Glendarroch

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

Glendarroch Distillery, Ardrishaig.

WE left Greenock on the morning of the 26th of July by the “Columba,” one of Mr. David MacBrayne’s swift passenger steamers, bound for the Distillery that heads this chapter. The boats on this route are fitted up with every imaginable convenience and contrivance for the comfort of passengers. On board there is a post office, with telegraph and money order departments; a daintily stocked fruit shop, bookstall, and a magnificent dining saloon. In addition to the “Columba” there is the “Iona” and “Grenadier,” and one or other of these steamers take this route daily throughout the year. The scenery on the journey is most picturesque and varied, and it would be difficult to find a more romantic district than that round about and on either side of the Kyles of Bute. The grand background of hills with shady vales nestling on their slopes, the beautiful deep waters of the lochs with their pretty sea-side retreats, combine to make this one of the most popular of Mr. MacBrayne’s “summer tours.”

We reached Ardrishaig at one p.m., and after securing quarters at the hotel, made our way to Glendarroch, distant about half a mile. The Distillery is planted on the banks of the far-famed Crinan Canal, and is quite an object of curiosity to the thousands of tourists who on board the celebrated little canal steamer “Linnet,” pass by on their way to Oban. It is built at the foot of the Robber’s Glen which runs upwards from the banks of the canal into the heart of the hills in the background; this glen was once the haunt of smugglers, and no more romantic spot could have been chosen for a Distillery. The Darroch, a burn which might almost be called a river, issues from the higher hills and flows through the glen, falling in its onward course over numerous rocks; reaching the grounds of Glendarroch it forms a lovely cascade falling seventy feet, and clashes over other rocks into a trout pool below; then, passing through a tunnel beneath the canal, it finds its way to the sea.

From the back walls of the Distillery the ground rises in the form of a steep thickly-wooded hill, where ferns and blue bells grow in rich luxuriance. We scrambled up the zig-zag path for about a quarter of a mile, frequently, to keep the path, having to stoop low under bending trees that had overgrown the track. Crossing the burn by a rustic bridge we climbed higher up the glen, where, amid trees of every shade of green and sylvan beauty, and the air filled with the rich perfume of hawthorn and lilacs rising from the luxuriant gardens below, one is lost in a scene of indescribable charm and beauty. Above are the higher hills covered with heather; below a vast stretch of the waters of the loch is the sea beyond. On the opposite side stands Kilmor Castle with a background of mountains shading from green to purple, some parts thickly wooded, and the whole tinged with a roseate suffusion of the setting sun. This lovely wooded glen is a favourite resort of tourists and artists, but in olden days as before stated smugglers located themselves here where, defying the law, they made a celebrated Whisky which was in great demand. Tradition says that there is a smuggler imprisoned in the heart of the hill who is kept in durance vile by the avenging Spirit of a revenue officer whose life he took. He is allowed to come forth once a year at midnight, on the anniversary of the day upon which the crime was committed, and should he then happen to meet the spirit of the comrade who betrayed him to the officers of the law, the spell would be broken and he released.

Proceeding on our way, every turn in the pathway brings out fresh views of the valley, and causes us to linger here far longer than the brief time appointed for our sojourn by our friends waiting below. It is a spot of enchantment, and no wonder that such a scene should excite us to enthusiasm when I recalling those days spent at Ardrishaig. Descending the hill by another pathway we cross by steppingstones over the Ard Burn which adds to the water supply of the Distillery. It runs from a loch three miles in distant, higher up the hill, and we noticed that it was dammed up in several places where it is filtered over fine stones and gravel, eventually falling into a circular concreted reservoir on a level with the top of the works.

The Glendarroch Distillery covers three acres of ground, and is solidly built of stone in the form of quadrangle, with a frontage of 500 feet to the canal. We entered the enclosure through a gateway, which has a running door sliding to the right and left, and were courteously received by Mr. Hunter, the manager, who conducted us over the works. He informed us that the barley is brought to the Distillery by canal, and the vessels discharge it at the Granary doors. The water from the Achnagbreach Hill, before referred to, is used for distilling purposes and that from the loch and Darroch Burn for driving power.

We first visited the Granary and Maltings, which are on the left of the quadrangle as you enter. They consist of a lofty two-storied building, measuring 131 feet by 48 feet, and at the western end there is a fine concrete Steep capable of wetting 66 quarters of barley at one time; a small part of the upper floor is also used for malting purposes, but the larger portion is for storing the barley, and is capable or holding 2,000 quarters of barley; the grain is hoisted direct from the ships in the canal to the Barley Loft. At the end of this building there is a new Kiln, one of the finest we have seen in this part of Scotland, it is 51 feet square, floored with wire cloth, and heated with peats only, dug from the neighbouring moors. The malt is delivered by a steam hoist to the Kiln floor, which, when loaded, dries 1,000 bushels at one time. The dried malt is thrown through a shoot direct on to the floor of the Malt Deposit, the top floor of the adjoining building which forms the centre of the quadrangle, and facing the main entrance, it is 48 feet long by 40 feet broad, and the lower story is used for No. 3 Bonded Warehouse. Our guide next conducted us through a doorway direct on to the top floor of the Mill Building, which forms the Grist Loft a chamber 50 feet by 30 feet, having a large hopper on one side. Underneath is the Mill which contains a pair of metal rollers driven by steam; here also is the engine department. The pulverized malt is lifted by elevators to the Grist hopper above, already referred to. As will be seen, the process of Whisky making in this establishment is mostly done by gravitation, and works round the quadrangle, ending in the Spirit Store.

