Barnard arrived here after another jaunt by dog-cart from Craigellachie Junction via Aberlour, delighted to gain an elevation that allows the beauties of the Spey valley to be appreciated while at the same time bemoaning the exchange of this view for “the mighty hills, with their apparel of gloom and shade”, although also noting that these changes and contrasts in the Highland scenery are very exciting. The distillery location he describes as “no more weird or desolate [a] place could be chosen” but he also has it placed at 1,030 feet above sea level, over 330 feet (110m) higher than it actually is.
|Benrinnes from the north|
I have mentioned before the importance of Ben Rinnes as a watershed and water supply to the surrounding distilleries, and Barnard notes the reason for the siting of the distillery here as being “on account of the water, which rises from springs on the summit of the mountain, and can be seen on a clear day some miles distant, sparkling over the prominent rocks on its downwards course…”. The picture here shows the feature on Ben Rinnes known as Scurran of Well, where the waters near the summit converge and pour down the cleft in the steep face.
|Scurran of Well on Ben Rinnes|
The second Benrinnes distillery was built in 1834/35 and was originally called Lyne of Ruthrie until its name was changed in 1838 (Udo, 2005). It sits on a slope away from the course of the Rowantree Burn that takes the main water flow from the cliffs above, reducing the risk of a repeat of the experiences of that earlier fateful night. The Rowantree Burn and the Scurran Burn to the north of it still supply the water used at the distillery.
In my Aberlour Distillery post, where I queried the location of the earlier Aberlour distillery, I mentioned the parish report dated July 1836 in the Second Statistical Account of Scotland. It mentions one distillery “on a large scale…situated at Aberlour” but makes no mention of Benrinnes Distillery. Perhaps this part of the account was written just before the distillery reopened in 1835 and the full report wasn’t completed and published until the following year?
The distillery owner when Barnard visited was David Edward who had taken over in 1864. On his arrival Barnard records an adjournment to the office for “a little of the Benrinnes Malt Extract to remove the dust from our throats after our long drive in the sun”. Malt Extract, huh? That sounds suspiciously like a wee dram Alfred, don’t try to kid on it was a drink like Bovril! (I’m just popping out for a wee malt extract dear, back in an hour. Hmmm?)
The distillery had been continually enlarged since it was built and at the time of his visit they were rebuilding the malt barns “on a modern scale”. At the end of his report he notes that the high elevation of the distillery on the mountainside allows malting to take place during the summer as well as winter. The kiln was also new, “a lofty elevation in the form of a tower”!?, and heated by peat dug locally; the malt is now unpeated. The floor maltings were closed in 1964 and replaced with Saladin box maltings which operated for the next 20 years until they were closed in 1984 (MWYB 2011).
|Benrinnes malt store with old Saladin Maltings behind|
Barnard recorded two old pot stills of similar and relatively small size, the wash still at 4,910 litres and the Low-wines at 4,562 litres. He notes that “the Distiller believes in using only small stills to produce a rich thick whisky”. I will discuss the current stills a bit further down. There was a square concrete worm tank, situated close to the chimney behind the still house, and this has been replaced with two cast iron tanks used today, the tall red brick chimney still standing proud and a major landmark on the open slope below the hill.
|Benrinnes distillery in the middle of the Daugh of Ruthrie, looking through the pass called Glack Harness to Glen Rinnes and the evocatively named Thunderslap Hill beyond|
|Benrinnes Distillery buildings from 1955/56|
Following the rebuild there is not much left of the distillery that Barnard witnessed, and some of that had already been rebuilt after a still house fire in 1896. One building that does remain from early days is a rubble walled cask store that stands in stark contrast to the whitewashed concrete/plaster of the main buildings, and there are two distillery cottages from the 1890s standing nearby alongside a suspiciously old looking but nonetheless whitewashed office.
|Old cask store at Benrinnes|
Next up is one of the most historically important distilleries in