a tenancy and it was not until several years afterwards that the other Distilleries in Islay became feus. At one time the old firm held the Jura Distillery, and for many years were very successful therewith, but the distance from the island, and the difficulty in reaching it in winter time, together with their own increasing business induced them to give it up and confine their attention solely to Bowmore. The father of the present members of the firm was a scientific farmer, and along with his brother introduced many improvements in the mode of farming and modern implements used in husbandry. He grew the first crop of clover in the island, and was a noted cultivator of wheat and barley. As a landlord and neighbour, a benefactor to the poor and philanthropist, he was much beloved, and won the esteem of all classes. We were told a story of this gentleman, which betrays a marked characteristic of the Islay-men: When Mr. Mutter first came to the island he was invited to dinner with Captain Walter Campbell. When the meal was over, the gallant Captain proceeded to give Mr. Mutter advice, and amongst other things warned him as a stranger not to accept a present from any of his neighbours; “for if they send you a lamb they will expect a cow in return, therefore always refuse the gift, or pay for it.”
In the year 1880 the Distillery came into the possession of their descendants, James and William Mutter, who have since then made great improvements and alterations in the works. It is a noticeable fact that all the Distilleries in Islay are built on the seaboard. The distillers say that proximity to the sea favours the various processes of malting, brewing, and distilling. Bowmore Distillery is supplied with an unlimited quantity of splendid water from the Laggan, the best and largest river in the Island, and is favourably situated for the disposal and sale of the draff and pot ale, both most useful for cattle feeding, and a perfect boon in winter when fodder is scarce.
In the absence of the resident partner we were received by the manager, who conducted us over the premises, and first led the way to the Granaries and Maltings, which are placed on the lower slopes of the hill. No. 1 Barley Loft was the first we entered, which is 65 feet long and 18 feet brood holding 514 quarters. It occupies one end of a large square stone building, and underneath is a large Malting Floor measuring 60½ feet long by 58½ feet broad; at the end built partly in a recess there is a Steep constructed with cement, 18 feet long, 10 broad and 4 feet deep, capable of wetting 420 bushels at one time, or an average quantity of 78 quarters per week. We next passed up some steps into the No. 1 Kiln, 65 feet long by 22½ feet broad, which is used for drying the Malt made of both Nos. 1 and 2 Malt floors. In this Kiln, which will dry 500 bushels at one time, we noticed that the old style of drying the malt is carried out, the floor being of hair cloth, and the malt dried from underneath by peats in four open Iron chauffeurs placed in the Killogie, as the firing room is called. Descending by a flight of steps we came to the Deposit Room, a triangular shaped apartment, containing 392 quarters of malt.
At one end of this large chamber is the No. 2 Barley Loft and Malting, the former being 39½ feet long by 20½ feet broad, and holding 230 quarters of barley the latter 94½ feet by 19 feet, and possessing a Steep, 18½ feet long, 7½ feet broad, and 3½ feet deep, capable of wetting 320 bushels at one time, or an average of 310 quarters per week. Crossing the way we came to a long range of buildings also devoted to the storage of corn and malting purposes, having the No. 2 Kiln at the north end; the Kiln is 41 feet long and 24½ feet broad - capable of drying 400 bushels at one time. Both Kilns possess the Louvre Ventilators, and are similarly arranged to those already described. The No. 3 Barley-loft is 100 feet long and 24½ feet broad, and will hold 1,184 quarters. Nos. 3 and 4 Malt floors are underneath. No. 3 is 100 feet long and 24 feet wide, and No. 4 is 94 feet long by 24½ feet wide, and has a Steep 23½ feet long, 5½ feet broad, and 3 feet deep, at its southern end capable of wetting 300 bushels at one time, or an average quantity of 56 quarters per week, and is so placed that it also serves the No. 3 floor. Following our guide we next visited No. 5 Malting, the floor of which is 104 feet long and 48 feet broad, over which is the No. 4 Barley loft, which holds 2,630 quarters, and possesses a Steep 38½ feet long, which will wet 504 bushels at one time, or 93 quarters per week. There are three Malt Deposit rooms, all of which communicate with the Kilns, and are contiguous to the Mill, to which we now repaired, wherein is placed the grinding machinery manufactured by J. Copeland & Co. of Glasgow, and a pair of malt rollers driven by steam power, capable of grinding 360 bushels of malt per hour, or 2,500 bushels a day. The ground malt is conveyed by elevators to the Grist-loft, so as to be ready for the next stage - namely, mashing. Ascending a staircase we found ourselves in the Grist-loft, 32 feet long, 27 feet broad, capable of holding 325 quarters of ground malt in bags. At the southern end of this range of buildings there are three hot-water coppers, holding together 8,767 gallons, all heated by fire, no steam being allowed into them either by coils or any other way. The boiling water from these vessels is conveyed to the Mashing-machine and Mash-tun through copper pipes. The manager-informed us that with the exception of the Mash-tun, Worts Receiver, and the two pumps in the Mash House, every pipe and vessel in connection with the making of the Whisky is of copper or wood.
