Royal Brackla Distillery, Nairn.
A SHORT railway journey from Inverness brought us to Nairn, one of the most charming sea-side resorts in the north, and called the Brighton of Scotland.
On our arrival we discovered, much to our chagrin, that the Royal Brackla Distillery was six miles distant, and that there was no way of reaching it but by hiring a carriage. We at once proceeded to the hotel, and were fortunate in securing an open landau and a good steed, which bowled us along through a most delightful country. After crossing the bridge which spans the river Nairn, our drive took us over hill terraces covered with pine woods, and along undulating lands as pastoral as an English scene. When we reached the Red Knock we had one of the finest landscape views at our feet that it is possible to witness. The Nairn steals along in its sinuous course, now slyly peeping round the corner of a belt of trees, then again a bit of it is seen between the hillocks, anon a stretch for a quarter of a mile, when it suddenly disappears, to reappear again, surprising us as often as possible. Barley fields stretched away for miles across the plain, in the centre of which we distinguished the Distillery, the object of our journey. As we neared the establishment our driver, an intelligent fellow, reminded us that we were on ground made classic by Shakespeare, in “Macbeth.” The Cawdor Moss is just above the Distillery, and running through it is the famous Cawdor Burn, which, after passing through a deep rocky ravine beautifully wooded within the park surrounding the ancient castle of Cawdor, splashes past and flows into the Nairn. This burn, which supplies all the water to the Distillery, was in remote days used by the noted Tarrick and other smugglers, whose illicit stills abounded on its banks.
The Brackla Distillery was built in the year 1812, by Captain William Fraser, and consists of several ranges of old and new buildings, covering upwards of four acres of ground. On driving into the yard we were received by one of the partners, who, in the absence of the Manager, conducted us over the works.
We commenced as usual at the Barley Lofts, which are built over an enormous duty-free Warehouse. They are 140 feet long by 90 broad, and will hold 2,000 quarters. The barley is raised from the farmer’s wagons to these floors by a friction hoist, where it is pitched into a moveable square hopper, so arranged that the grain is measured into the bushel as it passes through to the floor. It is next lifted by elevators into a screw-box by which it is conveyed to the Malt floors, and dropped by shoots into the required Steeps. The two Malt Barns adjoin the Granaries, and are 120 feet long by 45 broad. From these floors the malt is raised by another friction hoist to the Kiln which is floored with metal plates and heated by peat. In the yard there are two enormous sheds filled with peat ready for the winter’s use, dug from the neighbouring moor. We next crossed the Kiln floor to the malt deposit, a gallery 70 feet long and 54 wide, situated over the Mill building, and having in its centre a large fixed hopper, through which the malt is shovelled, to be ground between the malt cylinders below.
From this department the ground malt is sent by elevators and screws to another hopper, over the Tun Room, which feeds a patent Mashing Machine. Following our guide we soon found ourselves in the Mash-house, a lofty and spacious building, which contains a Mash Tun 17 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep possessing the usual stirring gear and draining plates; also a metal Underback of somewhat less proportions. From the latter vessel the Worts are pumped up through a Morton’s Refrigerator to the Worts receptacle, from thence they run into the Fermenting Tuns. A few steps across the paved court brought us to the Tun Room, a well-lighted apartment, both walls and ceiling being painted white, in which are placed eight Washbacks, each holding 5,000 gallons. The Switches therein, which are driven by machinery, move at a high and low speed, and, by the ingenuous arrangement of a lever, each can be worked separately. From these vessels the Wash is pumped up into the Wash Charger, a handsome circular timber vessel, holding 7,000 gallons, fixed on a gallery in the Still House. Leaving this house we were next conducted to the Engine-house, which contains a little horizontal engine of 13 horse-power; also a donkey-engine for feeding the boiler, which works in conjunction with the water-wheel and the usual pumps; and a steam boiler, 20 feet long and 7 feet in diameter, for supplying hot water to the Mash Tun.
We next visited the Still House, a stone building of large proportions, which contains two old Pot Stills, partly heated by steam coils; a Wash Still, holding 4,700 gallons, and a Low-wines Still of 2,680 gallons capacity; also a Low-wines Receiver, holding 2,000 gallons, a Low-wines and Feints Charger and a Spirit Receiver, which latter vessel is placed on the ground.
The Spirit Store, which is in close proximity, contains a Vat, holding 2,060 gallons, and the usual weighing apparatus. Our guide now led the way to the Bonded Warehouses, five in number, all substantial buildings. One of these is 272 feet long by 50 broad, with a span roof, and is divided into sections, so that Whisky of any age can be found at once. They contained at the time of our visit 2,000 casks. From thence we went to the Cooperage, and Duty-Paid Racking Store, the latter for the convenience of local customers.
The arrangements for extinguishing fire are very complete, consisting of a fire-hose and extincteurs distributed about the premises. The proprietors have provided a good house for the Manager, and convenient dwellings for the work-people. The Whisky is carted to the station six miles distant by a traction engine, which brings back coals from Nairn. It is necessary to have a large supply of this fuel, as it is not an uncommon occurrence in winter to be cut off from all communication by snow-drifts for a fortnight at a time. Attached to the Distillery there is a farm of 320 acres, mostly under barley cultivation. There are three ponds or reservoirs close to the works, and most picturesquely situated, shaded by willow trees and fed by the waters of the Cawdor Burn. In this latter stream are placed the coolers, a capital arrangement when the position of the Bum will permit.
Both water and steam power are used in the Brackla Distillery, and the barley consumed is all home-grown.
The make is pure Highland Malt, and the annual output is 70,000 gallons.