Kirkliston

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

Kirkliston Distillery, West Lothian.

TO reach this Distillery we took the early train from the Waverley Station, and in half-an-hour found ourselves at Kirkliston. It is a pretty village about eight miles from Edinburgh, situated on the river Almond, which flows by the Distillery before passing through Kirkliston. We raid a visit to the Church, which is said to be one of the oldest in Scotland. This historical edifice has been made classical by Sir Walter Scott, in his tale of “The Bride of Lammer-moor,” here in the family vault of the Earls of Stair, lies interred the unfortunate Janet Dalrymple, the original of his Lucy Ashton.

From the higher ground of the churchyard we had a striking view of the surrounding country, embracing the estate of Newliston, with its pleasure grounds, formerly the property of the Earl of Stair. This demesne is quite a curiosity in its way, the Earl of Stair having arranged it in wooded groupings and clumps of trees, in resemblance of the army of the British troops on the eve of the battle of Dettingen. The shrubberies and trees are trimmed and kept as neat as were any of the soldiers in Queen Anne’s Army. About two miles distant from the church is Niddry Castle, the asylum for a time of Mary Queen of Scots when fleeing from Lochleven Castle. In another direction can be seen the hill where King Edward rested his troops on his war to Bannockburn, and further on, the Fife coast, with the Ochil Hills in the background.

We then turned our steps towards the Distillery, situated at the foot of the hill just outside the village, and here caught sight of the river Almond. At a short distance above the works the river has high sloping banks and picturesque surroundings, but as it nears Kirkliston it becomes somewhat tame and uninteresting. This Distillery, which covers twelve acres of ground, was in existence at the end of the last century, and in 1825 was much enlarged and improved. The works were formerly the property of Messrs. John Stewart and Co., who purchased them in the year 1855 from Messrs. Buchan & Co. At that time the Distillery turned out about 2,000 gallons a week, but now, at a push, it has made 20,000 gallons in the same time. In 1878 it was acquired by the Distillers’ Company, Limited, Mr. Stewart remaining Managing Director, assisted by his son, Mr. J. C. Stewart, who acts as his Sub-Manager. The water used in the Distillery is brought from two sources, Craigmaiellen and the Humbie Burns, and is collected into two reservoirs above the works. One of them, the Humbie reservoir, covers eight acres, and the other, the Kirkliston, two acres. There is a railway siding direct into the works, and the grain wagons are emptied at the door of the principal warehouse into a semi-circular iron tank. From this deposit it is sent by a double set of elevators to the different stores. The elevators are enclosed in box tunnels some three feet deep, and are carried over the roofs of the buildings and across the court yards; during our progress through the works we never lost sight of these vehicles, which extend diagonally right across the Distillery.

Mr. Wilson, the works manager, directed us through the buildings, and we commenced our survey at the Maltings and Grain Stores. No. 1 is a stone building 240 feet long and two stories high; the ground floor, used for malting purposes, contains a steep 40 feet long and 10 feet wide, and has a large Kiln and Malt Store at the end; the top floor is used for Barley and Maize. Nos. 2 and 3 are similar buildings with the exception that they are not quite so large, and are commanded by a Kiln 30 feet square, floored with wire cloth and heated by peat in open chauffeurs.

We next crossed the court yard to Nos. 4 and 5 Malt Barns with stone Steeps, each commanded by No. 3 Kiln which is similar to the others, but is 42 feet by 24 feet. No. 6 is a smaller and detached Malting, with a neat little Kiln, whilst Nos. 7 and 8 are very old-fashioned, and about half the size of Nos. 2 and 3. We then retraced our steps and came to the Brewing House, adjoining the Still House, wherein are five Brewing Tanks, each with a capacity of from 12 to 20 thousand gallons. Contiguous to this is the Mill building, which contains five pairs of stones; attached to this is the Grist Loft.

Our steps were next directed to No. 1 Mash House, which, besides the Mash-tun contains a turbine wheel, for driving the Mill, of about 25-horse power. Thence to No. 2 Mash House, a fine building wherein are placed a Maize Mash-tun 24 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep, and the No. 2 Underback, which is sunk below the level of the Mash tun. The Worts Receiver is placed on the side of No. 3 Kiln, which is on a high elevation, and from which the Worts run a great distance through copper pipes placed in the bed of the mill lead, thus reducing them to the proper temperature for fermentation.

