Glen Mhor Mash Tun and Still Room 1938

I am frequently asked why Glen Mhor? While there is an answer to that question, I am also driven by the desire to uncover new history, solve puzzles and re-establish the distillery in today's realm with homage to the workforce. 

Another source of excitement is the unknown that awaits around every corner and the sensation of discovery when it presents itself. These moments of excitement never cease to amaze me and I am delighted to share another example with you today. 

Firstly, I extend my gratitude to Mark Davidson for these exceptional photographs. These images provide the most comprehensive view of the Glen Mhor Still room and Mash tun areas. They are also likely to be the best images for these rooms that we'll ever see.

Mark is a whisky enthusiast and keen learner who enjoys hunting for texts on the subject.  In the context of these two images, he struck gold by acquiring a set of random magazine advertisements. They both originate from the Licensed Houses and their Management published in 1938. And these are official photographs commissioned by Mackinlay and Birnie.

As regulars will note, the distillery owners were very fond of their facility. Often commissioning images that would be used to promote their whisky and also hang on the distillery office walls. Our photograph section offers several of these images that have endured and I am very fortunate to possess some of the original photographs themselves. 

Their existence demonstrates that there is much to discover and I believe more do exist. As we have previously observed with Glen Albyn, Mackinlay & Birnie employed these photographs to enhance the reputation of their distilleries by means of newspapers, the general public, and industry. As these were published in 1938, we can determine that it is the latest possible date, although based on the image quality and other indications (which I will elaborate on shortly), it is a possibility that these photographs were taken in the 1930s or the late 1920s, or is it?

It is known that the iconic Glen Mhor image featuring men outside the warehouses was commissioned in 1936. The task of identifying the individuals in the photo proves challenging. It is hard to believe that a professional photographer was hired solely to take one photograph during their time on site, but we also know that Mackinlay & Birnie utilised such services throughout the timeline of their distillery ownership. 

Showing these images to Alan Winchester, he was excited as I was by the prospect of such clear images and also highlighted the industry practice with old images:

'It maybe not that strange to see old images being recycled for years it still happens, in particular if there is nothing in the photograph to date them.' 

Let us recall a comparable viewpoint as depicted in the Distillers magazine image, dating back to 1898 and regarded as the best representation of the stillroom's vastness at that time.

As noted by Alan below, these images appear to be very similar and possibly even identical. It is a match that is worth considering. The extra layer of clarity provides us with a new appreciation. Additionally, I would like to draw attention to the clean and finished appearance of the back wall in both images, regardless of whether they were taken in 1898 or around 1938.  Then, skip to the James Eadie image where the back wall appears rougher and unfinished in contrast. You'd have expected the exact opposite to be true and the earlier images to show a more rugged and rustic environment. If the image from the 1920s was captured during the arrival of the third still, it is plausible that the back wall underwent refurbishment or removal as part of those renovations.

Alan's thoughts on this image are expertly detailed:

'The stillhouse appears to be nearly identical to the Distillers magazine, the detail is great, and it's clear the left hand still has a rummager shaft going into it, the Eadie photograph and William Birnie in front of the Low wines and feints still show the drive behind this still, so did the water wheel from the worm tub that drove the Wash still rummager remained in the same place, while the drive mechanism got extended to the "new Wash still", the Wash still in this picture appears to have the settling ball tidied to the upper railing, and appears smaller than the Low wines and feints still! In a Doig distillery the Low wines and feints still is 2/3rd the size of the Wash still, so a mystery, or is the perspective confusing me, no sign of the purifier return pipe.

Also, in the stills photograph you can clearly see the locked furnace door with an Excise lock, so the still is locked off.  The spent lees container which was featured in the log can be clearly seen.'

Moving onto Mark's other amazing find, a clear image of the Glen Mhor mash tun, this takes us into a rarely seen area of the distillery. Alan was equally excited by this discovery and the varying suggested sizes we've found (from various sources) with regards to the later mash tun at the distillery.

