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The Industries of Scotland
Distilling


DISTILLING has been described as "the art of evoking the fiery demon of drunkenness from his attempered state in wine and beer." Though the Arabians from the remotest ages extracted the aromatic essences of plants by distillation, no mention of the production of an intoxicating spirit by the same mode occurs until the eleventh century. It is first alluded to by an Arabian physician; but the discovery is believed by some authors to have been made in one of the northern countries of Europe. Another physician, who wrote in the thirteenth century, refers explicitly to an intoxicating spirit obtained by the distillation of wine, and he describes it as a recent discovery. So delighted was the physician by the effect of the spirit, that he pronounced it to be the panacea, or cure for all evils and disorders, ao long sought after in vain. It need hardly be said that many persons still hold a similar belief in the virtues of alcohol. Raymond Lully, the famous chemist of Majorca, who was a disciple of the physician last referred to, claims for alcohol an important mission. He describes "the admirable essence" to be "an emanation of the divinity—an element newly revealed to man, but hid from antiquity, because the human race were then too young to need this beverage, destined to revive the energies of modern decrepitude." He further imagined that the discovery of the aqua vile, as it was called, indicated the approaching consummation of all things—the end of the world. The process of distillation was thus described by Lully "Limpid and well-flavoured red or white wine is to be digested during twenty days in a close vessel by the heat of fermenting horse-dung, and to be then distilled in a sand-bath with a very gentle fire. The true water of life will come over in precious drops, which, being rectified by three or four successive distillations, will afford--the wonderful quintessence of wine."

Great Scotch Whisky (Documentary)

From its birthplace, the art of producing ardent spirits by distillation slowly extended over Europe. No reliable information exists as to the date of its introduction into Britain. It is certain, however, that spirits were imported as early as 1430. The French applied themselves to the distillation of brandy from wine, and were so successful that their country came to be spoken of as the great still-house of Europe, England being one of their best customers. Meanwhile, the people of England had made some progress in agriculture; and grain having in consequence become plentiful, they began to distil spirits from it. The home-made article appeared to suit their palates better than the French product; and the manufacture of it was gradually developed into an extensive branch of industry, which was visited with legislative patronage in the reign of Charles II., when a duty of twopence was imposed on every gallon of spirits.

The people of Scotland were not far behind their neighbours in turning attention to distilling. They preferred spirits to the wines which they obtained from the Continent and to the beer which they brewed at home. No record exists of the introduction or progress of the trade prior to 1708, when 50,844 gallons of spirits were produced. A duty had been levied on the article before that time, and acted as a partial check on its production. Though the trade did not increase so rapidly as it probably would have done if there had been no tax, yet the progress made by distillers was astonishing. In 1756 they made 433,811 gallons of spirits; but an increase in the rate of duty in that year had the effect of causing a considerable falling off in the quantity produced. About the year 1776 a demand for Scotch spirits sprang up in England, and large quantities were sent thither. An import duty of 2s. 6d. a gallon was charged in England; and an extensive system of smuggling also sprang up. It is stated that in 1787 upwards of 300,000 gallons crossed the Border without the knowledge of the Excise. The mode of charging duty on the spirits made by the distillers gave place, in 1786, to a license duty according to the capacity of the stills. The distillers soon found that, by altering the form of the stills, they could increase the rate of production immensely. Government, becoming aware of the ingenious device of the Scotch distillers, raised the amount of license step by step, until, before the end of last century, it amounted to L.64, 16s. 4d. per gallon of still contents in the Lowlands, and to L.3 per gallon in the Highlands. Passing over many changes that have taken place in the interval, it may be sufficient to state here that the license duty at present payable by distillers is L.10, 10s., with 10s. of spirit-duty for every gallon of whisky sent out for home consumption.

