Glen Mhor Distillery Tour August 1971


One of the most intriguing aspects of conducting research on Glen Mhor is the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the distillery's history. My thought process often begins with a simple question: "Where will you take me today?" This question, which I have come to expect when embarking on more research at the distillery, throws out the most unexpected destinations.

Recently, I have had the privilege of corresponding with Gladys, the daughter of Glen Mhor foreman Alexander Campbell, who has previously helped me name some of the individuals in the 1939 Distillery workers photograph. Through her efforts, we have been able to uncover a family trove of historical images and personal recollections that we are excited to share with you.

In the coming weeks, I will be examining each of her findings in detail, thereby adding further information to our knowledge of the distillery and the individuals who previously worked there. Readers are encouraged to consult the Glen Mhor Timeline, which offers a comprehensive overview of the distillery's history and is becoming more interactive with various links. 

As previously documented in 1971, Glen Mhor was offering distillery tours, a fact that was mentioned in this Chicago Tribune newspaper article. This represented a brief window of opportunity to further our research, depending on any tour restrictions around photographs. It is likely that D.C.L. ceased this practice when they acquired Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn in late 1972, or shortly afterwards. 

I asked Gladys what she knew about the distillery tours and her father's involvement, and she recalled:

'If a tourist liked to see round the distillery, they would go to the office and they generally asked for my dad, and he would give a detailed tour and they would leave happy.'

It was my hope that this brief excursion into the world of distillery tours would yield some insights into the early history of Glen Mhor, which has become a visiting option in the industry to this day. I had expected that images of the Italian salesmen's visit in January 1971 may be unearthed somewhere in Italy. However, the discovery of a typed letter in the Gladys family archive represents a most remarkable and unexpected find, as we embark on our journey in the opposite direction, across the Atlantic Ocean to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The transcript of the letter is as follows:

'McKinlay Burnie Distillery




Last August while on holiday my brother-in-law and I were given a tour through your distillery but the gentleman pictured on the enclosed photograph. Would be so kind as to forward the picture on to him. I took several more photographs in the distillery, however feel that this one would be appreciated most by the gentleman who acted as our guide.

The tour was most interesting and so detailed that I feel as though I could even make "the stuff" myself.

On my return to the States I learned from good friend Roy Munro that he once lived down the street from your distillery and that his mother still lives there. In fact she came to the States for a visit just a week after our return.

Once again, many thanks.

Best regards,

Lt. James B. McMullin

Lancaster City Police

P.S. Could you please furnish me with any of the brand names under which your liquor is bottled. Maybe we could be some here in the States.'

The letter is remarkable for its content and its provenance, having been located within the Campbell family files. It is notable that the letter and a remarkable photograph, which we will discuss in a moment, have survived intact. My initial reaction is if James is still alive or if a relative of his has access to the other images? After all, I presume his brother-in-law took the one image we have.

James' interest in an unsolved case was noted as recently as 2007 by Lancaster Online as a retired policeman with an interest around a murder during the Prohibition era. I hope that through time we might be able to location these missing images of the distillery and any associated memories.

It is also of interest to note that photography was permitted during the tour. This is a promising sign. At the time of his visit in 1971, it may have been towards the end of the silent season at the distillery. However, it is encouraging to know that photography was permitted in some form, which could lead to the discovery of further remarkable finds. Let's reveal the original image with slight enhancement and cropping, drumroll please...

The photograph marks another milestone in the Glen Mhor research as it is the first colour photograph of the stills that I have discovered, a glimpse inside that Alan Winchester was also excited about:

'Great photograph, also contents of the stills can be made out.

The charge pipes of both stills go into the pot the furnaces have gone and a very clean stillhouse.

Both pots are straight sides, so the cone shape of the direct fire has gone, and they have increased the capacity of the stills as a result have been increased, I cannot make out if they have the third still.'

