The below is taken from The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard first published in 1887.
From London to Bristol by the “Flying Dutchman” is one of the fastest railway journeys in England, and after our recent experience of the iron roads in “Erin’s Isle,” was certainly an agreeable change. We stayed the night at the Talbot Hotel, said to be one of the most comfortable in the West of England, and the next morning explored the ancient city. There is an old world appearance about the houses truly fascinating, whilst its fine old churches and narrow streets add much to its picturesque appearance. We have many times visited Bristol and explored the beauties of the Cathedral and the church of St. Mary, Redcliffe, but had never made ourselves acquainted with its Docks and Shipping, and thither we bent our steps.
The recent acquisition by the Corporation, and subsequent amalgamation of the Docks at Bristol, Avonmouth and Portishead, has revived the name and fame of this ancient maritime city, and brought into prominence its unrivalled position as a point for the landing and distribution of traffic, and for the export of coal, iron, salt and manufactured goods. The ease with which Bristol can be reached from London, and its being so much nearer Queenstown and New York than Liverpool, evidently points to its being the future American Mail Port of the Kingdom. The “Old City Docks” - now made accessible, in consequence of extensive river improvements, costing between £80,000 and £90,000, to sea-going vessels of considerable draught and size - comprise an area of 85 acres, while the docks at Avonmouth and Portishead, situated at the mouth of the Avon, afford safe accommodation for transatlantic and other steam liners of the largest class. The Foreign tonnage of the Port is considerably on the increase, and it is noteworthy that there are no export dues on either vessel or cargo.
Bristol occupies the position of being the leading grain port in the Bristol Channel, the rates for handling grain being much lower than those in force at the other leading ports. The line steamers running to the port from the United States and Canada, include vessels of the Dominion, Anchor and Great Western Steam-ship lines, and at each of the Docks there is a perfect system of warehouses and transit sheds; rails run alongside from the Great Western, Midland and London and South-Western Railways. Mr. F. B. Girdlestone, Queen Square, Bristol, is the General Manager of the Port and Docks Company.
Bristol, in days gone by, was the chief port in England for Wine, and the statistical reports of the Old City give some interesting information thereon. King John was the best customer the Bristol Vintners had on their books. In 1205 he commanded his merchant to present his beloved Justiciary, the Earl of Essex, with 20 casks of his good wine at Bristol, and twenty days after, ordered payment to be made of forty-one shillings and sixpence for carriage of thirty tuns of wine from Bristol to Tewkesbury, etc. During the next month he commanded that forty tuns be in readiness for the King’s messenger; and the records state that the constable of the castle is ordered to payout of the fee farm of Bristol, 97½ marks to the merchants of whom the wine was purchased. Also a few weeks after, the Baron of the Exchequer is instructed to pay to John de la Warre and others £586 for wine purchased by the King’s orders. On the 7th of June, in the same year, John ordered 70 casks, twenty of them for the castle and fifty for the King’s use at Portsmouth and other places. We are indebted to Mr. John Taylor, the Curator of the City Libraries, for the foregoing particulars, also the following, which is somewhat quaint. In 1208 John ordered “that in Bristol a tun of Poitou wine should not be sold for more than twenty shillings, nor wine of Anjou for more than twenty-five shillings, unless it were so good that any person would give at the highest two marks for it; that Poitou wine should not be sold for more than fourpence per gallon, nor white wine for more than sixpence”; and the King appointed twelve officers who were to take care that these regulations were observed. It is said that Sack and Malmesbury Wine were first shipped to Bristol, and that for many centuries it was the principal emporium for those celebrated Wines. Rumour further has it, that the original of “Old Simon, the cellarer,” lived in this city. But having somewhat digressed, for which we apologize to our readers, we now return to the object of our visit to this city. From the Talbot Hotel we drove through Bath Street across St. Phillip’s Bridge, past the Churchyard, so prettily laid out and planted as a recreation ground, and down Cheese Lane, at the bottom of which we came to the famous Distillery, said to be the most ancient in England. We entered the enclosure through a spacious gateway, and turning to the left passed through the general and public offices to the Managing Director’s room, where we received a cordial welcome from Mr. Board, who afterwards conducted us through the establishment.
The Bristol Distillery is said to be one of the oldest in England, having been founded in the 17th century. In the days when Bristol was one of the chief wine emporiums of the kingdom it flourished, and was an extensive work. In 1761, when the Duke of York visited Bristol to receive the freedom of the city, the old malt spirit made in Cheese Lane is said to have been freely distributed among the populace. In the year 1863, Mr. Board, the father of the present managing director, who was previously connected with the Distillery, formed it into a Limited Liability Company, but none of the shares were offered to the public. No alterations were made in the working of the place or the buildings by the Company, except turning some substantially-built houses on the property into Bonded Warehouses. The establishment is on an extensive scale, and replete with machinery and vessels of a most scientific type. The premises, which occupy both sides of the street, cover an area of 73,930 square feet; all the buildings, which are mostly of granite, are very lofty, and built round various quadrangles and paved courtyards, entered by spacious archways, and reminding us, as we passed through, of some Spanish convent, all being so quaint in style and construction. The narrow street divides the Distillery and Corn Stores from the Bonds and Spirit Store.