Eighty or ninety years ago the illicit manufacture of whisky was common throughout the Highlands. At first the "sma' stills" were set to work to produce a supply of whisky for the use of the owners and their friends; but as the restrictions on licensed distillers were increased, the proprietors of the unlicensed stills were encouraged to extend their operations, and to enter into competition with the legal manufacturers. Then began that system of smuggling which made a certain class of Highlanders so notorious, and gave so much trouble to the Excise department. The wild glens of the north afforded secure retreats for the working of the stills; and many ingenious modes of conveying the produce to market were devised. The tendency was to demoralise the smugglers, and cast them back towards barbarism. They became reckless and daring to an extraordinary degree, and the stories of smuggling adventures record the performance of acts which, had they been rendered in a legitimate service, would have conferred undying honour on the actors. A man who could "jink the gauger" was a hero in the little circle in which he moved, and the people of the rural districts generally hailed with delight the performance of any deed which set the Excise laws at defiance. Even persons in authority winked at the breach of those laws. The great strongholds of the smugglers in the north were Glenlivet, Strathden, and the Glen of New Mill. The proprietor of the only distillery now in Glenlivet recollects seeing 200 illicit stills at work in Glenlivet alone. Owing to the quality of the water and other causes, the whisky made in the Glen became famous—indeed, smuggled whisky generally was preferred by consumers, on account of its mildness and fine flavour. The solitary distillery in. the Glen has an interesting history, and the spirits made at it retain the old renown. Mr George Smith, the proprietor of the distillery, was the pioneer of licensed distilling in the Highlands, and he recently supplied to a correspondent of the "London Scotsman" the following account of the origin of his establishment, which is worth reproducing:-

"About this time (1820), the Government, giving its mind to internal reforms, began to awaken to the fact that it might be possible to realise a considerable revenue from the whisky duty north of the Grampians. No doubt they were helped to this conviction by the grumbling of the south country distillers, whose profits were destroyed by the quantity of kegs which used to come streaming down-the mountain passes. But through long impunity the Highlands had become demoralised, and the authorities thought it would be safer to use policy than force. The question was frequently debated in both Houses of Parliament, and strong representations made to the north country proprietors to use their influence in the cause of law and order. Pressure of this sort was brought to bear very strongly upon Alexander, Duke of Gordon, who at length was stirred up to make a reply. The Highlanders, he said, were born distillers; whisky was their beverage from time immemorial, and they would have it, and would sell it too, when tempted by so largo a duty; but, said Duke Alexander, if the Legislature would pass an Act, affording an opening for the manufacture of whisky as good as the smuggled product, at a reasonable duty easily payable, he and his brother proprietors of the Highlands would use their best endeavours to put down smuggling and to encourage legal distillation. As the outcome of this pledge, a bill was passed in 1823, to include Scotland, sanctioning legal distillation at a duty of 2s. 3d. per wine gallon proof spirit, with L.10 license for any seized still above forty gallons; none under that seize being allowed.

"This would seem a heavy blow to smuggling; and for a year or two before the farce of an attempt had been made to inflict a L.20 penalty where any quantity of smuggled whisky was found manufactured or in process of manufacture. But there were no means of enforcing such a penalty, for the smugglers laughed at attempts of seizure; and when the new Act was heard of, both in Glenlivet and in the Highlands of Aberdeenshire, they ridiculed the idea that any one would be found daring enough to commence legal distillation in their midst. The proprietors were very anxious to fulfil their pledges to Government, and did everything they could to encourage the commencement of legal distillation; but the desperate character of the smugglers and the violence of their threats deterred any one for some time. At length, in 1824, I, George Smith, who was then a powerful robust young fellow, and not given to be easily 'fleggit,' determined to chance it. I was already a tenant of the Duke, and received every encouragement in my undertaking from his Grace himself, and his factor, Mr Skinner. The lookout was an ugly one, though. I was warned before I began by my civil neighbours that they meant to burn the new distillery to the ground, and me in the heart of it. The laird of Aberlour presented me with a pair of hair-trigger pistols, worth ten guineas, and they were never out of my belt for years. I got together two or three stout fellows for servants, armed them with pistols, and let it be known everywhere that I would fight for my place till the last shot. I had a pretty good character as a man of my word, and through watching, by turns, every night for years, we contrived to save the distillery from the fate so freely predicted for it. But I often, both at kirk and market, had rough times of it among the glen people; and if it had not been for the laird of Aberlour's pistols, I don't think I should have been telling you this story now. In 1825 and '26 three more small legal distilleries were commenced in the Glen; but the smugglers succeeded very soon in frightening away their occupants, none of whom ventured to bang on a single year in the face of the threats uttered so freely against them. Threats were not the only weapons used. In 1825 a distillery which had just been started at the head of Aberdeenshire, near the Banks o' Dee, was burned to the ground with all its out-buildings and appliances, and the distiller had a very narrow escape from being roasted in his own kiln. The country was in a desperately lawless state at this time. The riding officers of the revenue were the mere sport of the smugglers, and nothing was more common than for them to be shown a still at work, and then coolly defied to make a seizure."


