Charles Doig and the pegoda distillery roof

The pagoda roof evokes associations with Japanese tea houses and Buddhist temples. Die-hard whisky drinkers associate it with Scotland, and the forefather of the beautiful pagodas that fly over countless Scottish distilleries. Pagoda roofs over the distilleries have been the norm since 1889, when Charles Doig, the Elgin based architect placed the first over Dailuaine distillery. These would follow at Aberfeldy, Coleburn and dozens of others. Even today new distilleries like Ardnahoe that have never carried out onsite maltings install pagoda roofs for their symbolic value.

The Long Read

Today the pagoda roof is a recognisable symbol of Scottish whisky distilleries but it rarely serves a functional purpose as fewer and fewer distilleries dry their whisky on their own malt floors. Once upon a time though the pegoda was cutting edge technology designed by the brilliant and pragmatic architect Charles Doig.

An Iconic Landmark

An architectural landmark of many distilleries in Scotland are the pagoda roofs of the malt kilns. During the production process germinated barley coming from the malting floors is dried in kilns in order to halt the germination process and make the malt more durable. For this purpose, the hot air, or peat smoke generated in the kiln is passed through the barley malt spread on the drying floor. It is crucial that the germination of the introduced malt is brought to a standstill both simultaneously and evenly. If this does not succeed, some of the grain will germinate too long and thus exceed the ideal point in time at which the most favorable maltose content has formed in the grain.

Drying the grain

The quality of the grain, the construction and the size of the malt kiln have a direct influence on the drying process. The former is a variable factor, whereas both of the latter factors are largely unchangeable, which can only be influenced when the building is being constructed or modified. As a rule, the kilns were laid out in such a way that the kilns are located directly below the drying floors. Due to the thermals of the hot air or the hot smoke, the malt spread on the drying floors can be flowed evenly through. The hot air or smoke is then dissipated via the roof structure. A combination of pitched / pitched roof with an opening on the roof ridge proved to be useful.

Weather proofing the kiln

To avoid adverse weather conditions during the drying process, a cover was required at the upper end of the opening. This had to be designed in such a way that, if possible, no precipitation, no dead birds or droppings got into the kiln. Originally, a simple hood in the form of a small pitched roof was used as a cover. This design can be seen, for example, in the depiction of the Dailuaine distillery, which was created on the occasion of the visit of the whisky journalist Alfred Barnards in 1886, who still used the spelling Dail-Uaine.

Rotatable, conical hood attachments were developed as a further development. These had the advantage that the suction effect of the wind ensured a relatively uniform discharge of the hot air or smoke, but this was also directly related to the prevailing wind strength. In practice, this meant that the stronger the wind, the higher the suction effect in the area of ​​the hood attachment. This had to lead to uneven ventilation or smoke extraction from the kiln. This influence could only be controlled by regulating the firing, ie the flow of hot air or smoke had to be constantly adapted to the wind conditions, but this was only possible to a limited extent due to the thermal inertia of the kiln. In unfavorable weather conditions, this inevitably led to a poorer quality of the malt and thus to inefficient production.

Dailuaine distillery refurbishment

Four years after Barnard visited the Dail-Uaine distillery, the distillery’s malt kilns were to be rebuilt and expanded in 1889. The owner Thomas Mackenzie and his partner James Fleming decided to improve the drying process and thus increase the efficiency of the distillery. They turned to the then little-known builder Charles Chree Doig from Elgin, who at the age of 34 already enjoyed a good reputation as a surveyor and master builder.

Doig, who had been assisting a surveyor named Harbourne Marius Strachan Mackay in Elgin since 1882, soon impressed him with his skills as a surveyor and not least as a builder. After a few years, Doig became Mackay’s partner and from 1890 had his own office in Elgin. Doig specialized in the construction and renovation of distilleries and was thus successful across the region. During the planning, Doig went so far that he not only designed the structural systems, but also stills and accessories for production. Today no less than 56 distilleries are attributed to his commitment.

The Doig ventilator

Doig designed a special roof and chimney construction for the kilns of the Dailuaine distillery which should significantly improve the discharge of hot air and smoke. This consisted of a combination of roof and chimney including a new type of cover, which allowed the hot air or smoke to evacuate evenly and largely unhindered by the effects of the weather. Doig found that this worked best with a cover that was curved outwards and upwards at the same time. He reduced the number of horizontal ventilation panels at the base of the ventilation opening and at the same time arranged the hood a little higher vertically in order to further reduce the air resistance of the construction and thus improve the effectiveness.