I also utilised various artificial intelligence tools to enhance the image, which does have its current limitations when it comes to individuals included and the writing. But it can bring a touch of zing to formerly darkened areas.

The window of opportunity for distillery tours was very small indeed, so it is a pleasure to have this brief moment. If there are any relatives of Lt. James B. McMullin reading this who have a box of old photographs from his trip to Scotland, please get in touch. Soon D.C.L. would purchase the distillery and the tours would become a thing of the past and a decade later Glen Mhor would close for good. 

However, I'm all for living in the moment and we have a great tale and image that's never been seen outside of a family home. That's cause for celebration and also further examination of the photograph itself. We're able to zoom in using the original image to ascertain some details caught by chance and dispatched to Alan for further analysis and thoughts...

'The still pots have been replaced with a straight sided pot, which gives more capacity, though the steam elements occupy part of the capacity, Wash still is marked at 5,000 gallons and Low wines and feints at 3500 gallons, interesting to note M code being used on the equipment identification. The steam conversion makes the stillhouse very clean.'

The time-charged blackboard, which may be considered the closest approximation to a Glen Mhor computer between the two men, is visible. As Alan mentions, to the left, the Low Wines Still contains 3500 units, while to the right, the Wash Still contains 5300 units.

We are now about to revisit the somewhat murky world of the Glen Mhor stills. It is known that the original Low Wines Still (LWS1) was replaced at some point after the introduction of the third still (LWS2) in 1925. This still isn't featured in the image above and we can clearly see there is no space to the right of the Wash Still, as there are two walls on both of its sides. Meaning if the LWS1 was still on site at this time (and there's no evidence so far to suggest it wasn't), it will be positioned to the left of the LWS2.

Okay, hold on...

My research via the distillery logbook indicates that in 1938, the decommissioned LWS1 was idle and had been for sometime, prior to the new manager's request for assessment of its operational status. This would have been James Ritchie, who was appointed sometime after the passing of Robert Robertson in October 1937. His former role was head brewer, so he would have been well versed in each of the Glen Mhor stills and had joined the distillery in 1930. Even so, I believe he may never have had the experience of running the original LWS himself and wondered about its status.

It was subsequently recommissioned in part following the 26th January 1938 request above. However this doesn't seem to have been a huge success or reliable alternative, as it's mentioned in 29th June 1939 that it has been 'a still seldom in use' when discussing issues around the LWS2, which has been the subject of an emergency repair in November the prior year - and a prior flurry of logbook entries shows repair work on its successor taking place. Another entry from January 1938 shows a leakage in the LWS2 area causing another delay. 

The aforementioned June entry also confirms the plan to remove syphon and air pipe from the LWS1 discharge, effectively decommissioning the original still once and for all - unless additional work was undertaken at a later date, which we know from the distillery logbook was not mentioned during its lifespan as the pages ran until 1967. Although entries were very sporadic towards the end. 

A review of the logbook entries from 1937-1939 reveals a clear trend of regular repairs and maintenance required for the LWS2, as well as for its surrounding infrastructure. Potentially this trend reached a critical point during the silent season in 1939, when the decision was made to cannibalise parts and piping from the LSW1 in order to ensure the continued operation of the LSW2. Low wine stills are typically smaller than wash stills and frequently bear the brunt of the intensive effort required for distillation. However, the LWS2 would have only had 15 years of service by this time. There is also the factor of war restrictions potentially resulting in raw materials for such repairs becoming delayed or impossible to obtain.   

In hindsight ,this erosion might seem like a quick depreciation, but we've discussed this aspect previously and Alan felt it was very much in keeping with the type of still, the directed fired approach and the possibility of a rummager being in use:

'The most corrosive parts of the stills is in the Low wines phase, i.e. the wash still head and the pot of the low wines and feints wear out quicker than the other parts, this would be quite normal wear, in the time period.' 