A rare trip into Whisky heaven

When distillers Laphroaig launched their first ever live online whisky tasting, an army of malt fans from around the world made it the largest interactive event of its kind.

From New Zealand to Sweden, New York to Sydney, thousands of you watched the live WebTV show in London and mailed in hundreds of questions to the eminent panel of distillers, connoisseurs and writers.

Now you have the chance to join in an even bigger event live from the Laphroaig distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. The distillery sits on the South coast of the island with views of both Scotland and Ireland and the show will be broadcast from inside the distillerys original bonded warehouse number one normally only accessible to distillery staff and customs officers.

So if you love whisky but are keen to know more about those wonderful single malts and how they are blended to taste so good we have a treat for you this evening. Master blender Robert Hicks and Distillery Manager John Campbell will host an exclusive tasting session, which includes four Laphroaig malts, the highlight being a new Quarter Cask triple wood, drawn and tasted live from a sherry cask.

They will be joined by writer Martine Nouet, Keeper of the Quaich, and if you want to know what that means you will need to join the live show to find out.

Our guests will take you through all the finer points of getting the best out of a single malt whisky, from the colour, weight and nose to the all important taste and finish. How much water, if any, should you add to your glass? What do the aromas tell you about the whisky? Which flavours and textures should you be expecting as the whisky hits your palate?

Robert Hicks, Laphroaigs Master Blender, John Campbell, Distillery Manager, and whisky writer Martine Nouet join us live online on Wednesday 18th June at 8pm for a live whisky tasting.


Though smuggling was most extensively carried on in the Highland regions, the trade was not limited to them, and unlicensed stills have been discovered in situations which might be considered beyond the breath of suspicion. In Arnot's "History of Edinburgh," it is stated that, while in 1777 there were only 8 licensed stills in Edinburgh, the unlicensed numbered 400. In July 1815, a "private" distillery of considerable extent, which had been in operation for eighteen months, was discovered under an arch of the South Bridge in Edinburgh. The bridge consists of a large number of arches, only one of which is open, the others being blocked up by the houses which line the bridge on both sides. It was in one of the arches adjoining the open one that the distillery had been set up. All the arrangements for conducting the business without the knowledge of the Excise officers were of the most complete kind. The only entrance to the place was by a doorway situated behind the grate of a bedroom in a house on one of the lower flats adjoining the bridge. Between this doorway and the distillery communication was established by means of a ladder and trap-door. A supply of water was obtained from a branch attached to one of the mains of the Water Company which passed overhead, and the smoke and waste were got rid of by making an opening in the chimney of one of the adjoining houses, and establishing a communication with the soil-pipes. The spirits were sent out in a tin case capable of con-taming two or three gallons. The case was placed in a bag, and taken to the customers by a woman in the service. When the place was entered by the officers of the law, a large quantity of material and all the appliances employed in the manufacture of whisky were found. A number of years ago a secret distillery was discovered in the cellars under the Free Tron Church, in the High Street of Edinburgh; and soon afterwards, an extensive concern of the same kind was revealed at Marionville, between Edinburgh and Portobello. More recently, a still was seized at work almost within a stone-throw of the Excise office in Aberdeen, and subsequently there was a "seizure" in a close in the centre of Leith. Not long since, a still was discovered in England beneath the pulpit of a church; and only the other day a thriving business in Nottingham was interrupted in consequence of the absence of the all-important license.

In the year 1799 there were 87 licensed distillers in Scotland, who paid duty on spirits retained for home consumption to the amount of L.1,620,388. That was the first year of the change in the mode of levying duty. Previously so much was paid according to the capacity of the still, but now a. 4s. 101d. duty was laid on every gallon of spirits made for home consumption. The change was not approved of by the distillers, about a third of whom gave up business in the following year, and the duty decreased to L.775,750. The lowering of the duty to 3s. 10d. in 1802 revived the trade, and the returns for 1803 showed 88 distillers paying L.2,022,409. In 1804 progress was checked by another advance in the duty, and the number of distillers dwindled down until, in 1813, there were only 24. The duty reached 9s. 4zd. a-gallon in 1815, but the produce was considerably under a million pounds. It is probable, however, that the quantity of whisky actually made in the country was greater than at any previous time, the high duty tending, as already stated, to foster illicit distillation and smuggling. The lowering of the duty to 2s. 4d. in 1823 had the effect of giving an impetus to the trade. The number of licensed distillers greatly increased, and the revenue rose steadily. There were 243 distillers in 1833, who paid duty to the amount of L.5,988,556, the rate then being 3s. 4d. a-gallon.

