Hazelburn Distillery, Campbeltown.
WE had decided on going to Campbeltown by the steamer “Davaar,” but hearing that it would be crowded with Glasgow Fair holiday people, together with the prospect of a number of women and children tumbling about in all directions in the event of the voyage proving unfavourable, we thought it better to abandon our original intention of entering the land of Whisky by way of the sea, and finally decided to go by the Tarbert Route. We joined the “Columba” at Princes Pier, Greenock, and soon found ourselves fairly under weigh and moving rapidly down the river. After so much railway travelling we found this mode of locomotion a very agreeable change. The perpetual bustle on board, the freedom of movement and the interchange of communication with so many fellow passengers was quite a relief to us. Passing Gourock, with its little bar crowded with yachts, and Dunoon, whose beach was thronged with summer visitors, we soon began to approach the grander scenery of the lochs and mountains. As we steamed along, rock and wood appeared to view, blended together in exquisite harmony, whilst over and above all, ridges on ridges of mountain stretched far away to the horizon. When we reached Rothesay the ram came down in torrents, and did not cease until we left the Kyles of Bute.
Rounding the point into Loch Fyne, the island of Arran came into full view, and we could plainly discern its highest mountain, “Goatfell,” which rises three thousand feet above sea level; also Skipness Point, which marks the entrance to the Loch, and upon which the fine old ruin of the castle is placed. It is in a good state of preservation; its two quadrangular towers, which rise from opposite corners of the ruins, being prominent objects from the sea. Skipness Bay is a safe retreat for the herring fleet in stormy weather. Loch Fyne stretches from Kilbranan to Inverary, a distance of thirty-two miles, and its breadth varies from twelve to three miles; half way up is Loch Gilp, whence is cut the Crinan Canal to the Sound of Jura. This broad inlet of the sea is from sixty to seventy fathoms deep, and has from time immemorial been noted for its Crossings, which are of a superior quality to any found in the western seas. Crossing the Loch we soon reached our destination.
On leaving the boat at East Loch, Tarbert, we hastened to the coach and secured the box seat, much to the chagrin of two of our fellow travellers who were not quite so quick in their movements. It is forty miles to Campbeltown from East Tarbert Pier, and the journey by coach usually occupies six hours. We had a splendid day for our journey, and the road lay through some of the most delightful and romantic scenery in the county. After passing through the village of Tarbert, crossing the peninsula to the West Loch Tarbert Pier, from whence the Islay boats depart, we came in sight of the sea which we had in view for the rest of our journey. In this part of Kintyre most of the charms of nature are united. First we passed country lanes overshadowed with trees and farm houses mostly of a superior kind, whose smiling cornfields testify that cultivation is carried on to the highest perfection, then villages, so called, which scarcely reach the size of hamlets, and wide natural meadows on which herds of cattle were grazing. Coaching merrily along we were soon sunk into the recesses of a small valley, shut in by woods and overlooked by romantic elevations, and then in a few moments we were out of this seemingly remote concealment, looking down upon the broad waters of the loch, and across an expanse of luxuriant country terminating in a rocky shore and the wide ocean. Slight showers fell at intervals during our journey, which conduced to our comfort in one way by effectually laying the dust. After we had passed Tayinloan the road became more winding, and although we had left the foliage behind us the route was as interesting as ever. At every fresh step we discovered new features of beauty, new his disclosed themselves and new rocks started up, whilst on our right there was always the beautiful sea. We reached Campbeltown soon after six and were deposited at the door of the “White Hart” Hotel, where, after some difficulty, the town being full of visitors, we were able to secure quarters. After satisfying the cravings of an eager appetite we strolled forth to take stock of the town which was to be, our place of residence for the next fortnight.
