Here we'll provide whatever documentation we find relating to Glen Mhor.
18th June 1894
Here we have an extremely important document for any distillery - the fire insurance protection. Distilling is littered with tales of distillery burning down, accidents and rebuilding. This danger continued into the next century, with Banff perhaps being the most famous exponent, but also more recently at Talisker in 1960, which is the latest and hopefully the last such event.
Brokered by the Glasgow office, for the sum of 13 shillings and 9 pence, in 2017 this is equivalent to around £57. What's interesting about this document are the dates. Spanning 18th June 1894 to 18th December 1894, it covers the initial 6 month period of its existence. The official date of Glen Mhor starting production is 8th December 1894, however, we know the distillery was advertising draff for sale as early as September 1894. So, it seems reasonable to expect that various trials were taking place prior to the official date. The document also suggests the erection of the distillery, which by June 1894 should have been well-formed.
Glen Mhor of course would have the modern invention of electrical lighting by 1896, so the risk of fire was minimised again. Fortunately, it never experienced a fire event of any kind that we know of.
My thanks to Distillery View for this document.
26th October 1894
A fascinating document from the beginnings of the distillery. This shows an order for wagons of peat and sleepers in the construction of Glen Mhor. Much of the distillery supplies and output would be transported by the canal, but for more local suppliers, couriers by horse and cart seemed to be in order.
28th December 1894
This particular invoice (a beautiful one at that) was found in a bunch of documents all for Glen Mhor (it is also noted to Inverness) and it's an order from Glenboig Union Fire Clay, Glasgow, and is signed by none other than Charles C. Doig.
The Glasgow firm was the maker of bricks, pipes and other materials for building. The invoice does include pipes amongst other things and a previous order from 23rd April 1894.
This period is when Glen Mhor was coming online and producing its new make spirit. It would make sense that Charles was onsite or visiting frequently to see the final preparations.
Our thanks to Distillery View for this important document.
Here's a great find thanks to Distillery View, which sheds some light on the yeast being utilised at Glen Mhor. This invoice confirms a series of orders for yeast from the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh, which only closed in 2004.
The link here would have been the Mackinlay's, with their blending operation being based in Leith, Edinburgh. They would have been aware of the Fountain Brewery and its wares. So, makes sense for their new Inverness distillery with input from John Birnie, to use a flavoursome yeast from a sizeable producer.
Potentially, as the ownership of the distillery continued until 1972 and Fountainbridge was in existence until recently, the yeast aspect of production remained unchanged.
Now, whether that yeast continued to be utilised throughout the existence of the distillery is another question. Also of interest would be what was Glen Albyn using around this time?
Delighted to be able to bring you the previously missing 1898 Trade Supplement that introduced Glen Mhor, a new distillery, to a wider audience. My thanks to Alan, for providing this wonderful account.
Here's the text from page 1 for your reading pleasure, including some additional notes:
'In the immediate vicinity of Inverness are many beautiful walks. Those who are well acquainted with them find it difficult to say which of the lot they prefer. That around and through the Islands, with a drink at the General's Well¹ - duly qualified with a drop of 'Glen Mhor' - is a favourite walk with many; but there is another, not so well known, yet in the main equally beautiful. This leads down the river side, past the nurseries once owned by the much-loved Howden Brothers², over the canal at Muirtown, and away round by Muirtown House, till Clachnaharry is reached; then by mounting the steep hill on the left, and walking 500 yards, there suddenly opens out a long vista of picturesque grandeur, hardly equalled in Scotland. No one can reach this vantage ground from Inverness without passing Glen Mhor Distillery. In a snug corner on the near side of the canal, close to Muirtown and the locks, the Distillery rests as if in a cosy nest, where rarely a cold wind can reach it.
Along Telford Road, leading to the Distillery, we have walked hundreds of times during the past five-and-twenty years, but never before have we seen it under such peculiar conditions as we beheld it the other day. No snow had fallen, yet the frost had been so intense for several days and the hoarfrost³ so dense for several nights, that everything on either hand appeared as if enveloped in a mantle of snow. The trees, with their rich tracery glittering like tiny diamonds in the morning sunshine, made in themselves a picture of rare beauty, while the shrubs and plants could not fail to draw attention of every passer-by, so richly laden were they with the glistening hoarfrost. And this scene of beauty led up on either hand almost to the entrance of Glen Mhor Distillery.
