During the first few centuries since the (alleged) invention of aqua
vitae in Scotland or Ireland, all whisky came from traditional copper
pot stills. However, that changed when Aeneas Coffey invented an
entirely different type of still in the middle of the nineteenth century;
the patent still a.k.a. Coffey still. Well, actually... Some sources say
that this type of still was in fact invented by Robert Stein in 1826.
Whoever invented it; the thing to remember is the fact that this
type of still is used to produce grain whisky - a type of whisky that
is very different from malt whisky. Grain whisky is the foundation
of every blended Scotch Whisky. These distilleries closely resemble
big factories and are located primarily in the Lowlands of Scotland.
Grain whisky distilleries use a continuous distillation process from
a mash of cereals. This mash always includes some malted barley,
but other unmalted cereals like maize and wheat are allowed as
well. These cereals are considerably cheaper than malted barley.
With a production capacity of circa 100,000,000 litres of alcohol per year, the Cameronbridge distillery dwarfs all other distilleries in Scotland, both malt and grain. The rivers Leven and Ore flow nearby the distillery that was founded in 1824 as Cameron Bridge distillery (two words), also known as the Haig distillery. That makes it not just the largest, but also the oldest grain whisky distillery in Scotland. It is one of the two grain distilleries owned by Diageo - the other one is Port Dundas, located in Glasgow (but that was about to close in 2009). Founder John Haig decided to build Cameronbridge at a location some 40 miles south east of Perth, That's not far from the Lowlands (where most grain whisky distilleries are located), but technically speaking it's in the Eastern Highlands.
In 1826 Cameronbridge became the very first distillery to produce grain whisky
in a continuous still.
This was not a 'Coffey still' yet - but a more primitive version, invented by Robert Stein (John Haig's cousin). This version of the continuous still was basically just a series of pot stills, arranged consecutively. According to fellow malt maniacs Dave Broom and Craig Daniels, Aeneas Coffey was the inventor of the column still design where the analyser and the rectifier were installed side by side, as depicted in the picture above. So, Aeneas Coffey improved upon and patented Stein's design. The column still house was constructed during the 1960s, and so were two of the three column stills. The third still was transferred from the Carsebridge distillery in Alloa when it was closed by United Distillers in 1983.
In 1877 John Haig & Co. merged with five other whisky companies into DCL, the Distillers Company Limited
(a predecessor of Diageo). Until 1929 the Cameronbridge distillery used a combination of pot stills and column stills, allowing them to produce both grain whisky and malt whisky. After 1929 they shifted to producing grain whisky exclusively. The portfolio of spirits was expanded again after a major renovation around the year 1990;
Diageo now produces other spirits besides grain whisky at the site, including Smirnoff, Gordon's Gin and Tanqueray.
Girvan is the latest addition to this list of grain whisky
distilleries, built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons Ltd.
The company behind the Glenfiddich and Balvenie single
malt brands (and the Kininvie malt whisky that isn't sold
as a single malt) recently built another malt whisky
distillery near this grain whisky plant; Prince Charles
opened the Ailsa Bay distillery in January 2009. Like
most of the other remaining grain whisky distilleries,
Girvan is located in the Lowlands.
The Ailsa Bay distillery was built within nine months,
supposedly the same amount of time it took to build
Girvan almost five centuries ago. According to Grants'
chairman Peter Gordon: "We were honoured to show the
Ailsa Bay distillery to His Royal Highness, and he was able
to meet some of our team. (...) By driving forward the
quality of our blend, we hope to ensure the long-term
future of our Girvan site and 130 employees."
In a way, it's nice to see so much activity in the Lowlands.
After all, the region has witnessed the closure of many distilleries in recent years.
One of those closed distilleries was the Ladyburn malt whisky distillery that operated within Girvan's buildings between 1968 and 1975. Girvan prospered after the pot stills were removed; the distillery has a capacity of 15,000 ,000 litres of alcohol per year, produced by four wash stills and four spirit stills. A relatively small part of Girvan's massive production is sold as the Black Barrel Single Grain whisky (without an age statement). I've bought one or two bottles in the mid 1990's but managed to avoid it in more recent years.
