Glen Mhor Saladin Box A New System of Malting


One of the major aims of my Glen Mhor research was to put the mystery around the Saladin Boxes to bed, as publications quote various dates. There's also a Scotch mystery around who was first, and what form the Saladin maltings took. After a recent visit to Inverness and a few hours of Archive research, I'm delighted to say that we can now safely dispel the 1954 date once and for all. Instead, we know can conclusively state when the Saladin's were first installed at the distillery. An added bonus is the detailed information we now have regarding this decision thanks to a new discovery.

What my research revealed is a previously unseen leaflet on the introduction of the Saladin Boxes at Glen Mhor under this 'new system of malting'. It's typical of the self-published Birnie style of whisky statistics that we've seen previously. It is undated, but common sense would tell us that it was published shortly after the introduction of the Saladin boxes, which translates into late 1949, or early 1950.

The document itself is in fantastic condition, which given its age is remarkable. The paper was very thin and only a small staple had held all the pages together during its existence. Nothing substantial and easily thrown away once read. I can only presume given that the Archives have an official distillery logbook (a future article), that this was somehow included within such items. Either way, it is a wonderful find and as I've yet to see another example, possibly the only such example left in existence. 

Mackinlay & Birnie throughout their ownership embraced the possibilities of technology and used their experience of publicity (in a competitive blending market) to establish a name for themselves and their whiskies. In essence, the feel of this document is part informative, a touch showboating and importantly, also acts as a sales tool. Glen Mhor is becoming more efficient - we're open for the business of filling casks...

I'll transcribe the document below, and then afterwards, go into the details and revelations that it provides. But first and foremost, is the fact that Glen Mhor was the first malt distillery to introduce this technology in Scotland. North British was the first distillery as such. The text reveals that the grain distillery also provided assistance and expertise for Glen Mhor in this project. However, more of that later and as always our Distillery Info and Timeline pages have been accordingly updated.

Page 1

Mackinlay's & Birnie Ltd.

Proprietors of Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn Distilleries Inverness

New system of malting at Glen Mhor Distillery

At Glen Mhor Distillery the distillery plan could always use more malt than the malting floors could provide. Accordingly malt had to be brought in from Glen Albyn Distillery or from outside. But in a busy season Glen Albyn malting floors could hardly carry the extra burden thus laid upon them, so some years ago the Directors of the Company decided to increase the malting capacity of Glen Mhor and thus turn the whole plan there into a unit that would no longer be dependent on any outside source whatsoever.

The first idea was to double, or more than double, the Glen Mhor malting floor space by erecting a new Building alongside the old floors. Plans for the scheme had been prepared and licenses for the work had been granted. 

The idea was then conceived of installing a 'Saladin Plant' in the existing malt building at Glen Mhor. Experts were called in and they found the shape and size of the existing Building to be very adaptable to housing a small 'Saladin Plant'. All possible information was obtained about the 'Saladin' system of malting, not only from the Breweries in England, but also from the Continent. The Management of the North British Distillery Co. Ltd, who have such a Plant in operation on a very large scale, were extremely helpful and gave the Company much useful information.

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After very full consideration, and carefully taking into account the Capital cost, the Directors decided to go ahead with installing a small 'Saladin Plant' at Glen Mhor.

About the middle of June 1949, Glen Mhor finished off the last floor malt on the old system, and on the 17th October 1949, where the old floor existed, a Saladin Plant, capable of producing more than sufficient malt per week to satisfy the capacity of the Stills, was completed and the first Saladin Box, full of steeped barley, was being turned by the electrically driven Turners. Underground Screws for the purpose of conveying the Green Malt from the Saladin Boxes to the Kiln were also completed, while two new conical Steeps and the Thermostatic Control Unit were all in action. The Directors are proud of this achievement and it might be mentioned that the Capital cost, including the new Steeps and necessary alteration to the Kiln (more than trebling its capacity), is not by any means a large one.

Had a new additional Malting Building been erected, nine maltmen (including night shifts) would have been required for eight of nine months of the year - with the Saladin System only two or three maltmen will now be required, including night shifts, and as it does not entail a New Building, the Saladin Plant makes its own climate. During the hottest days of summer or the coldest days of winter the temperature and humidity in the hermetically sealed Saladin Room can be regulated as desired.

It is not the intention of the Company to dispense with any of its permanent labour, but in future, casual labour, so generally necessary at a Distillery, can be entirely dispensed with.

The Distilling Plant has not been tampered with in any way, so the character of Glen Mhor Whisky will not be changed. The output from the Stills will, of course, not be increased, the whole idea being to reduce cost and make Glen Mhor Distillery an independent unit.

A modern Dressing Plant with Band and other types of Conveyors has also been installed at Glen Mhor, where Barley can be received by Ship, Rail or Road, dressed and automatically conveyed to any part of the Grain Stores desired. If necessary, combine harvested or other types of Barley containing a high percentage of moisture can be automatically conveyed through the Dresser to the Kiln, dried and returned to the Granaries safe for storage. From any part of the Granaries, Barley can automatically be delivered into the two new Conical Steeps by the various types of Conveyors.

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When the Barley in the Steeps is considered sufficiently watered, it flows by gravity with the water into the respective Saladin Box for Malting - the water draining away through perforated floors. It might be added that owing to the 'Saladin' system being adopted the Glen Mhor grain storage capacity has been doubled without any extra building.