Passing into the next building we find ourselves on the central platform of the Mash House, where there are two timber heating tanks, each holding 5,000 gallons. The first object that attracted our attention was a Steel Mashing Machine, which is fed from the hopper in the Grist Loft. Descending to the ground floor we come to the Mash Tun, a vessel 17 feet in diameter and 6½ feet deep; enclosed within it there is a treble acting stirring gear driven by the water wheel. At our left, and under the floor, is the metal Underback, 11½ feet in diameter and 5½ deep, with a semi-circular opening guarded by a railing, and underneath this vessel is the box of the Wort Pump, the only one in the premises, all else, besides pumping the worts, being done by gravitation.

The Draff from the Mash-tun falls through a sluice into a hopper below, and is removed by water power straight into the Draff House in the outer yard. The Mash House is a capital building 60 feet high, 39 feet broad, and 27 feet long.

All the old-fashioned coolers have long since been done away with, and the rare now pumped up to a Miller’s Refrigerator, fixed in the roof of the neighbouring building, and copper pipes run the worts direct from thence into the Fermenting Tuns. Ascending a staircase, we found ourselves in the Tun Room, some 10 feet above the level of the Mash-tun; it is 40 feet square, well lighted, and contains five Washbacks, averaging 5,500 gallons each; the switches therein are driven by a second water-wheel, to keep the liquor in motion during the process of fermentation. The floor underneath is occupied as No. 4 Warehouse.

We then passed through the Brewing Department and entered the Still House, considered by some to be a model of its kind. It is 65 feet long, 40 feet broad, and 60 feet high; its walls are painted white, and it is lighted by eleven large windows. At the eastern end, on a level with the bottom of the Washbacks, is the Wash Charger, a timber dish holding 6,000 gallons, to which the wash runs by gravitation. On the floor of the house are three “small Pot Stills,” a Wash Still holding 4,726 gallons, and two Low-wines Stills; one of them holds 1,000 gallons, and the other 500. The Worm Tub is at the back of the house, and in close proximity to the Darroch. It is a fine timber vessel raised on piers, and fed by a continuous stream of cold water from the reservoir it forms a conspicuous object from the canal, as will be seen in the illustration, and occasions many a question from tourists who are uninitiated in the mysteries of distillation, as to its use and purpose.

We now ascended a flight of steps to a large gallery overlooking the canal and the beautiful Loch Fyne. Here there are placed two Feints Receivers, the No. 1 holding 1,571, and the No. 2, 1,549 gallons; also two Spirit Receivers, No. 1 holding 1,544, and No. 2, 500 gallons.

Besides the Safe and Sampling Safe, we noticed a portable fire engine and other appliances for the speedy extinguishment and prevention of fire. We were informed that Glendarroch is considered by the Excise authorities to be one of the most complete Distilleries in the district.

Following the course of the Whisky, we proceeded to the Spirit Store, a neat, light little building, which contains a Spirit Vat holding 3,248 gallons, and an Ullage Vat 231 gallons, the weighing apparatus, and an office for the Excise clerks. There are four large Warehouses, capable of containing 2,000 casks, and others at Waterloo Street, Glasgow, where also are to be found the Public Offices of the Distillery. Continuing our inspection of Glendarroch, we next visited the Engine Department; it contains a very handsome 25-horse power engine, and a steam boiler 31 feet long by 7½ feet in diameter; and afterwards the Manager’s and Excise offices; the former is over the Spirit Store, and the latter over No. 1 Warehouse. Glengilp House, the residence of a former proprietor of the Distillery, is now occupied by the manager, and the large old-fashioned garden, crowded with fruit trees and flowers, which stretches down to the canal banks has been divided between that gentleman and the two Excise officers, Mr. Gillies having provided these latter with picturesque houses opening into same. In the park there are also eight houses for the workmen, each with a small plot of ground. The delightful meadows which skirt Glengilp House are in the occupation of Mr. Gillies, and produce unusually heavy crops of hay of fine quality.

At the back of the establishment, and convenient to the Kiln, is a large Peat Shed, containing upwards of 500 tons of peat ready for use. Near the Worm Tub, and facing the burn there is a large Cooperage, stables, and cart sheds.

The house of Glendarroch, which has lately been acquired by Mr. Gillies, and used by him as a summer residence, is on the other side of the waterfall. It stands in lovely grounds, and is almost hidden by trees; climbing over its walls and roof are roses of every variety, and hanging over the path which leads to it fuschia trees, 8 feet high, under which you walk, testify to the mildness of the climate in this district.

At the back of the estate rises a small park, from which delightful views can be obtained of the extensive and celebrated demesne of Auchindarroch, which immediately adjoins. It is a place of sequestered beauty unequalled in the district, and it skirts the canal for a considerable distance, forming a fringe of brushwood and trees festooned with honeysuckle and other trailing plants, familiar to all who have passed along this lovely route on their way to Oban and the north.

The Whisky made in the Glendarroch Distillery is pure Highland Malt, and the annual output is 80,000 gallons.

The sinking sun warned us that it was time to take our departure, so we stepped into the Distillery boat and were quickly taken across the canal to our quarters on the opposite shore, where we donned our “war paint,” and proceeded to the house of Glendarroch to enjoy the hospitality of its owner.

Images of Glendarroch