Unlike most other grain whisky distilleries, the company that owns Invergordon is not a member of the Scotch Whisky Association. That's not the only exception; it's also the only grain whisky distillery that's not located in (or at least very close to) the Lowlands. Instead, the Invergordon distillery can be found in the Northern Highlands, not far from Dalmore and Glenmorangie. The distillery was founded fairly recently (between 1959 and 1961) by Invergordon Distillers Ltd. This company would become part of Whyte & MacKay in 1993. Nowadays they manage to produce around 40,000,000 litres of alcohol per year at the Invergordon grain whisky distillery.
For a relatively short period of time (between 1965 and 1977), the Ben Wyvis malt whisky distillery was located at the
same address. When they started out, Invergordon operated with just a single column still. Two more stills were added in 1963 and a another (much larger) one in 1978. This new, larger Coffey still
was used for the production of neutral spirit. I'm not sure if the output of that still is part of the annual capacity of circa 40 million litres I mentioned
earlier. The water required for the production is sourced from Loch Glass.
Although I have included the Loch Lomond distillery
in the overview of all Scotch malt whisky distilleries,
it's also a grain whisky distillery. In fact, the people
of Loch Lomond and the SWA (the Scotch Whisky
Association) are involved in a conflict about the
classification of Loch Lomond's whisky.
The conflict may seem a little odd, until you realise
that Loch Lomond is NOT a member of the SWA.
The lobby organisation has been on the war path
in recent years in order to bend the laws and
regulations in favour of their own members.
The SWA already managed to force the fancy
classification 'blended malt' into the dictionary
(despite strong opposition from 75% of the public),
but they were just warming up with that one.
The SWA came with another proposal that cynically redefines the 'single malt whisky' category.
As a lobby organisation, they try to bend the rules of tradition in favour of the large drinks corporations. The SWA tries to make the case that malt whisky has to be produced using a pot still - because that's what all their members are using. However, historically, malt whisky has been made in both pot stills and column stills. They even invented the name 'silent malts' for malt whiskies that were made in a column still. For SWA minions, lying is a way of life!
The crucial point here is that Loch Lomond produces some of their malts in column stills.
As I mentioned earlier, this practice doesn't make them unique; Glenburgie / Glencraig used this method of distillation for years. I'm not saying that Loch Lomond's malt whiskies are very good - many of them are actually on the 'Shit List' in the mAlmanac - but instead of letting the customers discover that for themselves the SWA wants to bully Loch Lomond from the single malt market. Not sportsmanlike... Anyway, when I write this latest update (the autumn of 2009) the issue has not been resolved yet, so we'll have to see how it develops. As far as I'm concerned: Loch Lomond should be allowed to keep making their (fairly crappy) malt whiskies as long as the SWA members are allowed to keep 'finishing' their whiskies - a practice that's much further away from what can be considered 'traditional'...
The North British distillery was founded in 1885. These days, ownership is shared between Diageo and the Edrington Group. The founders of the distillery in Edinburgh were a group of businessmen including Adrew Usher, who was one of the first whisky merchants to market a blended whisky. Operations started in 1887 and over the years North British grew into Scotland's second largest grain whisky distillery with a production capacity of circa 64,000,000 millions litres per year. The distillery used to be owned by the North British Distillery Co. Ltd., but in 1993 ownership passed to Lothian Distillers Ltd. This was a 50:50 joint venture between The Edrington Group and Grand Metropolitan plc (a predecessor of Diageo) in order to acquire the North British Distillery Company Limited.
The North British distillery produces the grain whisky for many different blends, including Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark,
Famous Grouse, J&B and Lang's. North British also produces other spirits like gin and vodka, and in 1916 the distillery
was converted so it would be able to produce acetone from maize. However, North British never actually produced any
acetone - possibly due to the developments during WWI. In 1948 North British was the first distillery in Scotland to use a Saladin Box
for malting its barley. Many malt whisky distilleries would follow circa two decades later.