We then entered the Tun-rooms, two fine apartments containing 14 Wash-backs, averaging 18,000 gallons each. In a recess over No. 6 Washback are two of Miller’s Refrigerators. At a short distance are also three Wash Chargers with a capacity of 41,880, 16,700 and 1,678 gallons respectively.

Communicating with this building by an elevated bridge across the roadway is a new building called the Draff and Dreg House. On the top floor is placed a large circular tank holding 22,000 gallons through the bottom of which the Draff, or grain refuse, is dropped into carts or wagons below.

Some years ago the greater part of this refuse used to flow into the river Almond, but Mr. Stewart, desirous to avoid polluting the stream, built two very large storage tanks into which it now runs. It is there allowed to settle, and the liquid portion is pumped to the sea at South Queensferry, through a pipe which runs along the North British Railway branch line to Queensferry, and for which permission was obtained by Act of Parliament. The solid matter is sold for feeding stock and is found to be very good for cattle and pigs. A large number of the latter are kept at the Distillery - between four and five hundred - and the Company have taken first prizes at the Highland Society’s and other large Agricultural Shows in Scotland. They have at present a very fine breed of Berkshires.

Recrossing the road the Still House next claimed our attention. It is a splendid building 40 feet high and 80 feet square, with a division down the centre. At the entrance to the first compartment is the No. 1 Maize Mash-tun, and a little further on the No. 3 Maize Mash-tun, close to which is a huge enclosed water-wheel, supplied from the reservoirs on the hill, for pumping water, feints, and spirits. The Running Safe is here for the Malt Whisky, also four Feints, and four Spirit receivers. The second division contains six Pot Stills, holding 5,600, 8,000, 2,740, 1,861, 1,550, and 1,800 gallons respectively; six sets of three-throw pumps for pumping Wash, Feints, &c. a little wash pump engine, and six sets of Willison’s Upright Condensers, and a Worm Tub of a most primitive pattern.

The Low Wines and Feints Chargers are in this building, and in a brick recess we saw three peculiar vessels connected with the Coffey’s Patent Still. They are cylindrical shaped vessels and are used, one for hot Feints, and the other two for extracting fusel oil. The patent Still House is a lofty building and adjoins the Pot Still department it contains a powerful Coffey’s Patent Still capable of distilling 3,500 gallons of wash per hour.

We then crossed the road and came to the duty-paid Racking Store, a neat brick building wherein are three Vats holding 649, 869, and 2,004 gallons respectively; adjoining this is the Spirit Store, wherein are two Vats, containing 9,640 and 9,651 gallons respectively. At the head of this inner court is placed one of the two Excise Offices, the other being alongside the Works Manager’s Office. There are six Excise Officers engaged on the premises, and Mr. Henderson is the supervisor.

The six huge Bonded Stores are fine buildings and are distributed about the works. They contained at the time of our visit 8,955 casks, containing a total of 800,781 gallons of Whisky, some of which was very old.

In the main roadway there is an extensive Cooperage, Joiners’ Shops, Stables, Cart Sheds, and the new Dreg House before referred to. Here also is a stationary Fire Engine, with 15 Fire Plugs.

Around the central court yard are grouped the following buildings: a Yeast House, Engineers’ and Fitters’ Shop, Store Room, Gas House, Brewer’s Office, and the Engine and Boiler House. There are 13 Engines, one of 80, one of 35, ten of 10 each, and one of 6-horse power. There are six Boilers 30 feet long by 7 feet in diameter.

On the hill overlooking the works there is a pretty brick-built residence for the Works Manager. The ancient and picturesque residence of a former proprietor stands in a pretty old-fashioned garden; it has now been turned into Clerks’ and Directors’ Offices.

The Company own large Stores and Warehouses at Queensferry, distant about three miles. They occupy about two acres, and the Bottling Stores about one acre of ground. The stock of Spirits in these Warehouses is about 200,000 gallons.

The Whisky made in the Kirkliston Distillery is both Malt and Grain, and has a good reputation in the market. The annual output is 700,000 gallons.

Images of Kirkliston