Milton Distillery, Keith.
THIS being our last day at Keith, we devoted the morning to a ramble through the old and new town. Old Keith is a place of great antiquity, and dates back at least 675 years. It has been the scene of many a sanguinary conflict and romantic episode, and epitomises the whole history of the district. In the old churchyard, on the bank which overhangs the river Isla, was fought in the year 1646 the celebrated battle between Montrose and Baillie, which proved so fatal to the fortunes of the latter. This quiet and impressive spot was on several other occasions the arena of deeds of war and bloodshed. Five years afterwards, Montrose appeared in the same place under sadly altered circumstances, as a captive instead of a conqueror, having been betrayed by a former adherent, MacLeod of Assynt, and was there compelled to listen to the sermon of a preacher, who insulted the fallen general and disgraced his cloth by his bitter and bigoted vituperations.
“Come hither, Evan Cameron!Come, stand beside my knee-I hear the rivet roaring downTowards the wintery sea.There’s shouting on the mountain-side,There’s war within the blast-Old faces look upon me,Old forms go trooping past:I heat the pibroch wailing,Amid the din of fight,And my dim spirit wakes againUpon the verge of night."’Twas I that led the Highland hostThrough wild Lochaber’s snows,What time the plaided clans came downTo battle with Montrose.I’ve told ye how the Southrons fellBeneath the broad claymore,And how we smote the Campbell clanBy Inverlochy’s shore;I’ve told thee how we swept Dundee,And tamed the Lindsay’s pride;But never have I told ye yetHow the great Marquis died !“A traitor sold him to his foes-O, deed of deathless shame!I charge thee, boy, if e’er thou meetWith one of Assynt’s name-Be it upon the mountain’s side,Or yet within the glen,Stand he in martial gear alone.Or backed by armed men-Face him, as thou would’st face the manWho wronged thy sire’s renown;Remember of what blood thou art,And strike the caitiff down !“AYTOUN’S LAYS
After keeping Montrose a prisoner in the Castle of Ardvrack for a short time, Macleod of Assynt removed him to Edinburgh, where the noble soldier, of whom it was said that “he was a man of the most lofty and elevated soul, and of the most unshaken constancy and resolution that the age has produced,” suffered death on the 21st of March, 1650. On his way to death through the streets of Edinburgh, the gazing stock of the multitude heaped ignominy on his devoted head. The cart stopped at Argyle House, where the Lord Lom, with his new wife, sat on a balcony, joyful spectators of the scene.
In 1667, another event of a stirring and warlike character occurred in Keith by the visit of Peter Roy Macgregor, a predecessor of the celebrated and more humane Rob Roy, who, at this time was only nine years of age. On arriving at Keith, Peter and his band commenced to levy toll, or blackmail, on every family in the parish, but a parishioner alarmed the neighbourhood by ringing the church bell, causing the inhabitants to assemble in great numbers in the churchyard, including the lairds of Auchoynanie and Glengerroch. These brave sons of Strathisla, headed by the lairds, now prepared to receive Roy and his band, who by this time were marching over the “Auld Brig” on to the churchyard, headed by their piper. A well-aimed shot from the churchyard soon silenced the piper and put an end to his music. One of his companions gave his body a kick and sent it over the bridge into the stream, and the pipes, by the convulsive pressure of the dying man, continued to screech out his requiem, until both were silenced in the waters of the Isla. They continued their march, when a general and vigorous engagement took place. The Laird of Glengerroch singled out Roy and they were speedily engaged hand to hand in single combat, resulting in the Highlander being severely wounded. Roy’s lieutenant now came to his assistance and to cover his chief’s escape. In the encounter which followed, Glengerroch cut off the Highlander’s hand, which only hung by a piece of the skin. The Highlander contemplated the mutilated limb for a moment or two, and, tearing it away, cast the bloody hand against the west gable of the church at a considerable height. The freebooters seeing the day going against them, retreated, but next morning Roy was found, and taken to Edinburgh, where he was tried and executed.
We ascended the hill to Fife Keith, and from that point had a delightful view of the two bridges, the old town, parish church, and the hill of Mulderie. After this we bent our steps to the Catholic Chapel, built in 1832, which contains the famous altar picture given by Charles X., King of France, and said to be worth a very large sum. It represents the incredulity of St. Thomas, and the faithful worshippers here may well be proud of their treasure.
The most notable building in Keith is the Longmore Hall, where the sheriff holds his court, and in which all the public meetings and entertainments are held. It is a handsome structure, and was the munificent gift of the late Mr. William Longmore, proprietor of the Milton Distillery, who gave it, with the grounds attached, to the town of Keith. Mr. Longmore was a public benefactor, and his memory is highly venerated in his native town.
The Milton Distillery is about half a mile from the town and railway station, and covers about four acres of ground. It is bounded by the river Isla, which rises at Loch Park, Drummuir, seven miles distant, and falls over a small cascade just before it reaches the works. On our journey from Rothes the railway traversed this loch. It is a mile long, and situated at the root of a steep but beautifully wooded hill. The surface is dotted with pretty little islands and covered with rare water-fowl. The position of the Distillery is most romantic; a wood-crowned hill overtops it on one side, whilst the opposite side of the valley is ornamented with pretty villas, whose grounds stretch down to the water’s edge, and the old kirk on another hill looks serenely into the busy establishment below.