The Port Dundas distillery in Glasgow is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland - but it looks like
Diageo will close it shortly before the distillery celebrates its 200th birthday. In 1811 the first Port
Dundas distillery was founded by Daniel McFarlane, while another distillery with the same name
was founded at the same location in 1813 by Brown, Gourlie & Co. There were close ties between
both distilleries from the start and in 1845 column stills were installed at both distilleries for the
production of grain whisky. In the 1860's or 1870's both distilleries merged and they joined the
Distiller Company Ltd. (DCL) in 1877. Next to the whisky distillery lies the Dundashill Cooperage
(currently owned by Diageo) that has been producing hogsheads since 1770.
The distillery buildings were severely damaged in 1903 by a fire. By 1913 the distillery was rebuilt
and reopened, but in 1916 there was another big fire - which was sort of an occupational hazard
in the whisky world in the past. Port Dundas was closed during World War II. From 1966 on the
Port Dundas distillery was operated by Scottish Grain Distillers Ltd. who also decided to start
a renovation of the Port Dundas distillery at that time. Further modernisation occurred during the
1970s, when a new grain intake, a new boiler house, a new spirit store and a new still house
were added. The owners also included a dark grains plant. These days the grain whisky distillery
has a production capacity of 39,000,000 litres of spirit each year. Port Dundas produces grain
whisky for a large number of different blends, including Bell's, Black & White, Haig, J&B, Johnnie
Walker, Vat 69 and White Horse. If Diageo's plans are executed the production of the ingredients
for these blends will move to the Cameronbridge and North British distilleries.
Confusingly enough, the Strathclyde distillery is located on Moffat Street in Glasgow - unlike the 'Moffat' distillery in
Airdrie. The Strathclyde distillery was founded in 1927 by Seager Evans. That company was founded in 1805 by James Lys Seager and William Evans and owned the Millbank gin distillery in London. When they built Strathclyde they also
founded Long John International Ltd. - a subsidiary for their Scotch whisky adventures. Just like most other grain
whisky distilleries, Strathclyde is located in the Lowlands; the water source is Loch Katrine. Three decades after the distillery was founded (in 1957) the owners also built the Kinclaith malt whisky distillery within the Strathclyde plant. In
1975 Kinclaith was closed to make room for more grain whisky production and Long John International became part of
Whitbread, currently the UK's largest hotel and restaurant company. Ownership of Strathclyde was first transferred to Allied and later (on July 26th 2005, to be precise) the grain whisky distillery became part of Pernod Ricard.
Strathclyde produces circa 40 million litres each year.
Is that all? No, it isn't!
This page focuses on Scotch grain whisky distilleries. The rest of the 'distillery data' section looks at malt whisky
distilleries, but single malt Scotch whisky is just a small portion of all the whisky that is consumed around the world. You can find more information about other types of whisky in the Deviant Drams section of Malt Madness. More specifically, blended whisky, grain whisky, vatted malt whisky (a.k.a. 'blended malt whisky') and 'bastard malt whisky' is reviewed, as well as 'world whiskies' from countries like Ireland, Japan, India, Taiwan, Canada and the US.
In the Deviant Drams section you can also find tasting notes for these whisky categories...
These silent grain whisky distilleries are not shown on the
interactive distillery map - but the active ones ARE, as
well as all malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, of course.
There's just one more comment I'd like to share...
The odd one out in this list is the Loch Lomond distillery
which also has the equipment to qualify as a malt whisky
distillery. This used to be the case with the Ben Nevis and
Lochside malt whisky distilleries as well, but in both cases
their column stills were removed again at some point.
As far as I know Ben Nevis is still making malt whisky, but
Lochside's pot stills fell silent just like their column stills.
If you'd like to learn more about pot stills and how they
are used to produce malt whisky, I suggest you check out
the Beginner's Guide to single malt Scotch whisky. There
you can find ten chapters filled with all you'd ever wanted
to know about the production of malt whisky.
