Glen Mhor Closure 1932


This report from the Aberdeen Press & Journal from 5th September 1932 has been very much lost to time and hasn't been generally recorded until now. So, I'm pleased to include it in each of the relevant distillery timelines. My thanks to the Forgotten Whisky History FB Group for highlighting this nugget from the past, that I've transcribed below:

'Seventy-eight north-east distilleries to close

Crushing weight of excise duty

Hundreds being thrown out of work

Stock now in hand worth millions

People's changing habits partly responsible

In Inverness-shire

Although the Inverness distilleries will not be affected to the same extent as those in the Speyside district, the Association's decision will nevertheless be felt in the capital of the Highlands.

The firm controlling the Glenmhor and the Glenalbyn distilleries, of which ex-Provost John Birnie is managing director, and the Millburn distillery, which is owned by Messers Booth's Distillery, Ltd, London, and of which Mr Kenneth Grant is the manager, will both be affected by the Assocation's decision.

Excessive Duty

Interviewed by a Press and Journal representative, Mr Kenneth Grant, the manager, said that the Millburn distillery would abide by the Association's ruling and not work during the present season.

A duty of 72s 6d per proof gallon is, of course, quite uneconomic and absurd, said Mr Grant, and although the Government has been repeatedly approached, they do not seem to be inclined to help one of the most important industries in the Highlands.

Mr Robert Robertson, secretary and manager of Glenmhor and Glenalbyn distilleries said: Formerly we employed as many as thirty men at peak times, but with the heavy duty this number has been gradually reduced until we have now only two men on the premises.'

So, distilling was stopped across much of Scotland due to the high price of materials. This short period of inactivity hasn't been reported as much and will be included in our timeline. It is good to see a quote from Robert Robertson, which underlines his position and not from either a Mackinlay or Birnie. 

This seasonal impact notes the varying employment at the distillery, with harvest time being a likely source of high employment as the malting floors at Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn were under strain. But the inactivity was thankfully a temporary pause, as this article from September 1933, confirming several distilleries were to return, including all three of the Invernessian distilleries after a year of inactivity.

I asked Alan Winchester for his insight on this fairly unknown period of inactivity, my thanks again for his perspective:

'Yes, the Malt Distillers Association asked their members to not distil in season 1932 to 1933, the distilleries until 1960's the distilling season was 1st October to 30th September, very confusing, though we have financial years.

This was probably the hand of the Distillers Company Ltd, influence as they had amalgamated a large number of distilleries and many were closed, some for ever and others for a number of years as they were trying to reduce the volume of malt whisky, as the prices had dropped, and in a falling consumption the spiral was considered out of control, as you can see duty and changing habits of taste are blamed.

So, in season 1932 to 1933, only 2 malt distilleries produced malt whisky, as they claimed they had orders they wanted to fulfil, but both distilleries were producing at low production.  As we can see the Inverness sites closed, ironically the war is not far away and that resulted in lack of stock.

Now an anomaly I often see claimed is that other distillers claim they produced in 1932 and 1933, but they were producing up to 30th September 1932 and after 1st of October 1933. As Birnie would probably have DCL customers and Johnnie Walker ownership, there would probably have been discussions and as Birnie with Glen Mhor was a member of the malt Distillers Association.

As you can see the only people retained were probably Warehouseman/coopers.'

The Press & Journal article reports that 37 distilleries will 'work this season' and included in the list are Glenmore (the usual typo), Glen Albyn and Millburn. 

The announcement would be greeted with joy from farmers across the Highlands. It goes onto state that in Elgin, 'the annual meeting of the Port Still Malt Distillers Association that, provided this seasons make of Scottish barley is kept within reasonable grounds, the quantity of barley that will be required could largely be got from home producers.'

We know from existing Glen Mhor documentation, it relied on a mix of Scottish and foreign barley to full fill its needs, but always had a preference for local produce. 

The article goes onto document the first Danish shipment of barley being landed at Lossiemouth for Speyside distilleries - in the region of 5000 tons. This was at a cost of 20 shillings (a pound prior to decimal currency) per quarter - roughly 448lbs and a measurement that's still used today. Whereas, local Scottish markets were charging 27 shillings and 6d for the same quantity. 

So, it is obvious why imports were popular, but the local farming community in the piece is only asking for a reasonable share. Especially as the previous season, with many distilleries falling quiet, their crops were not required for distilling.

This season of inactivity seems lost to many of the books that we rely on when it comes to whisky. There's more to be unearthed about the situation, resolution and the impact of such a pause. Something to explore at a later date.