Additionally, there is the enigma of the unit measurements observed on the chalkboard in comparison to previous images of the stills. It is possible that the unit of measurement in question originally was gallons, and that the unit of measurement may have changed over the course of the distillery's lifespan. This provides a plausible explanation for the differing capacities of the individual stills. However, Alan also mentioned above that the pot stills have lost their distinctive 'pot belly' silhouette and have become a more rectangular shape. No record of this change exists, but it is known that steam heating was introduced in 1963. Could this be the point at which the still bellies were changed and capacities altered? Alan, explained further:

'Yes, when the new distilleries and conversions were being made in 1960s' if the flue sheets i.e the pot that sat on the fire were worn, this was a trick to expand capacity, these style of pots where some steam distilleries kept their fire bottoms if they were not worn. The Dalmunach pot stills are Imperial heads with this style of bottom.

On flavour, it was felt the head being original, which was where the vapour was collected, the impact was negligible, however it can be an interesting argument, pre and post steam would be an interesting comparison.

The codes the distilleries used are a mystery to me, and I have tried to find out, I asked old Customs & Excise Officers, what is fascinating looking at the old cask stencils and Distillery photographs. Here's a few ideas were the codes:

For the Inland Revenue collections, are they a simple mark?

Glen Albyn is G as is Glenfidich

Glen Mhor is M as is Glenmorangie

The M maybe =  Mhor or McKinlays.

I have collected them over the years and Ireland used them, a few other distilleries have other shapes notably Dalmore. At Glenfarclas in 1975 the vessels were all marked with the name of the article of equipment, with the capital A, included. All the original Dufftown distilleries have different codes. Largely dropped now.'

As noted, we can tell that the Wash Still is in the corner of the Stillroom itself. There's an interesting validation we can do here by jumping back in time to 1898 and the plans that were submitted for a series of alterations. These are quite infamous, or at least in my warped mind they are, because they outlined the ambition of the owners for their distillery and they were put on hold given the collapse in demand for scotch at the end of the 1800s. 

What would have been a series of upgrades instead were delivered after consumer confidence returned and I believe were drip fed over a couple of decades, whereas previous thought believe they all arrived in 1925. I don't think that's entirely true, however the above 1898 plans show us to a certain extent what Glen Mhor was to become over time and because permission was granted, the plans (complete or partially) were never resubmitted. 

This template shows us the still room with a new proposed still in place, beyond the 2 existing stills, with first circle being the brewing copper as identified by Alan back in 2022. There is documented evidence that the new mash tun was installed prior to the First World War, which is almost a decade earlier than believed. That would suggest an increased capacity that would be ricochet across the production facilities, calling upon additional washbacks and a new larger spirit still. This would be inserted where the original wash still located, which in turn would move north, into the corner of the room. Unable to move beyond the partition wall as beyond was the spirit store, which was extended in size in 1946.

Sending the scrubbed up image to Alan, prompted a second look in a new light and more observations were noted:

'I was looking at the photograph again, looking at it closely, I note the steam manifold between the two stills forming a centralised manual control, interesting the steam entry goes in on the shoulders, that was common when the fire places were left in situ, so I wonder why they took steam in through the shoulders on a modified still bottom?  

The boiler would probably have needed to be enlarged, as the original distillery was using a copper probably direct fired, normally the boiler for a steam distillery was put in beside the stills or a new boiler was put in a new boiler house, I think I may have seen a boiler house in later plans.  

They will soon be owned by DCL as you correctly say visitors would not be encouraged.

Funny how you notice different things, would have loved to see the other photographs the visitor says he took.'

I'd also recommend this article we published in 2023, where Alan re-examined the Glen Mhor stills based on what we had found. Based on this new image, it seems that there may be more information out there. We just have to be patient and keep digging. I hope someone has grabbed the Glen Mhor computer, and if you have, please get in touch, or any distillery photographs, expect the unexpected...

I would like to express my gratitude once more to Alan for his invaluable contribution and to Gladys for allowing us to access her family memories.