Campbeltown is certainly a most attractive place and we were charmed with its appearance. It is situated at the head of a beautiful bar, which is almost land locked and engirt by heath covered hills. The foremost of these is Bengullion - Hill of the Wind - 1,124 feet high, which is on the southern shore, and Knock Scalbert of nearly the same altitude on the northern shore. At the entrance to the bar like a sentinel stands the bold and rocky island of Davaar on which there is a Beacon Tower. The harbour, which is two miles long and one broad, is admitted to be the best roadstead in Scotland; at the time of our visit its waters were teeming with life and hundreds of sail were riding safely at anchor on its ample bosom. Campbeltown is a royal burgh and nee of the most interesting towns of Scotland. It was the original seat of the Scottish monarchy which was founded there by King Fergus I. Anciently called Dalruadhain its name was changed into Claunloch, until finally it was called Campbeltown, in compliment to the Duke of Argyll. In former times the only trade of the place was herring fishing, net making and smuggling.
During the last century and up to seventy years ago the unlawful occupation of distilling Whisky was carried on to the greatest extent, the landed proprietors rather encouraging the practice. Those found smuggling by the Excise Officers were brought before the Court of Justice and fined, but usually the judge was one of the landed proprietors, so the fines were small and many got off free. When legal distilling was first introduced the Distillers met with a good deal of opposition and resentment from the smugglers, but they managed to live it down, and now to the quality of the product, the trade developed so rapidly that it has now become the staple article of commerce, and there are no less than twenty-one Distilleries in Campbeltown.
A capital story is told of an aged woman who resided near Hazelburn. She was of a rather doubtful character and was charged before the Sheriff with smuggling. The charge being held proven it fell to his lordship to pronounce sentence. When about to do so he thus addressed the culprit, “I daresay my poor woman it is not often you have been guilty of this fault,” “deed no Sheriff” she readily replied “I haena made a drap since youn wee keg I sent to yersel.”
The Hazelburn distillery was founded in the last century, and rebuilt in the year 1836. It is said to be planted on the site of the Parliament House where James IV held a parliament when he emancipated the vassals of the McDonalds. The works cover three acres of ground and have a commanding appearance from Longrow. They are built chiefly with stone and have a frontage to the road of 372 feet, with a depth therefrom of 247 feet. Most of the Distilleries in Campbeltown are built on the same plan and surround a court yard, but in the case of Hazelburn two courts are embraced in one distillery, besides which, it is intersected by three roadways. From the front there is a pleasant look out on green hills and pastures. During our visit the haymakers were very busy in the fields opposite, carrying the hay, and the atmosphere was filled with its fragrance. The water used in Hazelburn comes from various sources, that for mashing is brought from the Crosshill Loch, for other purposes there are two excellent wells on the premises forty feet deep, containing spring water of the finest quality. The Barley used comes principally from Moray and Perthshire, and is brought by steamer to the quay, distant half a mile, and carted therefrom direct to the Granary doors. We entered the establishment through a covered archway and soon made ourselves known to Mr. Greenlees, who gave us every information and provided us with a guide. We commenced our circuit of the buildings at the Maltings, which, in this Distillery are on a large scale, and some idea of their magnitude may be gathered from the following particulars: They consist of three Granary floors averaging 110 feet long and 31 feet wide, capable of storing ten thousand quarters of barley; and five Malt barns with tiled or concrete floors of the same dimensions as the Granaries, each possessing a stone Steep capable of wetting 175 quarters at one time. These spacious floors are commanded three Kilns each of which is 36 feet square; all of them are floored with Hermano’s patent wire cloth and fired with peat. The Malt is conveyed from the Malting floors to these Kilns by elevators. Communicating with each of the three Kilns and forming a central chamber is the Malt Deposit, underneath which is the Mill Room containing a large pair of metal rollers for crushing the malt. The machinery is driven by steam and grinds 2,500 bushels every ten hours. In close proximity to the Mill is the Grist-Loft, which contains a Hopper in connection with a Steel’s Patent Mashing Machine over the Mash-tun.
