February 1917 The Highland Railway Company
We're extremely fortunate to have been given a handful of original Highland Railway Company invoices, all from 1917, by the extremely generous Distillery View. These run in order from January to May, giving us a unique snapshot.
We've already digested January previously, so we're moving onto February for this article. What can we learn by comparing these months? Glen Mhor was due to become a US Navy military base later in 1917, so was it business or usual? Or moving out as much stock as possible?
It's also worth highlighting that as these invoices are from 1917, we know that this is before the acquisition of the nearby Glen Albyn distillery. So, everything relating to Inverness will only be for Glen Mhor. Ready? Then, let us begin.
There's a huge assortment of yeast arriving at Glen Mhor from a variety of sources. You have McEwans on Lothian Road in Edinburgh, which we've seen previously. Joining the list of yeast providers are further brewers in Rose Lane as the first entry of the month. Now, this is a mystery as Edinburgh does have Rose Street and Rose Street Lane. It could be that the 'Street' was dropped for the ledger, however, with no named supplier on the ledger, we're left to guess if this is even from Scotland's capital city. The Rose Street area of Edinburgh is well known for drinking spots to this day, but for yeast? It seems unlikely for now.
Remaining in yeast, we also have the appearance of Hamlyn of Liverpool Road, Salford. I need to research this more, I know Boddingtons during this era had taken over many breweries in the area, so that potentially remains a source of yeast. The firm did own a pub on Liverpool Road, a building known as Packet House - may be where all the packets of yeast were held? Mark this one up as to be explored.
What's clear from the invoice is the demand from blenders for Glen Mhor, which fits in with what we were told in the 1890s. Even during a new era of 1917, with war and economic times, whisky still flowed. The Walkers of Kilmarnock so far are a constant source of stock, so it's clear that Glen Mhor played a role in the success of the brand. The Walkers were a fussy sort when it came to sourcing whisky, so it is an endorsement of quality that their name appears on a regular basis. A shame Glen Mhor wasn't mentioned in the recent book or the other distilleries they were purchasing from; it'd be quite interesting to compare.
For February as a whole, the Walkers snapped up 40 butts and 110 hogsheads. And if you've followed our detailed timeline of the distillery, you'll know the Walkers took a 40% interest in Glen Albyn distillery in 1906, which was just over the road from Glen Mhor. Demand for Highland whisky remained strong throughout the existence of both with orders such as these filling seasons and allowing the Mackinlay's and Birnie's to plan each season in advance.
The coal source remains Bowhill, which was present on a 1916 invoice that we've previously analysed. As everyone understands more so in the modern age, any Fife involvement in whisky can only be a good thing. There's a fantastic resource on Bowhill online and it is amazing having walked the site several times myself (it's now a park and man-made loch) that 1600 people were employed underground. The coal from Glen Mhor would have come from shafts 1 and 2 in this era...
You can see both shafts in this photograph. There was a 3rd shaft later on, but it wasn't as successful. The pit is remembered for the 1931 disaster where several men lost their lives. Such were the dangers of mining and on this industrial scale. From the photograph above you can see that railway access was the main route to market.
Also appearing on the invoice are the co-owners, Mackinlay's of Leith, who with their own blending operation in Edinburgh, quite rightly took their share of Glen Mhor stock. Barley was taken from Nairn. We know from the official records that by 1917, the barley intake between Scotland vs Foreign was almost 50/50, but for the majority of those initial 3 decades since it opened, the emphasis was on domestic farms.
The overall cost for the month's rail shipments was £6615.80, which in today's money is an eye-watering £470,797.76. This underlines the cost of starting up a distillery and ensuring the flow of goods; no wonder so many closed their doors early on. And the benefits of having the financial backing of Mackinlay's.
In conclusion, this seems a busy month dominated by the co-owner requirements and those of the Walkers in Kilmarnock. Who clearly were the biggest customer of Glen Mhor based on what we've seen so far. Onwards to March 1917 in a future post.