Strathdee

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

Strathdee Distillery, Aberdeen.

THE next day we drove to Strathdee, about a mile from the Imperial Hotel. Our route was through the western suburb, the finest part of Aberdeen, which we need hardly say is one of the prettiest cities in the Kingdom. Strathdee Distillery is situated on the Deeside or Balmoral Road, in the valley of the Dee. The Works, which are mostly of the old-fashioned low-roofed character, cover a large space of ground. The Distillery was built in 1821 by Mr. Henry Ogg, father of the present proprietor.

Previous to the year 1820 the whisky consumed in Scotland was almost entirely made by Highland smugglers, who distilled it in bothies in the glens among the hills. The Upper Dee and the Upper Don were noted for the production of illicit whisky. The evasion of the Excise Laws was not generally looked upon as immoral in those days. The popular sympathy with the smuggler in his warfare with the gauger is shown in the ballads and songs of the day, and notably in the poems of Burns, who laments his own degradation in having “turned a gauger.” In Aberdeenshire the trade was conducted by the smugglers with great boldness. There was many a battle or running fight between them and the officers, in which the casualties were sometimes serious and occasionally fatal. The whisky was brought down from the mountains, usually during the night, on the pack-saddles of ponies or small horses, in single file, to the number of six or a dozen, the halter of the second being tied to the crupper of the first and the third to the second, and so on. The owner usually rode the first horse, and his friends scouted behind and before to give warning of danger from either direction. Sometimes the whisky was captured, and sometimes the smugglers escaped with their booty.

To remedy these evils the Government resolved, about the year 1820, to encourage distilling under legal authority, and the erection of Distilleries was suggested to the brewers of the period. Strathdee, one of the first Distilleries in Aberdeenshire, was erected by Mr. Ogg, the principal partner of the Ferryhill Brewery, and about the same time the Devanha Distillery was established by the owners of the brewery of that name.

When Strathdee was built, the out-put was from about 15,000 to 25,000 gallons. About thirty years ago the Works were rebuilt on a much larger scale and they do not, at first sight, look very much like a modern Distillery - it is only when you enter the Still House that you are assured of the fact by seeing the old Pot Stills at work. The motive power is steam, but water can be made available if required.

The buildings are enclosed in a large yard, entered by a gateway from the main road. We commenced our inspection at the Grain Lofts, which are on the left-hand side as you enter, and are together 150 feet long by 40 feet wide, and capable of containing 1,200 quarters of barley. The Malting House is a two-decker building, divided into two compartments, and there are large concrete Steeps on three of these floors. The malt is elevated from the floors direct on to the Kiln, which adjoins this building. It is 30 feet square, floored with wire cloth, and heated with peat and coke. The Malt Deposit adjoins the Kiln, into which the malt, when dried, is transferred by means of a Shoot, and in close proximity is the Mill, which consists of a pair of huge Rollers, and placed immediately under the Mill Room. When the malt has been crushed by these Rollers it is raised by an Elevator, and passes into a hopper above, communicating with the Mash Tun. We then descended by a stair into the principal building, which is large and divided on the ground loor into three compartments. In the east division of this building is the Still House, and on the floor over the Still House the Brew House. Here our guide pointed out to us the Mash Tun, a large vessel, with stirring gear driven by steam and drained by iron plates. Near the Mash Tun we saw two large heating Coppers, where the water for brewing is brought up to the proper heat the Underback, which is a metal vessel, is placed under the Mash Tun. The Worts are drained off from the Mash Tun into the Underback, and from it are run into large iron Coolers, supported on iron beams, which cover the whole of the western division of the building. The Fermenting Tuns are placed in the lower floors of the building immediately below the Coolers, and into these Backs the Worts are run when of the proper temperature.

From the Fermenting Backs the Worts are pumped into the Chargers, which are placed in a separate building behind the Still House, but communicating with it. The Low-wines, as well as the Wash-chargers, are in this building, and from these both the Wash and the Low-wines are run by gravitation into the Stills.

After leaving the Mash or Brew House, we examined the Tun Room, where there are five Washbacks, each holding 2,830 gallons.

In the Still House there are three old Pot Stills, two being Wash Stills, one holding 2,150 and the other 2,544 gallons respectively, and a Spirit Still of the capacity of 1,770 gallons. The Worm Tub consists of a spacious open concrete tank sunk in the ground. It adjoins the Still House, and through it runs the Manofield Burn. The copper pipes in which the Low-wines and Spirits are cooled pre sunk in this tank. Attached to each Still there is a Condensing Column or Refrigerator, in which the hot vapour is condensed before it reaches the cooling copper pipes, and from these the Low-wines and Spirits, when cold, are led into their respective receivers.

We then crossed the yard to the Spirit Store, which adjoins the large Bonded Warehouses. It is a neat building and contains a Vat which holds 3,300 gallons. The Warehouses are extensive, dry, and well ventilated. At the time of our visit they contained 1,026 casks or 73,196 gallons of Whisky of various ages. There is a spacious Racking and Bottling Store, as Messrs. Ogg and Company do a large case trade. The water used for general purposes is from the Manofield Burn, but that used for distilling purposes comes from the same Source as the city water supply.

The Whisky is Highland Malt, and the annual output is from 45,000 to 55,000 proof gallons. It is principally sold in Leith, London, and Liverpool.