There the scene suddenly changed, and became one of bustle and activity. A dense steam rose forty feet into the freezing air, and the keen glow of the electric light⁴ was visible in various windows. Our early visit was to be accounted for in this wise. We wished to inspect this Highland home of pure malt whisky, to trace its manufacture through the various processes, and to note all the latest economical improvements. In order to do this effectively we were fully aware that it would have to be judicious to have the personal guidance of Mr Birnie, one of the proprietors, and an obliging and genial gentleman to boot. Later in the day we might not find him at the Distillery, his multfarious duties taking him daily to other places.
Mr Birnie is a practical distiller of nearly twenty-five years' standing, and therefore highly qualified not only to show the workings of his own distillery, but to give much information and many valuable hints as to the practices of the trade and upon distilling in general.
The Distillery, as we have indicated, is on the north side of the River Ness and south side of the Caledonian Canal, close by the side of which it stands, a single mile from the town. It is also close proximity to the...'
¹ General's Well is named after General MacIntyre who lived Bught House nearby, he used to drink from the well every day, believing it had health properties.
² Howden's is still in business today, founded in 1801, the nurseries at Muirtown provided seeds and plants for generations. At one time a shop was on Telford Street but now it is located in Stoneyfield.
Here's the text from page 2 for your reading pleasure, including some additional notes:
'Highland Railway loops¹, which bring wagons within a few yards of the distillery. For the purpose of shipping on the canal, the situation of the Distillery is extremely handy, and must save annually a large amount of extra outlay in the ready shipment of whisky and the delivery of the raw material. Ships from the east coast with barley and peats, and those from the west through the canal, are unloaded at the doors of the maltings and stores. Another means of transit will shortly be available as the new railway to Fort William will run within 50 years of the Distillery. The unloading of grain from the ships is a process surprising in its simplicity and very economical in the saving of time. So rapidly can the bags be received and emptied that even one of the largest vessels, with two steam derricks working simultaneously unloading from the double hatches, was unable to inconvenience the Distillery people in the least, the bags being all received as rapidly as they arrived. This is the result, of course, of careful management and of complete arrangements for rapid delivery. The machinery for the same is controlled by friction wheels, which regulate the pace and delivery to a nicety, and work as smoothly as could be wished.
The Distillery consists primarily of three extensive blocks erected in the form of a triangle², the right wing containing large malt barns, the kiln and granary, the latter of which abuts on the canal and thus secures the easy facility for the discharge of grain of which we have already spoken. The left wing is apportioned to the mashing department, fermenting-room, and still-house, the whole being fronted by malt stores, distillery and Excise offices and private rooms for partners. The buildings, although not strikingly decorative, are nevertheless compactly constructed and carefully arranged for the efficient carrying on of the work. The motive power is entirely obtained from a powerful turbine wheel, by Nells of London, driven by water from the canal, from which a headway of over thirty feet has been obtained. After passing the wheel the water is returned to the canal at a lower level. So abundant is the turbine power that it is also utilised to generate electricity, the entire Distillery being copiously illumined by the electrical light. Mr Birnie takes considerable pride in the installation thereof, and well he may, for everything connected with the electrical lighting, from the dynamo to the storage vessels, is beautiful compact, and so carefully arranged that its inspection affords quite a please to all who view it.
The water used in the manufacture of Glen Mhor whisky is derived from the source of Loch Ness, gathered from the watershed of the Great Glen, and understood to be the softest water in Scotland³.
To make good whisky the water must be soft, as the peculiar qualities of the far-farmed Highland whiskies are due alike to the quality of the water and the flavour of the peat-dried malt. The copper in which the mashing water is heated, is a very fine vessel, capable of holding 3000 gallons. The mash-house is a handsome, lofty building, with a concrete floor. There all the machinery and utensils are of the most improved and reliable kind. The tun is capable of mashing 250 bushels☻, and is commanded by a Steel's mashing machine☺, an ingenious...'
