Ord Distillery, Beauly.
ON leaving Dingwall by the early train, we soon found ourselves beyond the environs of the town, passing through a rich and undulating country, teeming with woods and plantations, and enjoying ever and anon glimpses of distant mountains, whose summits shot far up into the sky. Arriving at Beauly, we entered the carriage provided for us, and drove to the Distillery. Our way lay through the town and past the ruins of the ancient Priory, founded by John Bisset, of Lovat, which rears its venerable walls above the trees by which it is surrounded. Quitting the boundaries of the town, we soon came to the pretty demesne occupied by Mr. Mackenzie, to which is attached a large farm of 250 acres.
A short distance from this place is the romantic little chapel of “Cille Christ”-Christchurch-lately restored by a legacy of £1,000 left for the purpose by the late Frank Gillanders, of Newmore, who is buried therein. It was the scene of one of the most sanguinary deeds of Highland ferocity that history has recorded. It occurred as follows: - On a Sunday morning, in the sixteenth century, a numerous body of the Mackenzies were assembled at prayer within the walls of the old chapel, when they were surprised by a strong party of Glengarry men, bent on revenging the death of Angus, the son of their chief, who had been killed during a foray into the Mackenzies’ country. Fastening up the doors, and placing his followers so as to prevent all possibility of escape, Allan, the chief, gave orders to set the building on fire. The miserable victims were without a single exception - man, woman, and child, - swallowed up by the devouring element, or massacred by the swords of the relentless MacDonald’s whilst a piper marched round the church playing a parch, until the shrieks of the Mackenzies were hushed in death. The Macdonalds did not, however, escape with impunity, for the funeral pile of their clansmen roused the whole tribe of the Mackenzies to vengeance, and they immediately started in pursuit, dividing their force into two bodies, one commanded by Murdoch, and the other by Alexander Mackenzie. The latter came upon a large party of the Macdonalds at the burn of Altsay, who were nearly all extirpated, whilst a still more severe retribution befel the other party, who were pursued to Inverness by Murdoch Mackenzie. They were overtaken and shut up in a wayside inn, where they had been carousing, Which was set on fire, and the whole party, thirty-seven in number, perished by the same agonizing death that they had inflicted on the Mackenzies.
Proceeding, we soon reached the Moor, or Muir of Ord (celebrated for its periodical cattle markets), where are to be seen two curious and historic “Standing Stones,” which commemorate an ancient feat of arms, connected with the prophesied extinction of the clan of Mackenzie. That consummation, however, has not yet arrived; as one of the clan, the proprietor of the Ord Distillery, was our companion, and is busily engaged in the manufacture of a beverage daily imbibed by the descendants of those who foretold his clan’s effacement. Continuing our journey we soon passed over the railway, when quite a change of scenery presented itself, the hills all round being crowned with magnificent woods rising terrace upon terrace, with a fine background of mountains. The Distillery, which is erected on the slopes of a gentle hill, is quadrangular in form and compactly built. It is supplied with fine water from the Glen Oran and two lochs in the hills of Knockudas; and there are besides two reservoirs, one of them holding 500,000 gallons. The Oran rivulet, which proceeds from the glen, rattles along, close to the roofs of some of the buildings, and the quality of the water is said to be superior to any in the district.
Glen Oran has, for more than a century, been the favourite resort of smugglers, and even to this day they carry on their illicit business, and every now and then a bothy is unearthed. The site of the Distillery itself was a smuggler’s bothy, early in the century, but it was not until the year 1838 that it was turned into a legal Distillery.