The following table shows the rates of duty in England, Scotland. and Ireland respectively at various periods, and the quantity of spirits charged with duty for consumption in Scotland :-

The two most extensive distilleries in Scotland are the Port-Dundas Distillery in Glasgow, which belongs to Messrs M. M'Farlane and Co., and the Caledonian Distillery, in Edinburgh, owned by Messrs Menzies, Bernard, & Co. The latter has been chosen to illustrate the processes of distillation. The establishment covers five acres of ground at the west end of the city, in a situation most convenient for carrying on a large trade. It is one of the most recently erected distilleries in the country, having been built in 1855; and every part of it has been constructed according to the latest improvements in the trade. All the principal buildings are five storeys in height, and are so arranged that the labour of carrying the materials through the various stages of manufacture is reduced to the smallest amount. A branch line from the Caledonian and another from the North British Railway converge in the centre of the works, and afford ready and convenient accommodation for bringing in the raw materials and sending out the products. The extent of this traffic may be judged from the facts that 2000 qrs. of grain and 200 tons of coal are used every week, while the quantity of spirits sent out in the same time is 40,000 gallons, the duty on which is L.20,000, or at the rate of L.1,040,000 a-year. The machinery is propelled by five steam-engines of from 5 to 150 horse power, for the service of which, and supplying the steam used in distilling, there are nine large steam-boilers.

The Caledonian is one of the eight distilleries in Scotland which produce "grain whisky," the others making malt whisky only. The kinds of grain used are maize, rye, buckwheat, oats, and barley. The latter is converted into malt, which is used in certain proportions with the other grains in a raw state. Most of the grain is imported into Granton, whence it is brought, by rail, in special trucks to the distillery. The trucks hold fifty quarters each, and when they arrive they are taken one after the other to a part of the line adjoining the stores and malting premises. Beneath the spot to which they are brought is a pit, forming the terminus of an Archimedean screw and tunnel. The opening of a valve in the bottom of the truck allows the grain to run into the pit, from which the screw draws it along to a hopper inside the building. From the hopper it is carried by belt and bucket apparatus to the store on the upper floor, where other sets of screws carry it along and deposit it in an even layer on the floor—so that no manual labour is required in this part of the work. The contents of two trucks, or 100 quarters, are thus disposed of in an hour. The stores have accommodation for 10,000 quarters. As most of the grain used has to be dried as well as the malt, the kilns are very extensive, and are capable of drying about 400 quarters a-day. One of the kilns is heated by the waste steam from one of the engines, and the others are fired with coke. The malt-barns are capable of producing about 600 quarters a-week. From the kilns the malt and grain are transferred to the mill, where the former is bruised between rollers, and the latter ground into meal by means of common mill-stones.