¹ there was a railway line at Muirtown Basin (1877-1969) with a single siding to serve Glen Albyn and the southern end of the basin. The branch was intended to carry passengers from the steamers on the canal into town but was never opened. Source: Rail Scot.
² You can get a sense of the layout from the US Navy plans, drawn up in 1918.
³ all the water in mainland Scotland is technically soft, is/was Loch Ness the softest? It all sounds good and was the same line being used by Angus Mackay, head brewer at Glen Mhor in 1975. The article is in our Newspaper section where he states 'we don't use ordinary water. We use the pure water of Loch Ness which has alot of seepage from the rocks and peat.'
☻ 250 bushels, depends on the type of grain and therefore its weight, but roughly 250 bushels is equal to 1.61 tonnes. To give you some modern perspective, the mashtun at Edradour is 1.16 tonnes.
☺ Steel's masher was designed and patented in 1853, invented by James Steel from Glasgow. In essence, it allows the control of flow into the mashtun, helping the mix and optimises temperature control.
This Street Directory from 1899, which lists the following people at the distillery, including the Mr Robertson, who would be the distillery manager for an amazing 43 years in total:Mackinlays & Birnie, Ltd., Glen-Mhor Distillery —
John B. James, excise officer
Robert Robertson, brewer, Glen Mhor cottage
Alex Fraser, maltman, do.
John Campbell, maltman, do.
In this year, Shackelton placed an order for 25 cases of whisky for his expedition, distilled in the 1890s. Famously, these were found at the turn of the millennium and 3 bottles extracted for scientific analysis. This PDF is an 11-page document of that examination, published in 2011, it is available to read or download here.
'While Scotch malt whisky at the end of the 19th century was generally regarded as heavily peated and harsh in character, Charles Mackinlay & Co. Distillers were producing a malt whisky with an altogether more subtle character at their Glen Mhor distillery near Inverness. The sensory and chemical analysis of this unique whisky artefact significantly changes our understanding of the quality and character of Scotch malt whisky produced by our distilling forefathers.'
'Historical records show that Mackinlay’s produced their malt whisky at the Glen Mhor distillery, Inverness, describing it as “light and silent enough for consumption as a single whisky”. The distillery had opened in 1892 and so the matured Mackinlay whisky was new to the market when Sir Ernest Shackleton ordered 25 cases of it for the expedition of 1907. Documentary evidence shows that the Glen Mhor distillery had a modern infra-structure, taking its water from Loch Ness and using mainly locally grown barley that was malted on-site and then dried with Orcadian peat, shipped to Inverness from the Isle of Eday.'
'All three samples were similar, exhibiting a balance of peaty, mature woody, sweet, dried fruit and spicy aromas. The peat levels did not dominate, while the mature flavours were consistent with maturation in sherry or wine casks. Low levels of both fresh fruit and green/ grassy characteristics, and immature aromas such as feinty and sulphury were present. With no off-notes, the whisky did not exhibit any aromas not found in a modern whisky.'
'The major volatile congener data suggested that the ‘Mackinlay’ was a malt whisky, rather than one blended with grain whisky.'
'the Mackinlay whisky is very similar to whisky currently produced using Orkney peat, confirming the historical records that peat was sourced from the Isle of Eday.'
'Analysis of the major volatile congeners, maturation related congeners, phenols and sugars revealed a very complex, lightly-peated spirit matured for 5–10 years in ‘first-fill’ American white oak sherry casks.'
'The results presented here significantly change our perception of the quality and character of Scotch malt whisky produced over 100 years ago. Malt whisky from this period was generally regarded as robust, peaty and too ‘heavy’ in style for ordinary consumption. Our analysis however describes a surprisingly light, complex whisky, with a lower phenolic content than expected. The first season for the Glen Mhor distillery was 1893–1894 and so the matured malt whisky they supplied to Mackinlay was relatively new to the market when Shackleton ordered 25 cases of it for the Antarctic expedition of 1907. We are therefore indebted to Sir Ernest Shackleton...'
Mackinlays & Birnie, Ltd., Glen-Mhor Distillery —
John B. James, excise officer
Robert Robertson, brewer, Glen Mhor cottage
John Longmore, maltman, do.