Under the guidance of Mr. Innes, the Brewer, we commenced our inspection of the Distillery from the top of the hill. Crossing a footbridge over the burn, we entered through a doorway into the top floor of the Maltings, arranged in two divisions, and measuring 250 feet long, with storage capacity for 3,000 quarters. Underneath are the Malting floors, of the same dimensions, each possessing a Steep capable of wetting 45 quarters at one time. Immediately adjoining there is a lofty Kiln, 24 feet square, which is floored with metal plates and heated with Dava peats. The Kiln floor is built at a considerable height above the furnace, in order that the heat may be distributed, and the Malt not scorched. In a large room, adjacent, is the Malt Deposit well lighted and spacious; the Malt descends therefrom, through a spout, into the Hopper placed over the Mill, which latter building contains a pair of Malt cylinders driven by a water-wheel. The crushed Malt is afterwards lifted by elevators to a large hopper, holding 1,200 bushels, situated over the centre of the Mash Tun. Contiguous to the Mill, in a recess of the adjoining building, are the two copper heating tanks, which hold 3,200 gallons, supplying hot water to the Tun.
We next visited the Mash House, a stone building 30 feet square, containing a Steel’s Mashing Machine, and a metal Mash-tun, 18 feet in diameter, and 5 feet deep. From this dish, which is stirred by revolving gear, driven by water-power, the Worts flow into an Underback placed below the floor, holding 2,000 gallons, whence they are pumped up into a Receiver placed in the Cooler House. On leaving this vessel the Worts flow over a large Morton’s Refrigerator into the Washbacks.
Ascending a few steps we passed under a gallery to the Tun-room, and were much struck with its appearance. It is a lofty paved building, 40 feet by 30 feet, with a platform at the end, whereon is placed the Wash Charger, a timber vessel holding 3,000 gallons, and a Low-wines and Feints Charger, 2,000 gallons. This large hall contains a range of eight Washbacks, splendid vessels, each holding 3,000 gallons. They are switched with props, and after due fermentation has taken place, the wash is pumped into the Charger which commands the Stills. As we descended from the gallery we took a peep through an open window at the two Condensers outside, consisting of upright cylinders, each of which contains over a hundred tubes. The Worm-tub is underneath, and so arranged that a channel from the burn constantly runs through it.
Our guide now led the way to the Still House, a large building of handsome elevation, containing two old Pot Stills: a Wash Still, holding 4736 gallons, and a Spirit Still, 2,750 gallons. The wash runs by gravitation into the Wash Still, and after distillation has taken place by the product running through the Worm, the spirit flows into the Low-wines and Feints Receiver, a vessel holding 1,925 gallons; it is afterwards pumped up into the Low-wines and Feints Charger, whence it runs into the Spirit Still for re-distillation.
On leaving the Still, and again passing through the condensing worm, the pure spirit flows through the Safe into the Spirit Receiver, a timber vessel holding 1,900 gallons and is finally pumped into three Vats placed in the Spirit Store. The next objects that attracted our attention were eight Warehouses, the larger ones measuring 130 feet by 50 feet, the others 100 feet by 50 feet, mostly built of timber and brick, roofed with corrugated iron, and all conveniently arranged and well ventilated. One of them is built entirely of iron, quite a new departure in material for Bonded Warehouses, and highly recommended by Mr. Mackenzie. The whole contained, at the time of our visit, 174,000 gallons of Whisky of various ages. We tasted some 1882 make, and found it very agreeable to the palate.
Sages their solemn e’en may steek,And raise a philosophic reek,And physically causes seek,In clime and season;But tell me whisky’s name in Greek,I’ll tell the reason.Scotland, my auld, respected mither!Tho’ whiles ye moistify your leather,Till whare ye sit, on craps o’ heatherYe tine your dam;Freedom and whisky gang thegither!-Tak’ aff your dram!
Continuing our perambulations, we came to a court yard, not previously visited, sheltered by the trees of the plantations which skirt the Distillery. Here we were shown the Spirit Store;, Cooperage, Peat Sheds, and Heather House; like the proprietors of Highland Park and a few other Distillers, Mr. Mackenzie believes in the use of these blossoms with peat, in drying the malt. There is no engine on the premises, all the work being done by two large water-wheels.
Home-grown barley only is used, and the Whisky, which is pure Highland Malt, is sold principally in Leith and London, and exported to Singapore, South Africa and other colonies. The annual output is 80,000 gallons. Mr. A. Macdonald is the chief Excise officer.
We had now reached the gate at which our carriage awaited us, and taking leave of our courteous guide, we drove back to Beauly, there to join the train and proceed to Inverness.