The river is crossed by a rustic foot-bridge, and all the Distillery buildings have an old-world look, suggestively characteristic of the long established character of the works, which are approached from the main road to Keith by a carriage drive, and, with the exception of the new Warehouses, are all enclosed. The Distillery was established in the year 1786; originally a small work, it has from time to time been considerably enlarged, and under the superintendence of the present managing partner most of the newest appliances have been added, and the premises remodelled, so that the Distillery is quite comparable with the recently built Distilleries on Speyside, in modern improvements, whilst possessing the charm of age few others have.
Our steps were first directed to the Barley Lofts, which are four in number, situated at the rear of the buildings, and capable of holding 4,000 quarters of barley. From thence we were conducted by Mr. McCurrach, the distiller, to the No. 1 Malt Barn. This building, which is in the form of the letter L, is 102 feet long by 63 feet wide, and possesses a large stone Steep. No. 2 Barn is of the same shape and dimensions, and has a concrete Steep. Each of these Maltings holds 1,000 quarters. The Malt Barrows for wheeling the Malt to the Kilns are a peculiar feature of this establishment. They are so ingeniously arranged, that by pressing a lever the back falls down and the Malt discharged wherever required. The Kiln is on the same level as the malting floors. It is 55 feet by 30 feet, and floored with steel plates. Peat is chiefly used in drying the Malt which partly comes from Bogbain Moss, the remainder being shipped from Orkney. We saw some stacks of this fuel 60 feet long and 30 feet high.
Adjoining the Kiln is the malt deposit, a stone building of two floors, holding 1,000 quarters of malt. At a lower level is the Mill, in which are placed a set of malt rollers, which grind 40 quarters per hour. From this place the grist is hoisted by elevators to the Grist-loft, which contains in the centre floor five distinct hoppers, all of which feed one central hopper over the middle of the Mash Tun, by which the grist descends through the Mashing Machine into the Tun below. This vessel is 18 feet in diameter and 5½ feet deep, fitted with the patent revolving stirring gear.
On iron columns outside the Still-house is placed the large iron tank, which supplies the Mash Tun with hot water. It is heated by exhaust steam from the engine. The worts are pumped up from the Mash Tun by a centrifugal pump into the Worts Receiver, fixed on an outside shelf, from which they run through a refrigerator, and from thence on to the fermenting backs. Our way now lay through an archway up some stone steps into the Tun Room to another fine apartment, wherein are placed six backs, or fermenting tuns, each with an average capacity of 8,000 gallons. The switching rakes in these vessels for keeping down the fermentation are driven by steam. We then ascended to the roof of the Still House, where the Wash Charger, holding 8,000 gallons, is so placed as to command the Stills. Retracing our steps we entered the Still-house, a fine square building, kept, like all the premises, beautifully clean. Here are two handsome Pot Stills, of the old-fashioned make, with a capacity of 2,000 and 5,000 gallons respectively; also the Mash Tun before described; two large heating coppers, each with a capacity of 6,000 gallons, and the pumps.
In the Wash Still the liquor takes its first degree, so to speak, and the vapour becomes spirit. It then runs through the worm in the Worm Tub, a spacious reservoir, some 60 feet square, built of concrete, in the bed of which are laid the worm pipes. This reservoir is constructed on rising ground above the level of the Distillery, hence the spirit runs by gravitation through the safe into the Low-wines and Feints Receiver, and is pumped from this vessel into the Low-wines and Feints Charger, holding 2,000 gallons, which is placed on a gallery in the Still House, so as to command the Spirit Still. Here the imperfect spirit undergoes the same process as before, and emerges from the worm, a perfected spirit, passing through Condenser No. 2, in the Still House, to which water is raised from a spring, which, in the hottest day in summer, is icy cold, thus allowing distillation to be carried on at a time when most other works are obliged to stop. It then descends through the safe into the Spirit Receiver, which holds 1,400 gallons, from which it is pumped into the Vat, in the Spirit Store, holding 2,000 gallons. Our polite guide next conducted us to the Bonded Stores, which are distributed about the premises, and consist of eleven spacious and well-ventilated Warehouses, containing, at the time of our visit, 4,034 casks, holding 300,000 gallons of Whisky, in all stages of maturation.
Dispersed about the premises are engineers’ and carpenters’ shops, cooperage, cart sheds, and stables. Twenty men are employed on the premises. At the extreme end of the works are the general clerks’, excise, and partners’ offices, comprising a neat Gothic building, overhanging the river, and commanding a fine view of the valley through which the Isla passes.
The water used in distilling comes from the Broomhill Spring, rising in the hill above the works. We visited the reservoir, wherein it is collected, said to be haunted nightly by the fays and fairies. The water is so bright and clear that a pebble we dropped into it seemed magnified into a huge crystal boulder. After the water leaves this receptacle, it is mixed with a small quantity of that from the Isla. The original proprietors had great faith in the efficacy of this marriage of the elements, and the old custom is continued to this day. This operation gives the name of “Strathisla Whisky” to the make of this Distillery, which we need scarcely say is pure Highland Malt.
The annual output is 90,000 gallons, which is principally sold in England and the colonies. Messrs. Longmore and Co., Limited, have also an extensive Scotch trade.