Leaving this department, we crossed to the east side and entered the Mash House, a building 48 feet long by 35 feet wide, which contains a Mash-tun 17 feet in diameter by 6 feet deep, and said to be the largest in Islay, having a capacity of 1,050 bushels, or 8,487 gallons. The Grist-loft and Hopper is over this vessel, and on the floor above is fixed one of Miller’s copper mashing machines, described elsewhere. The Draff is thrown out by hand through two apertures in the wall, and falls through a shoot direct, into the Draff House, which can hold 3,000 bushels. The Underback, which is below the floor, is 15 feet long, 12 feet broad, and 4½ feet deep, holding 5,083 gallons. Alongside the Mash-tun we noticed one of Jeffries’ Patent Centrifugal Pumps, which can throw 9,000 gallons an hour, used for pumping the sparges to the Coppers, and worts up to the Worts Receiver. There is also one of McPherson and Waddell’s Wash Pumps. These powerful machines are capable of throwing 10,000 gallons an hour with only 64 revolutions per minute, while the centrifugal requires 960 revolutions a minute. Near to these pumps is a fine engine of 11-horse power, and in a room by itself a steam boiler 18 feet long and 4½ feet in diameter.
We next proceeded to the Underback Room which is at the northern end of the Mash House, and contains an Underback holding 5,083 gallons, which receives the worts from the Tun, and is also used for sparges, which are pumped from this dish to the Worts Receiver and Coppers. Through this room we passed into the new Tun Room, a lofty apartment facing the sea, 36½ feet long by 20 feet broad, in which are placed three Washbacks or Tuns, holding respectively 10,364, 10,389, and 10,340 gallons; mounting the platform which runs from end to end of this building, our guide directed our steps to the old Tun Room, 57 feet long by 17½ feet broad, on the same level, which contains six other Washbacks holding respectively 6,101, 5,973, 6,108, 6,171, 5,996, and 6,006 gallons; all the Backs are connected by copper pipes with the Worts Receiver, and are switched by hand. The refrigerators next claimed our attention, they are both by John Milier & Co., of Glasgow, and each of them is 14 feet long by 6 feet wide, capable of together cooling 6,000 gallons per hour. From the old Tun Room we entered the Still House, a light and roomy building, 64½ feet long by 40 feet broad, which contains five Copper Stills, a Wash Charger, holding 7,897 gallons; also a Low-wines Charger, Low-wines Receiver, Low-wines and Spirit Pump, etc. The contents of the three Wash Stills are respectively 2,077, 2,200, and 2,400 gallons, and their charges, or working capacity, are 1,749, 1,978, and 1,863 gallons, and the Wash Charger which commands these Stills with a dip of 727⁄10 inches, holds 7,897 gallons. There are two Low-wines or Spirit Stills, holding respectively 1,400 and 1,210 gallons, and their actual working capacity is 1,053 and 923 gallons. The Low-wines Charger dips 469⁄10 inches, and is of 1,232 gallons content, and Low-wines and Feints Receiver dips 479⁄10 inches of 2,477 gallons contents. All the Stills are heated by fire and of a shape which the firm will not allow any deviation from, one of the Low-wines Stills having a double head and two worms, so far as we have seen, being quite unique in this respect. The Wash Still chains are driven by a small over-shot water wheel; these chains are made of brass or gun metal being a pattern of chain found in an old Still, demolished in the Brackla Distillery some years ago, by Mr. MacDougal, of John Miller & Co. In the outer courtyard, placed on solid masonry at high elevation, are three Worm-tubs. The largest is 12¾ feet deep by 12 feet in diameter, and contains ten turns of Wash Still Worm, and nine of No. 1 Low-wines Still; next to it is a new Worm-tub, oblong in shape, 17¼ feet long, 7¼ feet wide and 8 feet deep, having five double lengths and two single of copper worms, with flanges of gun metal adjoining this is a small Worm-tub, 6¼ feet in diameter at top, wider at bottom, and 10 feet deep, having thirteen coils of copper worm from the No. 1 Low-wines Still.
Standing against the walls of the Still House are two Copper Condensers, the Wash Still Condenser is 12½ feet high and contains 121 copper tubes; that for the Low-wines is of the same height, but has only 91 tubes. These Condensers were the first in use in Islay, but when water is scarce they require more attention than the Worm-tubs. We next entered a long passage which leads to the Mash House, off which is the Spirit Receiver Room, 18½ feet long by 10½ feet broad, the Receiver placed therein is a timber vessel, having a dip of 60 inches, and contents 1,865 gallons. It possesses an indicator attached to the charging and discharging pipes, which permits of continuous working, as without this the fires would have to be drawn from the Stills until pumping was finished. We then retraced our steps to the outer court to reach the Spirit Store, it is nearly 62 feet long by 10 feet wide, and contains a Spirit Vat holding 2,354 gallons, and the casking and weighing apparatus.
Underneath the north end of the Old Maltings is the Cooperage consisting of two vaults, brick arched, each 40 feet long by 10 feet broad; they were formerly the original and only Warehouses of Bowmore Distillery. Following our guide we next visited the bonded Warehouses; No. 1 consists of two flats each measuring 121 feet by 48 feet; the ground flat is cut out of the solid rock, and they are both dry and well ventilated. No. 2 is situated at the western end of the Kiln next the sea, and is 106 feet long by 21 feet broad; it contained 150 puncheons and 200 hogsheads, equal to about 33,500 gallons.
The firm have also very extensive warehouse accommodation in the arches under the Central Station in Glasgow. As we passed along to the offices we observed an immense peat stack containing 1,200 loads, and a shed holding 1,000 tons of coal, both ready for winters use. Lying at anchor was the “James Mutter,” 145 tons, the property of the firm, used for the conveyance of Whisky to Glasgow; and for general traffic.
The water used at Bowmore Distillery comes from the Laggan River, and is conducted by a lade or water course nine miles in length, said to be the longest to any Distillery in Scotland, though, as the crow flies, the distance is not more than five miles, but the engineering difficulties met with were so great, owing to want of fall, that a very tortuous course had to be made. The Barley used is shipped from Inverness and Moray-shires.
The Whisky is pure Islay Malt, and the annual output is 200,000 gallons.