Glen Mhor Saladin Boxes

Now in our Quotes Section, we have a detailed outline of the Glen Mhor Saladin Boxes from  Rodney Burtt and taken from Gavin D. Smith's Stillhouse Stories and Tunroom Tales, 2013.

'The Saladin Boxes were introduced to Glen Mhor in 1949 and to Glen Albyn in 1961. The former distillery was one of first to have a box installed on a trial-run basis. A pair of these was operating in each distillery by 1962 and they provided to be invaluable until 1980 when production costs reached exorbitant heights against the economic returns of updated mechanical maltings. 

Each Saladin Box consisted of parallel, concrete walls, 60-feet long, 8-feet apart and 6-feet high. They were joined at each end by removable iron gates, and the metal plates covering the floor area were perforated. The twenty tons of barley remained in this box for ten days, during which time the corn adopted its essential change in enzymes from starch to malt. 

What happened visually was this. After six days, small rootlets formed at the end of each grain, where roots would normally have appeared underneath field soil. The sprouting end which would otherwise have produced the stem is called the acrospire. This should never develop as it would absorb valuable food and energy stored within the husk that we want for malt conversion. Therefore it was imperative that selected strains of barley were of the best nitrogen content. In other words, the distiller wanted more root energy rather than plant enhancement.

Above the iron gates, at the end of the box, spanned a solid girder-type bar which supported four massive wor, screws, vertically attached. The whole frame was electrically powered to travel on cogs along the toothed rails, which ran along the top of the sides of the boxes.

Every eight hours, when a box was full of corn (barley), the mechanism set off on its journey at the rate of one foot every twenty seconds. As the worm screws twisted round they lifted the barley from the bottom reversing the top surfaces. The was the modern aerating method of turning. The barley was maintained at the correct temperature of 62f (16 degrees) and moisture content of twenty-seven-and-a-half perfect was sustained by the turning process, together with jets of water. These sprayed on to the barley from behind the worm screws as they moved along.'

We haven't tackled the Saladin Boxes until now, because there are variations in the dates. Many sources quote 1954 as when this was installed, whereas Rodney gives the other date of 1949 that we've also seen mentioned. The mention of a trial basis perhaps gives us a clue - suggesting that the technology needed refinement before being rolled out across other potential suitors. Electrical motors weren't installed until 1954 on-site, which perhaps suggests the trial basis lasted from 1949-1954 with power being utilised from the grid beforehand? 

There's no reason to doubt the 1949 date, which would make Glen Mhor the first distillery, to use a Saladin Box. Tamdhu being 1950, which underlines it was around this time that some distilleries were looking at this technology. But I'd like to do more research on this. It underlines the constant theme of Mackinlay & Birnie trying new things to improve and keep costs under control. We also have some photographs of the Box which we'll be publishing this week as well.

As always, more research leads to the odd answer but more questions! What's for sure is that if you're having a Glen Mhor from the 1960s until 1980, then it will be thanks to the Saladin Box method. Our Distillery Info and Timeline sections have been updated accordingly.