We first entered the Corn Stores, which comprise a block of buildings, four stories high and run over the archway leading to the southern quadrangle, where, in the two upper lofts, the various kinds of malt and grain are stored previous to their being treated before going to the Mill. They are capable of holding 4,000 quarters of grain, and are connected to a second block, which faces the entrance gates by a gangway, and the top floor therein is also used as a Corn Store. At the time of our visit all these great floors were so full that in many places we had to walk on the sacks of corn some five feet from the floor to reach the different divisions.
Arriving at the end of the top floor of the first-mentioned Corn Building, we followed our guide up a narrow stair to a platform, some 8 feet wide, which runs through the roof of the next building, abutting on the river. It leads to the trap door or landing stage, hanging over the water some 60 feet, and is used for unloading the grain direct from the steamers below. When the grain reaches the platform, it is shot into the various open bins underneath or wheeled to the Stores where required. Retracing our steps to the starting point, we turned to the right, and passed through an arch protected by a stout iron door in case of fire, which swung back lazily to our touch, and gave admittance to the Mill Building, which contains several floors, the first being the Grinding Room; here there are six pairs of Stones, a Grist and Malt Mill, and other machinery. Ascending to the floor above, we found ourselves amid clouds of dust, for here many persons were busy weighing off the meal into sacks of four bushels each, and stacking them up to the roof. Mounting another ladder, we reached the Hopper Loft, where the grain drops from the spout of the elevator into the Hopper which feeds the Mill. Over this floor is a Meal Loft. Immediately adjoining there is another building of two stories devoted to the same purpose; also over the Draff House a spacious Meal Loft, which was filled to the ceiling with meal in sacks ready for tipping into the Mash Tun feeder. We passed into another apartment at the back of this house, which is also a Meal Loft, and adjoins two other floors, used for storing the grist. All these Meal Lofts are round and about the Brewing House, and conveniently communicate with the Tuns.
Leaving the West Meal Loft behind us, we entered the Mash House by the platform over the Mash Tuns to inspect the Heating Coppers. They are of the most ancient pattern, and yet most suitable, being made of three old Pot Stills, in which the Malt Whisky was made when George the III. was King. They are all heated by steam, the old furnaces being closed up, and hold respectively 10,000, 7,000, and 6,000 gallons. This Mash House is a large building, some 50 feet high, with open roof and skylights, and contains two metal Mash Tuns, with the usual stirring gear and draining plates. One of them is 30 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep, the other, which is cased with timber, is 16 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep. The Draff House is close to this building, and contains an automatic machine, a registering index and an elevator, all combined and worked with a switch lever. Below the Mash Tuns are two metal Underbacks, one oblong and the other circular, the former holding 3,000 and the latter 4,000 gallons. On the Western side of the Mash House are five sets of open Coolers on an extensive scale, which form the roofs of the Back House and other buildings, and contiguous there is a large Refrigerator. Just above the Coolers we were shown an apparatus for softening water before it runs into the boilers. It consists of four timber vessels, into which two kinds of water, hard and soft, run from one to the other. The water from one vessel is previously softened by passing through a preparation of lime, and on falling into the lower vessel the two waters meet, and are afterwards filtered; the whole affair is automatical and requires no attention. The worts run by gravitation from the Coolers referred to, into the Backs; thither we followed them. Descending a short flight of steps, we found ourselves in the No. 1 Back House, a lofty and spacious apartment, containing nine Washbacks, constructed of timber, capable of holding from 12,000 to 50,000 gallons each. Leaving this house we crossed a gangway bridge, nearly 100 feet long, over the roof of a low building and alongside the river, to the No. 2 Back House, which contains six Washbacks, holding from 19,000 to 20,000 gallons each. Passing downwards from this place, and crossing a paved passage, we suddenly found ourselves in a very gloomy apartment called the Pumping Room, erected over a celebrated well, which supplies the water used for brewing purposes. It is 120 feet deep, and the water is lifted by a powerful three-throw pump to a reservoir at the top of the building. In the adjoining lobby there is a set of wash pumps, also two sets of worts pumps, and two cooling pumps. We next descended a few steps, and passed under a low archway to the Refrigerator Vaults, under one of the Meal Lofts, to inspect a set of Refrigerators. They are upright machines, 30 feet long, and were manufactured on the premises by the Company’s own workmen. Leaving this subterraneous, chilly place, we returned to the main lobby to visit the Distilling Department, passing on our way the No. 2 Charger Room, a light, clean and spacious apartment, the walls painted white, and the floor paved with stone. It contains the No. 2 Wash Charger, of 30,000 gallons content.
