Grandtully

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

Grandtully Distillery, Aberfeldy.

ONCE more we embarked on board the train, this time bound for Inverness by the Highland Line, one of the loveliest railway tours in Scotland. We broke our journey at Ballinluig Junction just to run up the branch line and see the famous little Distillery of Grandtully, at Aberfeldy, the smallest in the United Kingdom. The railway track runs through alternations of valley and along hill sides, and crosses the beautiful Rivers Tummell and Tay. We got off the train at Grandtully Station, where we hired a vehicle at the village inn, and drove to the Distillery, three miles distant. Although the weather was cold, the sun shone brightly, and we had a most enjoyable drive. The way leads through a most romantic district, and we were literally engirt by mountains. We had the Tay on our right the whole length of the journey; it is the chief salmon river of Scotland, and for natural beauty and historic events connected with the many castles and places of interest on its banks, takes precedence of all others. A prettier drive can hardly be conceived in summer time, the road for the most part of the way being carried through plantations, over gentle, activities, with the swift-rushing Tay, some 300 feet wide, at our feet, past the fine old Castle of Grandtully, immortalized by Sir Walter Scott, and always the majestic hills before us, covered with snow and the sun glittering on their frozen summits.

In olden days the whole of this district abounded with smugglers’ bothies. Our loquacious driver was the grandson of a notorious smuggler, and pointed out to us as we passed, a farm-house perched on the top of a hill, which was the scene of the smuggler’s nefarious practices. On the face of this hill, and just under the farm-house kitchen, was a spacious cave, entered by a small opening made by a dried-up water-course. This they blocked up with stones and pieces of rock, leaving an opening of a few inches wide for the water to trickle through from a spring, which they diverted from the other side of the hill, and brought through the cave. They then burrowed an entrance from a distant thicket, for ingress and egress, and carried a flue from the furnaces some seventy yards underground to the farm-house chimney. Here for years they made the whisky, whilst their confederate lived in the farm-house pretending to till the land, but always on guard. In an evil day for them, one of their number, out of revenge, peached to the revenue officers, who made a raid upon the place in the middle of the night, broke up the still, tubs, and worm, and took away a few kegs of whisky. Three only of the smugglers were at work at the time, who were just making up the furnace fire for the night, when a comrade rushed in and informed them that the officers of justice were close upon them. However, as the night was very dark, all four managed to escape and fled to America. Ten years after, having repented of their crimes, they returned to their native country, settled down, married, and became respectable members of society; and our jolly driver quaintly reminded us that if his grandfather had not done this he would not have been there to drive us.

Grandtully, as we have before stated, is the smallest Distillery in the United Kingdom, and was built by the father of the present proprietor, who is an experienced farmer. Previous to its erection, Mr. Thomson, Sen., and several other farmers were joint proprietors of a little Distillery a mile distant, which was pulled down. The Distillery of Grandtully is all under one roof, and is built on the side of a hill, through which the Cultilloch Burn falls on its way past the farm down to the River Tay, a quarter of a mile distant. It is the most primitive work we have ever seen. The whole “bag of tricks” could be put inside a barn, and a child four years old could jump across the streamlet which drives the water-wheel and does all the work of the Distillery.

The Barley Loft is 20 feet square, and the Malting floor of the same dimensions. The Steep is about 5 feet square, and is filled from the stream by a wooden trough, some six inches wide, which is laid down to the stream when wanted and afterwards hung up on the wall. On a level with the Loft is the Kiln, about 28 feet by 20 feet, floored with pieces of sheet iron, through which holes have been rudely punched. Nothing but peats are used in drying the malt there is any amount of them on the moors above the Distillery. Contiguous is a Malt Store, about 6 feet square. A small overshot water-wheel in the centre of the swiftly-flowing little stream drives the Mill, and the waste water runs into the Worm Tub, which is half in and half out of the Still House. All the work is, of course, done by gravitation, and the proprietor, Mr. Donald Thomson, a stalwart young Scotchman, and one man carry on the work of the Distillery.

The Still House contains the Mill, Mash Tun, three Washbacks, a Wash Charger, a Pot Still, holding 500 gallons, also the Feints Receiver and Charger (345 gallons), Spirit Receiver (306 gallons), and a Copper, which holds 760 gallons, over an ancient fire-place. On one side of the Still House, in the roof, is an open cooler with the old-fashioned fan. There are two little stone-built Warehouses, containing 200 casks of Whisky, and a Spirit Store with a vat of 318 gallons. The spirit made at Grandtully is from a fine quality of Malt, and much appreciated by the shooting proprietors in the neighbourhood, including Sir Donald Currie, M.P. It is also used for blending purposes by two or three wholesale merchants, who take all that the proprietor can spare. We tasted a sample of this Whisky, six years old, and found it delicate in flavour, and smooth to the palate. With a view to the enlargement of the Distillery, the architect to the proprietor, Sir Douglas Stewart, took the necessary measurements two years ago, but Mr. Thomson is reluctant to disturb the present mode of working or displace the vessels.

The Whisky is pure Highland Malt, and the annual output is close upon 5,000 gallons.