Cameron Bridge Distillery, Windygates, Fifeshire.
AT Thornton Junction we changed carriages, and a journey of about ten minutes on the Leven and East of Fife Railway, brought us to this famed Distillery. The station is so closely allied to the works that it forms part of the estate; in fact the railway cuts the establishment into two parts which are connected with each other by means of an iron bridge.
Cameron Bridge, situated in the most beautiful part of the Shire, is a place of great interest. On the south bank of the Leven about a mile from the Distillery, there is an old baronial hall called Balgonie. It stands 40 feet above the level of the stream in thickly wooded grounds and charming plantations. Kennoway, a mile and a half from the works, is a delightful place situated at the head of a romantic glen, the sides of which are rocky and precipitous, containing numerous caves, the haunts of smugglers and marauders of a bygone age. Many a tale of daring and bold adventure is told by the inhabitants, and it is said that at one time some revenue officers were blind-folded and taken into the caves, where they were compelled to swear that they had been inside, but had seen nothing illicit.
Near to these caverns is to be seen “The Maiden Castle” which has a subterranean passage running to the old tower of Brunton on which many a novel has been founded. It was in Kennoway village that Archbishop Sharpe passed the night previous to his being waylaid and massacred on Magus Moor while on his way to St. Andrews. Another most interesting place in the vicinity is the house of Balfour which contains the portrait of the beautiful “Mary Bethune” one of the four Marys of Mary Queen of Scots so frequently referred to in Sir Walter Scott’s novels. The celebrated John Knox is said do have passed a night in one of the caves before referred to, which to this day bears his name.
The Distillery is under the management of Mr. Hugh V. Haig, son of the late John Haig, who worked Cameron Bridge Distillery from 1824, until 1877 when it was merged into the Distillers Company, Limited. Prior to Mr. John Haig’s accession, Mr. John Edington and Mr. Robert Haig, of Lochrin Distillery, for many years earned on this Distillery. It may not be out of place here to mention that the present Director at the Cameron Bridge, represents the sixth successive generation who have been engaged in the work of Distillation. The first “Continuous Distillation Still” - which is fully described by Morewood in his work on Inebriating Liquors, published in 1838 - was an invention of Mr. Robert Stein, cousin of the Haigs, and there is an apparatus after his plan still working on the premises, and to it is due the flavour of the “Malt Spirit,” made at this Distillery.
The actual buildings cover about 14 acres, and the Bonded Warehouses are capable of stowing 3,000,000 gallons. Another feature of Cameron Bridge, peculiarly its own, is the water power: four large Wheels drive almost everything in the works and as there are sluices at Loch Leven twelve miles off that are kept down in winter, a regular and constant supply of water is obtained. The corn and grain is brought into the establishment by covered vans, and discharged into Hoppers, whence it is carried by means of screws and elevators to any portion of the Grain Stores. The principal Granaries consist of two large blocks of buildings, four stories high, each 150 feet long by 60 feet broad, for grain of all descriptions. The two top floors in each building will hold 6,000 quarters of grain. The two lower floors are used, one for a barley-floor, the other for malting, and are of the same capacity. The malting-floor possesses two steeps, one of which holds 190 quarters. From this department the grain is sent by screws to the three hot-air Kilns, each capable of drying 90 quarters in four hours. The air is driven through a series of tubes and heated up by the exhaust steam from the engine. In addition to these there are three Malt Kilns capable of drying 250 quarters. Contiguous to these Kilns are the two Dried Grain Stores, of large capacity, each holding 1,700 quarters.
We were next conducted to the Mill building, a spacious structure of three floors, containing six pairs of stones, and connected with which there is a most ingeniously contrived grist sifting apparatus, formed by a number of square wire sieves through which the grist falls; the coarse which remains behind is afterwards sent back by machinery to be re-ground. From here the grist is sent by elevators and screws into the Grist Lofts, which are conveniently placed above the Mash House. The pulverized grain next falls through Hoppers and Spouts direct into the Mash Tuns below.
