Fettercairn

The below is taken from The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard first published in 1887.

Fettercairn Distillery, near Laurencekirk.

WE stayed all night at the cosy little inn at Stonehaven Station, and the next morning started early for Laurencekirk. The Fettercairn Distillery is six miles from the station, and is situated at the foot of the Grampians, where “our fathers fed their flocks” and smugglers made the Whisky. It was the head-quarters of these latter gentlemen, and many a racy tale is told by the villagers of their daring and boldness. The drive for some few miles is not very pretty, but as you approach the village it becomes more interesting, and the driver delights to tell you not only that it is a very historic place, but that our Gracious Queen some years ago actually stayed one night in the village on her way from Balmoral down Glen Esk, returning by the Cairn road. Balmoral is forty miles from Fettercairn, and the drive for rugged grandeur and wild scenery is equal to any in the north of Scotland.

In the village of Fettercairn stands a curious octagonal pillar, surmounting a circular mass of masonry in the form of a flight of steps, bearing the insignia of the Earl of Middleton. It is believed to have been the cross of the extinct town of Kincardine, and bears the date of 1670. On one side there is an iron rivet, to which the old Scottish tool of punishment, the “jougs,” was formerly suspended.

About a mile from the village is the estate of Fasque, with its grand castellated mansion, built in 1809 by Sir Alexander Ramsay, surrounded by its own beautiful woods, and well worth a visit. To the lovers of tragedy and romance the whole district is intensely interesting, and it would not be possible to mention in these pages one-half of what we were told, as it would form a book of itself. However, we cannot pass by the ruins of Fenella’s Castle without referring to the tragic event that occurred therein. This castle, which stands on an eminence near Fettercairn, was the scene of the murder of Kenneth III., King of Scotland. He ascended the throne in the year 970, and occasionally resided at a castle about a mile distant on the east side of the village. The king excited the deadly hatred of the royal lady, Fenella, daughter of the proud Earl of Angus, for having legally put to death her son, Crathilenthus. She invited him to the castle, where she had prepared an “infernal machine” which consisted of a brass statue, which threw out arrows when a golden apple was taken from its hand. It stood in a handsome apartment, surrounded by rich drapery and curious sculptures. Under pretext of amusing the king with this curiosity, she conducted him to the apartment, and courteously invited him to take the apple. The king, amused with the idea, did go, when instantly he was pierced with arrows and mortally wounded. The attendants, on coming for their royal master, could not gain admittance to the castle, from whence the assassin had already fled. However, they forced open the doors, and found to their horror and consternation the king weltering: in his blood. So much for a woman’s vengeance.

But to return to the Distillery. It was originally established two miles higher up the mountain, in the heart of a smuggling district, on the slopes of the “Cairn-o’-Mount,” one of the Grampian hills, over which the public road passes to Deeside, Balmoral, and the north Highlands. In 1824 a new Distillery was built on a much larger scale at Fettercairn, and the old work was abandoned. It is situated near the Esk, a river noted for its charming scenery and heavy takes of salmon. The water used for distilling operations and driving power comes from the top of the Grampians, and is of superior quality.

The following is a brief description of the work, which covers about two acres of ground.

As you enter the gateway, the first buildings that attract your attention are the Maltings, constructed of stone and slated; they are 120 feet long and 21 feet broad, and of two stories. The top is used for grain, and contains a Steep made with stone. The bottom floor is used for malting, and adjoins the Kiln, which is floored with metal plates and heated with peat and coke. We next ascended to the Malt Deposit, a neat apartment over the Mill, in the floor of which there is a sluice trap, through which the malt falls into the Mill below, which consists of a strong pair of metal rollers, driven by water power. In close proximity is the Mash House, a well-lighted building, which contains the Heating Coppers and an iron Mash-tun, 10 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep; also the Underback, sunk into the floor below, holding 2,000 gallons. We then bent our steps to the Tun Room, which is joined to the Brewing House. It is 50 feet long and 22 feet broad, and contains five Washbacks, each holding 40,000 gallons, and on a loft above the Wash Charger, which commands the Stills. Through a doorway we came to the Still House, a lofty building, 60 feet long and 25 feet broad, wherein are two old Pot Stills, as follows: a Wash Still, holding 2,000 gallons, and a Low-wines, 1,400 gallons. The Worm Tub is placed outside the Still House, and the Coolers, which consist of a metal trough, are placed in the bed of the running stream, which drives the machinery. In the Running Room, besides the usual Safe and Sampling Apparatus, are two Receivers.

The Spirit Store is opposite the Still House, and contains a vat which holds 1,100 gallons, and near this building there is a small Cooperage, a carpenter s shop, and smithy.

Distributed about the premises are five Warehouses, containing 60,000 gallons of Whisky of various ages.

The Whisky, which is Highland Malt, is sold principally in Glasgow and Leith, and the annual output is 85,000 gallons.

Mr. H. Thomson is the chief Excise officer.