Glen Mhor is now a single independent Unit and possibly one of the most up-to-date Highland Malt Distilleries in Scotland, and certainly the only one now using the 'Saladin' system of Malting.  

Great credit is given to the Distillery men and all concerned for the amount of work they put in during the summer months, thus enabling the conversion to be achieved in such a short space of time. The engineers and Contractors for the installation are as follows:

SALADIN PLANT - Robert Boby Ltd,. Bury St Edmunds, England.

THERMOSTATIC CONTROL - Thermotank Ltd., Glasgow, under Robert Bobby Ltd.

DRESSING PLANT, CONVEYORS and CONICAL STEEPS - George Porteous & Sons (Leeds) Ltd., Leeds.

MASON WORK - H. MacVinish & Sons, Academy Street, Inverness.

ELECTRICAL WORK - J.T.L. Parkinson, Tomnahurich Street, Inverness.

PIPING FOR STEEPS - J.T.L. Parkinson, Tomnahurich Street, Inverness.

JOINER WORK - Fraser & Macdonald Ltd., Kenneth Street, Inverness.

ENGINEERING ADVISORS - Resistance Welders Ltd., Inverness.

On Friday, the 18th November the plant was officially opened, when the Chairman of the Company, Mr James Thompson, and other Directors, together with their Wives, visited Inverness. A small dinner party was given in the evening, when the Directors had the honour of having present the Member of Parliament for Inverness-shire and his Wife, Sir Murdoch and Lady Macdonald, together with the Provost of Inverness and his Wife, Mr and Mrs Grigor.

On Saturday evening, the 19th November, the Staff and their Friends were entertained to a  Dinner Party in the Cumming's Hotel. Mr William Birnie, the Managing Director, when he spoke, informed the gathering that it was a dual function, first to commemorate the opening of the Saladin Plant at Glen Mhor distillery, and secondly, to commemorate the centenary of Glen Albyn Distillery. A very happy evening ensued. 

There's quite a huge amount of information to digest in these 3 pages. 

Firstly, the insight into how Glen Mhor struggled to produce its own malted barley and had to rely on Glen Albyn across the road, which was a much larger distillery. A limitation in the original design, or the result of an initial budget constraint or production outlook? Potentially, this is why the suggested increase in still numbers first mentioned in 1898 by John Birnie was never fully realised. The once mysterious third still did arrive in 1925, which we've since identified, but never the pair of stills mooted. While prohibition, war and economic forces were at play during these years, perhaps it is something closer to home that stopped any further expansion? The malting floor clearly wasn't capable of coping with demand. 

This is the post-war boom period, so in essence, many distilleries were ramping up production. It does provide a new ingredient into the issue around capacity at Glen Mhor which I've debated in a recent article. Was this the fundamental reason why DCL couldn't increase production even further? Would they have looked off-site, or to Glen Albyn once again, to bypass the bottleneck of malting capacity at Glen Mhor?  

The fact that Glen Albyn was supporting Glen Mhor to such a degree, wouldn't have been lost on the distillery teams, who still had some internal rivalry albeit a healthy one. Mhor had the official single malt, Albyn was viewed more as blending material and was the older site. Yet here is a substantial investment in Mhor, not only from a malting capacity but everything around it; from the delivery and storage of barley to its movement across the site. These would represent the last major changes at the distillery before its closure in 1983.

Of interest, is just how close they were to a significant expansion of the malting floor capacity and the hiring of new staff via the more traditional approach of a new floor. What prompted this change to a Saladin system? As of yet, I don't have sight of the expansion plans. However, given just how successful my research has been in finding (coming soon) the original distillery plans and subsequent changes into the 1930s. The Inverness Guild would have given their approval of the plans before licenses to contractors were issued by the company. So, something to track down to complete this area of research.   

Considering the companies involved in the project. The Porteous firm is well known to whisky fans, whereas Robert Boby Ltd., who took the lead, are an unknown quantity until now. The firm is no longer in existence, but its records are noted to be held in Suffolk. I've made an approach to see if there are any surviving details about this 1949 Saladin Box commission and, hopefully, some measurements or drawings. Watch this space for further updates.

The distillery clearly kept local contractors to do much of the work. The Inverness firms themselves no longer exist based on further investigations. J.T.L was a retailer of electrical goods and were the agent for English Electric, with this photograph from Ambaile in 1953 showcasing their wares:

They seem to be the Inverness destination for household items and repairs of an electrical nature. Whereas Thermotank Limited, hailing from Govan, Glasgow, were more industrial in origin and had been in existence since 1900, before being wound up in 1990. The firm were engineers of cooling, ventilating and heating systems, so an ideal choice to work on such a project. 

And the leaflet underlines the strong connections the company and distillery had to the local council. With John Birnie once serving as Lord Provost, this would have guaranteed some access to the political establishment. And all those planning applications, needless to say, keeping good relationships with the local authorities made financial sense.

Then, there's the staff party to celebrate two milestones and the theme of valuing their full-time employees. The Cummings Hotel is located on Church Street, where it still stands today and is known as the King's Highway and is owned by J.D. Weatherspoon. The location is a 13-minute walk from the Glen Mhor site. A sufficient stroll after an evening of celebration. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a function room now, as it would make a memorable choice of a venue for a Glen Mhor tasting. 

After unearthing this find, I felt like having a celebration. We can now confidently state that on the 17th October 1949, the first malt distillery to use the Saladin Box malting method was Glen Mhor distillery.