Thanks to its efficiency and, not least, its striking appearance, this construction was used in many distilleries in the years that followed. The cover created in this way according to the principle that form follows function and is reminiscent of a pagoda roof, which is why the Doig ventilator was also referred to as the Doig pagoda.

Asian design of the pegoda

In the Asian region, a pagoda is, in the true sense, a form of a multi-storey or tower-like building. This originally came from India and was used there as a stupa (grave) - to store the remains of Siddhartha Gautama (founder of Buddhism). From later times, this design is also known as a religious memorial and temple. The most prominent feature are the roof surfaces that curve upwards and protrude horizontally over the outer walls in the area of ​​the individual storeys.

This elegant roof shape was used in the Art Nouveau era, in Europe at the end of the 19th century, as a stylistic device for different building closures and was shaped by them. So it was not surprising that Doig, who also included this style-defining, architectural element in his design and implementation concepts at precisely this time, when the art-historical era of Art Nouveau was still in its infancy. Today such eye-catching construction elements would also be called eye-catchers.

Surviving Doig pegodas

Tragically, a fire in the Dail-Uaine distillery in 1917 destroyed Doig’s first pagoda roof. In many other distilleries too, the Doig pagodas were destroyed by fire or more or less sensitive modernizations. In the course of the following decades, more and more distilleries refrained from producing their own malt for reasons of cost. More and more of the original Doig pagodas disappeared from the roofs of the historic distilleries. As far as is known, only Annandale, Knockando, Cardhu, Laphroaig and Lagavulin still own the roof structures originally planned by Doig and his sons.

The pegoda roof today

Today the pagoda roof, which still characterizes many older distilleries, rarely has any practical use. Only Balvenie, Bowmore, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Springbank are known to malt all or part of their own barley and therefore also operate malt kilns.

Amazingly even after the industrialisation of whisky production saw most distilleries move malting off site the pegoda was still added to a number of new buiilt distilleries with no functional need. These include the Auchroisk distillery was built near Keith in 1972, Isle of Arran distillery founded 1995, and Ardnahoe founded 2019. The pagoda roofs were reduced to a decorative accessory, which fundamentally does not correspond to today’s architectural conception and, if he were still alive, would probably not correspond to Doig’s conception either.

Fortunately, significantly more emphasis has been placed on a contemporary understanding of architecture when building and expanding distilleries in recent years. This can be seen in the expansion of The Macallan and Glenmorangie or the modernization of Rosebank.


Who was Charles Doig?

Charles Chree Doig (August 24, 1855- September 28, 1918) is the noted Elgin based architect credited for creating the cupola or pegoda roof found over around half of all Scottish distilleries. Doig died unexpectedly of heart failure at the age of only 63, just a year after the fire at Dailuaine distillery in 1917 which destroyed Doig’s first pagoda roof. His sons took over his job and continued the business of the company from then on introducing pegodas to Caol Ila, Ardbeg, Highland Park, Laphroaig etc. sadly few of these survive to today.

What are the pagoda roofs over distilleries?

Pagodas, or more accurately cupolas, are a distinctive chimney seen over Scottish distilleries. These are modeled after Chinese architecture and used to improve air flow for the smoke used in drying malted barley. When designing the cover for a chinmey, adverse weather conditions, had to be taken into account, thus the pegoda form was adopted as it allows for maximum ventilation.

Why do Scotch distilleries have pagodas?

Pagodas are designed to improve the airflow of smoke from the fires traditionally used to dry the malted barley at Scottish distilleries. Chimneys were not ideal for kilns, straight one allowed rain inside capped chimneys with side smoke holes slow updraft. Charles Doig’s solution to this problem was the Doig ventilator, sometimes known as a pagoda or cupola.

At the time of the pagoda roofs introduction a similar design was already found on the other side of the Atlantic. As hay stored in barns can become very hot and even ignite, American farmers built their barns with a hipped roof, on top of which they put a free-floating pagoda style roofs. This building and roof shape creates a slight updraft, which increases safety in the barn. This same principle and a belief that form should follow function is the reason the pegoda roof was designed this way.

Share via

View or Post Comments