The Still House is the loftiest building in the works. The first object which attracted our attention was the No. 1 Wash Charger, placed on a suspended gallery, and holding 18,000 gallons. The Wash Regulating Receiver, which receives the Wash from this vessel, is placed in the adjoining building. At the western end of the house is the large Coffey’s Patent Still, to which is attached a patent Rectifying Still, an invention of Mr. Board’s, and patented in 1882. It consists of a large Old Pot Still, united to a Coffey’s Patent Still, which rectifies the spirit produced by the Coffey Still, by means of the waste heat from the spent wash, thereby keeping a low and uniform temperature, resulting in a rectified spirit superior to that produced by fire or steam. Its advantage is, that there is no loss in the operation, and works so regularly that it requires no attention.
Fixed on the wall we noticed a handsome set of Wash Pumps, for pumping the liquor from the Wash Regulating Reservoir to the Stills, and a self-containing one of gun-metal, for pumping water into the Refrigerators, which is driven by an Otto Gas Engine. In a section of this building there are three Spirit Receivers, of 5,000, 4,000, and 2,000 gallons content, two Safes, a large Worm Tub, two upright Refrigerators, and a Lawrance Patent Refrigerator. We next passed through the large quadrangle to a smaller one, in the centre of which are four large spent Wash Tanks. Our guide next conducted us to the Engine Department, and led the way to the principal Engine-house, a lofty stone structure, of neat elevation; the roof is of an ova shape, and the dome lighted by ornamented glass; part of the paved floor is raised several feet, and reached by handsome stone steps. It contains a noted “Watt” steam-engine, kept beautifully bright, erected in 1821, of 70 indicated horse power, which works as well as any of the new engines.
Another house contains a condensing beam engine, of 20-horse power, of even more ancient date. There are three steam-boilers for the Still; one of them is a double furnace Lancashire boiler, 32 feet long and 9 feet in diameter; the others are 20 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. After inspecting these, we crossed the roadway to the Spirit Storage Department; the buildings connected there - with are all enclosed. We first entered the Spirit Store, containing five timber Spirit Vats, holding together 37,360 gallons; and then the four large Bonded Warehouses, the walls of which are all twenty inches thick; one of them is more lofty than the others, and is fitted with gauntree platforms five stories high. The Vatting Warehouse is the largest we have seen, and contains eight vats, reaching from floor to ceiling, which contained at the time of our visit 71,556 bulk gallons. On our way back to the Distillery proper, we noticed a massive pipe across the road overhead, stretching from the Receiver to the Spirit Store, allowed under an old Act of Parliament.
Beyond the offices, on the left of the quadrangle, is the Cooperage, containing all the steam appliances and machinery for sweetening and repairing casks; also a Cask Shed, and adjoining a carpenters’, engineers’, and blacksmiths’ shop; stables for eight horses, cart sheds, &c., and eighteen mechanics are employed in these industries.
We next drove to the various Malting Works connected with the Distillery, and first inspected the David Street Maltings, which cover an area of 3,600 square feet, and are three stories high, one of which is used for storing barley, and the other two for malting, and each contains a cemented Steep, capable of wetting 120 bushels at one time. At the end of these floors there is a Kiln, 24 feet square, floored with Worcester tiles and possessing open furnaces. Continuing our explorations, we tame to the Bread Street Maltings. They cover an area of 3,500 square feet, and consist of a Barley Loft and two Malting Floors, with Steeps and Kiln, the same as the others.
Unity Street Maltings, which cover 2,400 square feet, are similarly arranged, but are of smaller dimensions. The next place visited was Dundas Wharf, Redcliffe, where the Company have large bonded stores and corn lofts, a lofty block of buildings, covering an area of 12,360 square feet, with landing stage and appliances for unloading and loading direct into or from the steamers. The basement and ground floors contained at the time of our visit over 300 butts and hogsheads, and here also there is a blending and bottling room. Over the Warehouses are three Corn Lofts, and a donkey-engine of 6-horse power is used for hoisting the grain to the different floors.
A ten minutes’ drive brought us back to the Distillery, where we collected a sample of the maize, white oats, barley, and malt used in the Distillery to take with us to London.
One hundred persons are employed in the Distillery, and six excise officers. The “make” is Grain Whisky and plain spirit, the latter being sold to Rectifiers for the manufacture of gin; the former is sent to Scotland and Ireland to make a blended Scotch and Irish Whisky, for which purpose it is specially adapted, and stands in high favour.
The total annual output is 637,068 gallons, which is sold principally in Leith, Belfast, London and Bristol.