Clynelish Distillery, Brora, Sutherlandshire.
LEAVING Georgemas Junction, we proceeded southwards down the Highland Railway to Brora. It was a three hours’ journey, and a somewhat tedious one; but, with our faces towards Inverness and more civilized parts, we bare it with equanimity. The Clynelish Distillery is situated on the north side of the comparatively extensive plain which forms the mouth of Strath Brora. It is about one mile from the village of Brora, seventy-one from Wick, and ninety from Inverness, by the Highland Railway. Loch Brora, through which runs the excellent salmon stream of the same name, is about two miles to the west of the Distillery, and forms one of the principal attractions of the district to tourists and anglers.
In the early part of the present century the inhabitants of the county of Sutherland, who up to that time had lived in scattered hamlets in the interior, were, by the proprietors, moved down to the coast, where allotments were provided for them, and in 1819, with a view of affording a ready market for the grain produced on the newly cultivated land, the Marquis of Stafford, afterwards first Duke of Sutherland, founded the Distillery now under notice. The situation was chosen partly on account of the proximity of the Brora coal-field, but in the present day this is of no advantage, as the coal produced at this mine is of such poor quality that none of it is used at Clynelish. The Distillery has been in the hands of Mr. Lawson, the senior member of the firm, since 1846, and a new lease has recently been entered upon.
A few miles beyond Brora, stands Dunrobin Castle, the favourite scat of the Earl of Sutherland, which was founded in the year 1097 by Robert, Second Earl of Sutherland, whence its name, Dunrobin. It is one of the most princely palaces in the Kingdom, and all the modern additions have been built with white freestone from Bora, on the Duke’s own property. The grand entrance tower is a prominent object from the railway, and is upwards of 100 feet high, the approaches therefrom and staircase being lined with polished Caen stone. Inside the Castle is arranged into suites of apartments, all containing a complete set of sitting and bed rooms, furnished most sumptuously. Each suite has its own peculiar style of decorations and colour, and named the Duke’s, the Argyle, the Blantyre apartments, and those of other members of the family. The grand suite in front, and which face the German ocean, have been appropriated to Her Majesty, whose apartments are completely separated from the rest of the Palace by a wide gallery. The sea frontage is over 300 feet, with bastions at the end, enclosing a paved terrace, from whence magnificent views, from Ben Wyvis, round by the Mountains of Inverness, Moray and Aberdeenshire, and across the Firth almost to the Ord of Caithness, which is concealed from view by a projecting headland, can be obtained.
The buildings are in the form of a rectangular oblong, with two courtyards in the interior, and a fringe of buildings, consisting of warehouses, offices, &c., round the north and part of the east and west faces. They cover about two acres, are all roofed with slates, and have been put into a thorough state of repair. To the south is the yard for peats, which are cut from a moss about a quarter of a mile away, and from this moss is also drawn the water required for motive power. The water used in the Distillery is taken from a small stream, which originates in a loch, some miles distant amongst the hills. In its course it runs alternately over moss and gravel until within about a mile of the Distillery, when it enters a rocky gorge, and, tumbling over several falls, is caught at the foot of the hill in a substantial stone cistern, from which it is led to the Distillery in iron pipes.
There are three Granaries, capable of storing about 2,000 quarters of grain, and two Malt Barns, one with a stone, the other an iron Steep. The Kiln, which is a new erection, and in which nothing but peat is used, can dry 20 quarters at a time. The Malt Mill, as also the Worts and Wash Pumps and the coolers, are driven by an over-shot water-wheel.
The Mash House is of large dimensions, and contains a Mash-tun, 13 feet in diameter and 3 feet 6 inches deep, two large Copper Boilers, also the Under-back, and the Worts and Wash Pumps. In the Tun Room are four Washbacks, with an average capacity of 3,000 gallons, above which is the cooling floor. The two Stills, which have recently been put in, are both of the old pot type, and are heated by coal. In addition to them, the Still House contains the Wash and Low-wines Chargers, and Low-wines and Spirits Receivers; also the Spirit Safe.
In the Spirit Store there is a vat of 900 gallons content, and the usual casking appliances. Distributed about the premises there are five large Warehouses, all built of stone and lime, with slate roofs, and capable of holding about 900 puncheons of Whisky. During the summer months the distilling operations cease in this establishment.
The Whisky made is Highland Malt, and the average annual output is nearly 20,000 gallons.
It is sent out duty raid to private customers all over the kingdom, and the demand for it in this way has become so great that the firm have for some years been obliged to refuse trade orders. This system entails the keeping a heavy stock of Whisky while it is maturing; and the whole of the extensive warehouse accommodation being required for this purpose, all offers to purchase in bond are declined and the whole stock is thus available for the ordinary business of the firm.