'The clarity is good and starting with the mash tun, Health and Safety would have something to say about all those belts, it certainly appears to be smaller than the one featured in the Rodney Burt images.

When William Birnie wrote his book, he quoted a 400-bushel unit = 400 x 19.05 = 7.62 tonnes, but was he using Glen Mhor as his example?'

Additionally, were taken during the off-season, despite the evident cleanliness and absence of productivity? The reason for this remains unclear.  Was this text written to showcase upgrades, new work, or to highlight the installation of a new mash tun, which was known to have been installed in 1925?

The original mash tun at Glen Mhor distillery could handle 1.61 tonnes, whereas its replacement is a much larger 10 tonnes, or 7.6 tonnes, depending on which source you believe. Regardless, it was a sizeable upgrade whatever the final size and was needed to cope with installation of a 3rd still and 2 new washbacks. My initial thought was this looks like a smaller mash tun overall, then there's the presence of a steel masher which we know was used with the original version and also fed back a pre-mash. 

We do have steel masher in the above image. As here's an example of the device kindly provided by Undertheinfluenceofbeer 


The Glen Mhor mash tun is a rare sight. Another photograph of it exists within Rodney Burtt's collection, possibly dating from the 1950s-1960s and featuring a slightly different angle.

Nevertheless, upon assessing the machinery and placement in both images, a similarity can be noted - specifically, the placement of the door in the background. The use of fanbelts persisted or remained as a historical relic in several rooms of the distillery. Both images also highlight the presence of a masher.

Alan's mention of health and safety and the belts is noteworthy. We have observed remnants of an obsolete method of device power supply left in situ, often dangling perilously and with no intention of being removed. Could they potentially serve as a back-up system in the event of a disaster? As awareness of health and safety grew, the reliance on such old features became less acceptable and removing them completely was seen as an unnecessary cost. This could suggest that the newly discovered mash tun image is much older than 1938.

While there are similarities, one can also observe that Rodney's mash tun appears to be significantly larger. There is a greater number of rakes, but even disregarding this, the circumference and scale appears more considerable. The men appear to be closer to the wall, emphasizing limited space and a prominent mash tun taking centre stage in the room. 

Consider the ridge visible near the top of the mash tun in Rodney's depiction, which is absent in the newly found image. The smaller vessel presents a more industrial and, indeed, Victorian character. Therefore, I conclude that the room appears to be a suitable match, and some of the equipment may be standard kit across various distilleries, indicating potential. Yet we are examining two vessels of different sizes, which suggests that the discovery of Mark's image could possibly relate back to the original mash tun at Glen Mhor. The mash tun was operational between 1894 and sometime in 1925.

Pure speculation on my part, but the original mash tun may have been photographed for posterity before its replacement if not captured in its infancy, whereas the still room image is more recent. We've seen this at Glen Mhor through the evocative photo of William Birnie standing on the old malting floors before they were replaced with Saladin boxes.

If asked to provide my final evaluation of these two images published in 1938 and discovered by Mark, I would state that they are from the original distillery and were captured between 1894 and 1898, to celebrate its completion and showcase Glen Mhor to a wider audience. 

Both the original mash tun and still room are presented with greater clarity than ever before and are welcome additions to the ongoing research and appreciation of Glen Mhor.

I can also speculate if Mackinlay & Birnie arranged an image of their mashtun, then it’s likely other areas and machinery at Glen Mhor was documented. We have a pattern of these images being used in 1898 for an industry publication, and again in 1938. Therefore it’s likely they may have been used elsewhere, and I also believe, featured in their self-published Pictures of Inverness, with a peep into Glen Mhor Distillery from 1897, which still evades me for now - who knows what is just around the corner?

I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported this research project. We have made significant progress in 2023, and I am optimistic about the prospects for 2024. 

On another note, this is my final article for the year and the podcasts will continue. I will be taking a brief break to spend time with my family and to prepare the recently acquired document collection. The wait will be worth it.