The next process is the mashing, which works a wonderful change on the constituents of the grain, converting a large proportion of them into starch-sugar, which is the prime source of alcohol. In the mashing department are four wort and water tanks, capable of containing 30,000 gallons each, and five mash-tons of from 10,000 to 30,000 gallons. Water, at a temperature of about 160°, is run into the tons, and then the "grist" is added, the compound being mixed thoroughly by a set of revolving rakes. Many nice points have to be considered in this as in the other processes of spirit manufacture. The proportion of different kinds of grain used in the mash determines the temperature to which the water should be raised, and also the duration of the process. Malt is more easily mashed than a mixture with raw grain; but the latter produces a greater proportion of spirit. The saccharine matter extracted in mashing is held in solution by the water, and so drawn off. When the mashing is completed, the liquid is run into large tons called "underbacks," leaving the spent grains, or drafl', in the mash-ton. At this stage the liquid is known as "wort." The wort contains the elements of alcohol; but another process—that of fermentation—is necessary for the entire conversion. Before being subjected to fermentation, the wort must, as speedily as possible, be cooled to a certain point. For this purpose it is pumped from the underbacks to a large cistern at the top of the building, from which it flows into refrigerators. Cooling used to be effected by running the liquid into shallow iron troughs, and causing currents of cold air to sweep over it. In order to cool the produce at this great establishment, several acres of such coolers would have been required ; but the invention of the refrigerator has made it possible to do all the cooling in very little space, and in much less time than by the old method. The refrigerator consists of a range of tall copper cylinders, inside of which a number of tubes are so arranged that while the wort flows through them, a current of cold water passes over the outside, so that, as the liquid traverses the cylinders it is cooled to the requisite degree. From the refrigerator the wort passes to the fermentingroom—a great apartment occupied by twelve tuns of 50,000 gallons each. Distillers have to work under regulations designed for the convenience of the Excise department, and certain things have to be done on certain days. Thus the distilling process is carried on during Monday and Tuesday, while the mashing and brewing occupy the remainder of the week. The distillers consider this compulsory idleness of their fermenting plant while the distilling is in progress to be a great hardship, and a movement has been made on several occasions to obtain power to carry on the manufacture of beer as well as of whisky, but the privilege has hitherto been refused. When the tuns are filled with wort, yeast is added, and the process of fermentation goes on, under survey of Excise officers, of whom no fewer than eleven are stationed on the Caledonian Distillery. By fermentation and the decomposition of the sugar alcohol is developed in the wort. When the fermentation is completed, the liquid, which then receives the name of "wash," is measured, and its strength ascertained by the Excise officers.

All that now remains to be done is to extract the alcohol from the wash. This is done by distillation. The stills first used were exceedingly simple in their form and mode of action, but were suitable only for dealing with small quantities of liquor. The common still was brought to the highest degree of perfection in Scotland during the time that the method of charging duty according to the capacity of the stills prevailed. Charging in that way led the distillers to devise stills which would produce a greater quantity of spirit in a given time than those of the old form were equal to. They made their stills broad and shallow, so that a larger surface was exposed to the fire. But an entire change in the form of the apparatus was subsequently effected. In 1832 Mr Æneas Coffey, Inspector-General of Excise in Ireland, patented a still which, as finally improved, is the best apparatus in use for the production on a large scale of a rectified spirit of high strength, with the greatest economy of time and fuel. In most of the extensive distilleries Coffey's still is employed. The Caledonian Distillery contains the largest still in Scotland. Before describing its mode of action, it may be well to state generally the scientific principle involved in the process of distillation. Alcohol is more volatile than water. Pure alcohol boils at 173°, water at 212°, while mixtures of the two liquids boil at an intermediate temperature. Therefore, when the wash is raised to the boiling point of alcohol, the latter is converted into vapour, and passes off into a condenser. Some water and a portion of fusel oil are carried along with the alcoholic vapour in distillation after the old method, and have to be separated by the "low wines," as the produce of the first operation is called, being passed through the still again and again until the desired degree of purity is attained. With Coffey's apparatus the distillation is completed at one operation. The cold wash flows in at one part of the still, and at another a strong sparkling spirit gushes forth at the rate of 1000 gallons an hour. Coffey's still consists of two columns—one called the analyzer and the other the rectifier—each forty feet in height; and the wash, in passing through them, loses its alcohol by evaporation, which is due to the action of steam on a system of copper pipes and perforated trays. The apparatus is so constructed that it is impossible for spirit of less than a certain degree of strength and purity to pass out of it. The product of this still is a "neutral spirit," which, being deprived of all essential oils, is, when matured by age, considered by some consumers the most wholesome. A great quantity of it is sent to London, where it is converted into brandy and gin by the addition of flavouring ingredients. In the still-room is a large rectifier, by means of which some of the spirit from Coffey's still is brought to a higher degree of purity.

In order to meet a growing demand for the variety of whisky known as "Irish," the proprietors of the Caledonian distillery, about two years ago, fitted up two large stills of the old pattern, with which they manufacture whisky similar to that made in Dublin. In connection with this branch of the business, stores capable of accommodating about 5000 puncheons have recently been constructed, in which the various kinds of whisky are allowed to lie for some time before being sent out.

In proportion to the amount of money turned over, fewer work-people are engaged in distilling and brewing than perhaps in any other branch of manufacture, as is proved by the fact that in this great establishment only 150 men are employed. The plant and stock, however, represent immense capital.

See also Highland Park - An Introduction to Highland Park and its history


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