Glen Mhor Log Book 28th August 1941
We know that Glen Mhor relied on filling orders for its casks. This trade continued throughout its lifetime until the D.C.L. takeover in 1972, when even casks to independent bottlers was encouraged. These firms had mostly replaced the more traditional Spirit and Wine merchants who would purchase a couple of casks to sell in their shop.
Such small traders dwindled and the practice of shipping casks across Scotland has mostly ended, and it is now illegal to ship casks outside of Scotland. Once you do, you've lost the ability to call it Scotch, as it must be matured only in Scotland. In 1941, this practice was still legal and merchants were able to offer customers bottles from casks that they have purchased and had on display. Thanks to newly available documents, we're able to see this trade ongoing into the 1950s with sales, such as a parcel of casks in 1955, to a Montrose bottler.
In this entry from 28th August 1941, we see that practice in action. It is remarkable that even during the height of the Second World War, casks were leaving Inverness and heading south. Across the UK, despite restrictions and worldly events. The whisky must get through...
'Customs & Excise
Glen Mhor Distillery
28th August 1941
I enclose application received from Messrs Mackinlay Birnie Ltd, Glen Mhor Distillery, Inverness, for repayment of duty £12.7.6 paid by them on 2.5 proof gallons of P.B. Spirits (age under 24yrs) special wt 1/29.3.41, lost in transit under bond to 1 whse (warehouse?) Reading, Berks.
Two casks were removed direct from Spirit Store here, on 22.2.41 consigned to Fergusons Reading (enclosure 1), and were received there on 20.3.41. On re-examination a chargeable deficiency was found of 2.5 proof gallons (enclosure 2).
After filling, and before delivery, from spirit store, the vacuity were 'topped up' and the casks left the distillery in sound condition.
The excessive time taken in transit of the goods from Inverness to Reading was owing to a snow storm (enclosure 5).
I am satisfied that the loss can be accounted for by the abnormal time taken transit (practically a month instead of a week) and to the fact that the casks were delivered full direct from the store.
I am honourable sirs,
Your obedient servant
G.W. Peterkin, officer
Glen Mhor Station
The Commissioners of Customs & Excise, London
In view of the excessive time taken in transit, of the weather conditions prevailing at the time, the loss of the 2.5 proof gallons B.P.S. is regarded as attributable to natural causes, the duty thereon is to be repaid. The number of this order is to be noted in the accounts affected by the repayment.
1.9.41 Secs Officer, 4.9.41'
There is some historical reference to a crippling snow storm that hit the north of England in February 1941 and also in the months prior. Ensuring that these two casks endured quite the trip. There would have also been (quite rightly) some concern about their fate as noted in Scotch Its History and Romance about World War 2 by Ross Wilson, published in 1973. Scotch was in great demand and increasingly valued by establishments and exporters.
A specific chapter on the War years sets the tone and difficulties facing everyone, with 1941, being a particular tough year:
'No tax increases were made on Scotch in the 1941 budget, but 1st March that year The Whisky Association² cut members' releases to the home market by 65 per cent of the 'normal' in a six-month period of 1939, the new percentage lasting only until the end of July. After that month a really savage cut was imposed which brought in yet another aspect the realities of total war. Beginning on 1 August 1941 and lasting until the end of 1946, releases from bond of brands of Scotch belonging to members of the Scotch Whisky Association, as it was by the later date, were cut to 50 per cent of the 'normal', the year ending with February 1940.'
Faced with these difficulties and the prospect of most restrictions and cutbacks, retailers who were able to, must have considered stockpiling what whisky they could find. This may have prompted others, including Ferguson's, to order from Glen Mhor and others. A parcel of 2 casks isn't huge compared to what we've seen elsewhere, but for this retailer it might have been double the normal quantity or a totally new distillery for its customers.
I believe the final destination of these casks would have been W.H. Ferguson, based in Reading and an importer of fine wines and spirits. The article from Berkshire History outlines the timeline for the retailer and features some classic images inside, where you can envisage whisky casks being available to bottle.
The timeline shows how long things took to correct. The casks themselves would have been checked upon arrival, going into bond, and subsequently, the retailer premises. Informing Mackinlay & Birnie of the transit loss, who would in turn request their refund from Customs & Excise. The loss coming either from a small leak, or possibly, the extreme weather conditions which would have affected the wood itself, as temperate changes can cause casks to constrict and expand, which is why warehouses like to be a consistent temperate. We're also able to visualise that even during the War years, cask transportation to the other end of the country was just a week.
Showing this entry to Alan Winchester, he reflected upon a bygone era and practices:
'The topping up of the newly filled casks say a day or two after being filled, was standard practice, when the casks were being dispatched. As the cask is assumed to be filled to the bung hole, with no vacuity.
The cask received at the Brewery Warehouse would be dipped and the strength checked. They seem happy that it was natural loss, ie in drink by wood, and not some pilfering.
Very common when many of the Brewers had their own wines and spirits divisions to supply their pubs. It was quite common for them to send their own empty casks many sherry for new fillings.
Some of them created their own brands. Some Brewers bought shares in Distilling companies. A list of the Glen Mhor customers filling lists, would be interesting.
An interesting insight on this largely forgotten important fillings.'
This is a fascinating and unexpected entry, which gives us the insight into the weather of 1941 and working under the restrictions of war.
¹The book is long out of print, but do shop around. I've included an Amazon commission link in case copies do appear once again.
²This is the forerunner to the Scotch Whisky Association, which came into existence during the war.
This Log Book comes from the Highland Archives Centre (HCA/D31/4/1/25) and is watermarked for its protection. As with any images on this website, please ask first before using and always give credit.