As far as grain whisky is concerned, here's more info on:
In fact, the number of grain whisky distilleries has declined
considerably over the last decades. At the moment, these are
the only seven operating grain whisky distilleries I know of;
Grain whisky distilleries
were never as numerous as malt whisky
distilleries, because it's always been very easy to scale up the
production considerably. Unlike the malt whisky distilleries that
still work in a 'batch process' with their pot stills, it's not always
necessary to build another grain distillery (or add more stills) if
you want to increase production of grain whisky.
Cameronbridge is Scotland's oldest and largest grain whisky
distillery. In fact, it's Scotland's largest distillery - with a full
capacity of circa 100,000,000 litres of alcohol per year. It was
founded in 1824 as Cameron Bridge (two words). MORE >>>
Girvan distillery was built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons.
It is the home of the 'Blackbarrel' single grain whisky. It is
the youngest proper grain whisky distillery in Scotland; Loch
Lomond distillery is younger, but, eh, unproper. MORE >>>
Strathclyde grain whisky distillery (on Moffat
Street, Glasgow) was founded in 1927 by gin
producers Seager Evans, who also founded
Long John International Ltd. The buildings
housed the Kinclaith distillery. MORE >>>
North British is the second largest grain whisky distillery
in Scotland. The distillery
was founded in 1885 or 1887. North British also produces other spirits like gin, vodka
and (since 1916) eh... acetone. MORE >>>
Loch Lomond distillery is an odd one out
in this list; they produce both malt and grain
whisky in their weirdly shaped stills. The Loch Lomond distillery (founded 1966) and
the Scotch Whisky Association) are involved in an ongoing conflict about the proper
classification of Loch Lomond's malt and grain whiskies. MORE >>>
Invergordon grain whisky distillery was built around 1960.
Invergordon distillery was part of a new generation of grain whisky factories, and it is
also the only Scotch grain whisky distillery that is NOT located in or near the Lowlands.
It's located in the Northern Highlands and owned by Whyte & Mackay. MORE >>>
Apart from the active grain whisky distilleries mentioned above, there have been other grain whisky
distilleries in the past as well. Click here if you want to read more about some of the active distilleries
in Scotland; I'll take a look at some 'silent' Scotch grain whisky distilleries in the next few paragraphs.
The number of grain whisky distilleries has been declining over the last few decades, despite the fact
that the sales and production of blended Scotch whisky have been growing steadily.
distillery was apparently active between 1957 and 1980 and used the name 'North of Scotland'.
It was founded by George Christie on a site that used to be a brewery, not far away from Cambus. There have been some experiments with the production of malt whisky, but to no avail - the buildings were demolished in 1993.
The Moffat grain distillery was part of the Moffat complex in Airdrie, East of Glasgow. Built as recently as 1965, it was home to the stills that produced the "Gairnheath" grain whisky. I've tried a magnificent specimen of that whisky from Olivier Humbrecht's cellars. Moffat also produced the rare and expensive Glen Flagler and Killyloch malt whiskies.
grain whisky distillery was located west of Edinburgh,
north of Edrington's... eh... North British distillery which is located a little
to the south. Both distilleries are located on the imaginary line between
Glenkinchie and Saint Magdalene. Caledonian was closed by UDV in 1988.
The Cambus distillery was founded near Stirling in 1836 by John Mowbray.
Just like two other grain whisky distilleries, it was located not far from the
Deanston malt whisky distillery in the Midlands. Its owners UDV decided
to close Cambus in 1993 (after closing Caledonian five years earlier).
grain distillery was also located in the vicinity of the
Deanston distillery. It was closed in 1983 and demolished in the 1990's.
The single grain whisky that was distilled there was of a high quality.
There have actually been two distilleries with the name Dumbarton
- both located in the town of Dumbarton.
The village lies on the confluence of the River Leven and the Clyde, west from Glasgow. One of the two distilleries was a long gone malt whisky distillery in the Lowlands that was founded in 1817, the other was a grain whisky distillery. The latter distillery was opened in 1938 by the famous whisky entrepreneur Hiram Walker.
Is the distillery or