The Glen Kinchie

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

The Glen Kinchie Distillery, Pencaitland.

IT was a “blast o’ Januar’ win” that greeted us as we started from the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh, to visit this Distillery. We have seen “the modern Athens” under every aspect, and in all kinds of weather, and we must confess to a preference for the summertime, although in its winter garb of ice and snow it is far more beautiful than any other city in the kingdom. But its winter winds are not to be forgotten; Princes Street with a strong north-easter blowing gaily down the broad valley catching one at every turn calls up memories none too pleasant.

We were a well-assorted company of three - Mr. Hannan, the principal partner of the Distillery; Gordon Fraser, an artist friend, and the writer, in a comfortable carriage, and as we drove along the Regent Road, past the Calton Hill on our left, with Holyrood and Arthur’s Seat on out right, historic associations intermingled with our high spirits and prepared us for a thorough enjoyment of the bracing drive.

We passed through Piershill, otherwise known as Jock’s Lodge, the chief cavalry depot of Scotland, Portobello, the Brighton of Scotland and Musselburgh, said by its natives to be the most ancient of Scottish burghs.

“Musselburgh was a burgh when Edinburgh was nane,And Musselburgh’ll he a burgh when Edinburgh’s gaen.”

Leaving Musselburgh we passed on our right the battle-field of Pinkie, on our left the Links, the seat of Edinburgh golfers and the head-quarters of Scotch horse-racing, and soon reached Tranent, immediately to the left of which is Prestonpans, where the famous battle was fought between Sir John Cope and Bonnie Prince Charlie, which nearly changed the current of British history. Hitherto our road had skirted the Firth of Forth, but now we turned to our right and struck up through the inland part of East Lothian, which county has been termed the agricultural garden of Scotland, and passing Winton Castle and Salton Hall, the latter the residence of the Fletcher family, descendants of the patriot Fletcher, author of the famous saying, “Give me to make the songs of a nation, and others may make its laws,” and through Pencaitland, a pretty little village lying in a valley of the Tyne, we came upon the brow of the hill overlooking the Distillery, which is so closely hidden in the glen that we were almost upon it ere we saw it.

The Distillery is situated in the centre of the Glen of the Kinchie, a tributary of the river Tyne, from which it derives its name, in the midst of scenery which may not be wild and romantic, such as we have seen in the North, but nevertheless possessing a quiet beauty of its own.

Immediately to the south are the Lammermoor Hills, the highest point towering to about 2,000 feet, from the lower slopes of which a rich alluvial country stretches to the Firth of Forth, and it is entirely from this district that the barley for the Distillery is supplied. On both sides of the works the ground is freely interspersed with trees, which were covered with a fringe of snow, and gave a graceful beauty to the surroundings, wanting in wilder landscapes.

The natural situation of this Distillery has been taken full advantage of by the proprietors. To the left of the entrance gate is one of the large Bonded Warehouses - of which there are two, the other being situated on the right of the gate - and at the back of this extending its entire length is the Barley Loft, immediately at the foot of the hill overhanging the Distillery, in which is stored the barley to be used in the manufacture of the whisky. On the top of this hill are placed two large Hoppers, into which the barley is emptied from the carts, and runs down shoots of about 100 feet in length to the Lofts, these are fitted with an overhead railway, fastened on beams, on which the carriers - large baskets suspended on wheels, - run along and carry the barley to any place required. This railway is continued to the Steeps in the Malting House, a large two-storied building separated from the Barley Loft by a wide courtyard, across, on what may be termed, a suspension bridge, having on each side a reversed inclined plane. The carriers, filled with barley in the loft, are shot right across the courtyard to the Steeps, where they are emptied, and returned on the reverse plane to the Loft, to be again filled, and so on. The Malting Floors are also fitted with the same overhead railways, which convey the barley, - changed to malt by germination, to a large Elevator, which lifts and deposits it in the centre of a large Kiln with a wire-cloth floor, where it is properly dried, and then it is shot direct into the Malt Deposits which lie alongside on a lower level. At the end of the deposits is the Grinding Room, on the same level, and into this the grist, as the malt is now technically termed, is easily conveyed when required for grinding, previous to the mashing process.

The Mash House is attached to the Grinding Room, and the ground malt is lifted to the Grist Hopper by elevators, worked by an engine placed in the Grinding Room, from which it falls into the large Mash Tun, just below it, where it is stirred by rakes driven by an engine specially used for this purpose. After standing the necessary time the infusion is drawn off and passed over a Refrigerator alongside, into the Underback, from which it is lifted by a powerful steam-pump to the fermenting tuns in the Tun Room, where the process of fermentation goes on. When this is completed, the wash, as it is now called, is run into the Wash Charger, situated in the same room, and this supplies the Stills, of which there are two, of the kind known as Old Pot Stills, where by distillation, the wash is changed into whisky, and the process is completed and at this point we saw what we had seen nowhere else, - after the spirit is extracted from the wash, there is a very large residue known as dreg, which in towns is very largely used for cattle-feeding purposes but in remote districts is practically useless, and requires to be disposed of in some way; it cannot be emptied into the stream, for the riparian proprietors would object, so it is lifted by a steam-pump to a tank 500 yards from the distillery, and 70 feet above it, and used by the neighbouring farmer to irrigate his fields, and he is highly pleased with the result.

It will be seen from our description that each part fits into the other, and that the arrangements are such that manual labour is reduced to a minimum. Every facility was afforded us to examine everything, and in addition to the perfectness of the general plan, we were much struck with the absolute cleanliness which prevailed.

The annual output of this distillery is about 76,000 gallons of fine Malt Whisky.

By the time our inspection was completed darkness had set in, so we could see nothing of the country through which we passed on our way home, which was by the inland route viâ Dalkeith. There was a heavy snowstorm, but as we were comfortable inside our carriage, it added zest to our enjoyment, and with the champagne air of the Highlands of the Lothians, conduced to a pleasant night’s sleep, the fitting sequel to an interesting and enjoyable day.

Images of The Glen Kinchie