Through a spacious doorway we next proceeded to the Mash House wherein are, two large maize Mash Tuns, handsome enclosed timber vessels, the staves of which are made of pitch pine six inches thick. There is also a large malt Mash Tun 30 feet in diameter and 9 feet deep, with draining plates and double-acting stirring gear. On one side of this building we noticed the following, a draff scraping machine, eight sets of three-throw pumps, five of them for water the rest for worts, and a metal Underback from which the worts are pumped up to four Morton’s Refrigerators fixed on an elevated gallery. Beneath this are two Wash Chargers, and on the ground level a fine “old Pot Still,” ancient in years as well as old in name, and held in high repute by the Distiller. We were also shown an ingenious contrivance for heating the water used for feeding the boiler of is worked by spent heat from the boilers, and consists of an arrangement tubes and scrapers whereby cold water can be quickly raised to boiling point before passing into the boilers. Unlike some of the Distilleries, here the four heating-tanks, each holding 12,000 gallons, are wooden vessels. Over this building there is a huge Spent-Tank into which the draff is pumped up from the Mash Tun by a steam pump capable of throwing 60,000 gallons per hour. This Draff-Tank has a false bottom similar to the Mash Tun, by means of which the liquor is drained off to several other tanks provided with spouts to take it direct into the farmers’ carts.
We next proceeded to the Back House, a well lighted and iron roofed building containing twelve Wash Backs each having a capacity of 25,000 gallons, and two large Wash Chargers. Up a few steps and through a doorway we arrived at the No. 1 Still House wherein are two Coffey’s patent Stills, handsome machines, with their copper tubes brilliantly polished, and the whole machinery clean as a new pin. Number 2 Still House contains two of Stein’s Patent Steam Stills. Number 3, which is a Pot Still House, contains an old Pot Still the sampling safe and a patent condenser. All these houses are shut off from each other and protected by double iron doors. The roofs of the Still Houses consist of huge water tanks for use in case of fire, and are tapped by pipes running right and left through the buildings, with fire plugs attached on every floor. In the Receiver-house are three spirit Receivers. Across the yard is a fine Spirit Store containing three Vats of a similar capacity to the Receivers. The extensive Bonded Warehouses cover several acres, and are ten in number.
We then crossed the grounds to the Cooperage which is quite a little work in itself: In summer time there are some thousands of casks under the spreading branches of the noble trees which adorn the grounds of the Distillery. Besides a Saw mill, there is quite a small village of industries such as engineers’ and coppersmiths’ shops, a brass foundry for casting, joiners shops, &c. At one corner of the premises are the Gas Works; the Company make their own gas and supply the Railway Station as well. There are railway sidings direct into all parts of the works, bringing coals to the furnaces, and grain to the granary floors. On the south side are the offices and three of the large Bonded Stores, whilst on the north are the Granaries, Maltings, Still-house and other Bonded Warehouses.
In the spacious engine house are five engines each about 20-horse power, and adjacent, six boilers 29 feet long by 8 feet in diameter. The four water wheels before referred to, are on the branch of the river which here forms a triangle. Over one of the streams are erected two large spent-wash Tanks each holding 36,000 gallons; in addition, there is a large concreted pond used for the same purpose. Both the wash and the draff find a ready sale among the local farmers; the former is strained and put into sacks the same as at the Caledonian Distillery.
Near the works, and standing in a small park, is a handsome building which we at first took for a Church, but on enquiry we learned that it was the “Yeast House,” erected by the Company for the manufacture of French Yeast, a large quantity of which finds its way to Glasgow and London, where its fine quality is much appreciated, and yields a large revenue. The three huge chimney stacks which rise from the works are of an average height of 150 feet.
The Whisky made here is said to have no rival in the world. There are several kinds manufactured, first patent “Grain Whisky,” second “Pot Still Irish,” third “Silent Malt,” and fourth “Flavoured Malt.” The annual output is 1,300,000 gallons, but this could be increased if necessary.