We were next taken to a building which, besides other vessels hereafter to be described, contained two heating tanks, each holding 2,500 gallons for the supply of hot water to the Mash Tun, afterwards to the Mash and Still House combined, a neat building 64 feet long, 32 feet broad, and 42 feet high. At the east end there is placed a Circular Mash Tun, 14 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep, which is fed by the mashing machine and contains the usual stirring rakes driven by steam. In the same building, but at a lower level, is the Underback from which the worts are pumped up to a Worts Receiver placed at a high elevation. From this receptacle the Worts run through a large Morton’s Refrigerator to the Fermenting Tuns.
Passing through another doorway we now come to the Tun Room, a spacious Hall, wherein are placed against the wall nine Washbacks, each holding 6,000 gallons, all of which are switched by machinery. We then ascended a staircase and found ourselves on a gallery in the Still House on which is placed the Wash-charger, a fine timber vessel holding 5,000 gallons, and a Low-wines and Feints Charger, a similar dish holding 2,800 gallons. Descending, we found ourselves on the ground floor of the House. It contains three Stills, one of them the Wash Still holding 7,000 gallons is the largest in Campbeltown, the other two are Low-wines and Feints Stills, each of a capacity of 1,800 gallons. The bodies of these two Stills are of the ordinary Pot Still pattern made entirely of copper, but built to certain exact proportions. They are surrounded by brick work underneath is a furnace so arranged that the flues carry the heat all round, and there is no heating by steam to these Stills. There is, however, a peculiarity in the form of the heads which we have not seen at any other Distillery. The tops instead of being of the ordinary pear-shaped heads are composed of 32 chambers or tubes in each Still, terminating in a dome just before passing into the worm. These tubes are enclosed in a copper case which serves as a condenser, a stream of cold water being kept flowing around the pipes whilst the Stills are “at work.” By this means a large proportion of the fusel oil which otherwise would pass off in the form of vapour along with the spirit is thrown back into the Still, and the pure spirit is allowed to pass through the columns into the worm free from impurity. The heated water is run off by an overflow pipe from the top of the case. The accompanying sections of these Still Heads will explain the system.
We next passed out into the Court to inspect the three Worm Tubs connected with the Stills. They are all constructed with timber and hold 10,000, 8,000 and 6,000 gallons respectively, and afterwards to the Ball Room, where we were shown the safe through which the spirit passes on its way from the Worm to the Spirit Receiver, a vessel holding 1,700 gallons, and partly sunk into the floor; also a Low Wines and Feints Receiver holding 2,000 gallons, from which the spirit is pumped up to the Low Wines and Feints Charger before referred to, which vessel commands the Stills. Retracing our steps to the outer courtyard we reached the Spirit Store, which contains three large Spirit Vats and the usual casking and weighing apparatus. Adjoining is a Racking Store, and the Engine Department is on the other side; this latter consists of a capital fourteen horse-power engine and a steam boiler 23 feet long by 9 in diameter. We then inspected the Bonded Warehouses, which are so spacious that they occupy a third section of the works. They are nine in number and cover 70,700 square feet, and the whole contained at the time of our visit 302,000 gallons of Whisky. The Manager informed us that when full they will hold half a million gallons. The principal Warehouses of the firm are, however, in Glasgow, which on our return to that city we visited. They are situated in Osborne Street, and have a superficial area of 39,357 square feet with a frontage of 254 feet, and contained 15,000 casks of Whisky distributed over seven large stores. The casks are placed on timber gauntrees, puncheons nearest the ground, hogsheads in the centre, and quarter casks on the top. Each cask is locked in position by a system of wedge-like blocks, and with comparatively little trouble every cask, can be removed. But to return to Hazelburn. Adjoining the Racking Store, there is a cask shed and cooperage, also a carpenter’s shop, and at the principal entrance gates are the clerks and manager’s offices, where there are also sampling rooms and the Excise Offices. Twenty-two persons are employed in the Distillery, and there are three Inland Revenue Officers. The make is called Campbeltown Malt and the output for 1885 was 192,000 gallons. The works are however capable of turning out 250,000 gallons.