John Sutherland, maltman, do.
Here's another fantastic find from Distillery View which dates from November 1916.
This shipment predates their ownership of Glen Albyn, so we know it's all for Glen Mhor. Included on the invoice is a range of barley sources including Avoch (Black Isle), Fort George, Fortrose, Munlochy (Black Isle) etc. - local barley in effect.
You'll be asking what's a HR sack? And how big is it compared to a bag of barley? Very good questions. The working theory is a HR sack is effectively the Highland Railway sack size. And this would translate into a bushel of barley, around 48lbs in weight.
What about coal from Bowhill?
Now, there is a Bowhill in the Borders area of Scotland, but I believe the name refers to the Bowhill mine in Fife, also known as Lady Josephine, located in Auchterderran, which was only open for 66 years. It makes sense as Fife was a major source of coal, with this particular area of the county being home to several large scale mining operations.
It's also worth considering where this fits into our Glen Mhor timeline. Namely, the First World War is well underway, the distillery is having to rely on more local resources such as barley. We know from our previous research (also in our Documents Section) that the distillery used 52% Scottish barley during 1916 and in 1914 was 100% Scottish barley, when the war commenced.
Soon, all shipments to Glen Mhor would stop, as the distillery along with Glen Albyn would become a base for the US Navy.
We're extremely fortunate to have been given a handful of original Highland Railway Company invoices, all from 1917, by the extremely generous Distillery View. These run in order from January to May, giving us a unique snapshot.
The plan is to go through each invoice in date order, noting the shipments to and from the distillery. We do know that Mackinlay & Birnie utilised road and boat as well, but the railways should give us a unique insight of not only company traffic to the blending headquarters based in Leith, but other businesses they dealt with and goods that were needed.
It's also worth highlighting that because these are all from 1917, we know that this is before the acquisition of the nearby Glen Albyn distillery. So, everything relating to Inverness will only be for Glen Mhor. And on a side note; what gorgeous handwriting! To think that these are over 100 years old, but what a minute...
What's of interest in the larger scheme of things, is that we know in 1917, the US Navy was verging on taking over both distilleries in Muirtown. The whisky from Glen Albyn was being stored at Glen Mhor by all accounts so far. However, as these invoices are specifically for Messers Mackinlay & Birnie, I believe they are relating to Glen Mhor stock. Otherwise, they'd mention the Glen Albyn Distillery Company, the current owners of Albyn at that time.
The official date of the US naval base coming online is 9th February 1918, but we know that the groundwork was laid much prior to that, with the common belief that work started in earnest in June 1917, to turn both distilleries into a naval base. This may explain why we only have a 5-month block of invoices from January to May? What will be interesting to see in the coming months, is if the number of casks being shipped increased with the looming threat of the military take over? Will incoming supplies such as yeast, barley and coal come to a halt?
So, focusing on this January 2017 invoice, the month gives us 8 shipments out of Glen Mhor, plus 2 credits for November and December. There are some notes in pencil in the middle of the invoice. These faded notes give us the costs of transporting yeast, EGG??, WB?, coal and barley. You'll note that a previous invoice we have in the aforementioned section from 1916, actually includes these types of shipments in the main invoice. Perhaps just a change in record-keeping to keep thing simple?
Moving onto the above image, during the month of January, the distillery shipped 2 butts and 67 hogsheads of whisky, to 8 different recipients. The breakdown of which is 3 in Glasgow, 4 in Leith and 1 in Aberdeen:
2nd January, Black & Ferguson, Waterloo.
Easy to think this is London, but Aberdeen had a Waterloo station on the Highland line and the city was home to the blenders of Black and Ferguson. An order of 5 hogsheads.
15th January, Slater Rodgers, Buchanan Street.
The heart of Glasgow's blending scene (as we'll see on this invoice), Known as Slater Rodgers & Co, they were bonded and free warehousemen. Their order is for 2 butts, proving these prized casks were being filled. Pure speculation, but possibly for retailers in the city?
15th January, A. Baillie & Co, Port of Leith.
The blending hotspot of Leith in Edinburgh was home to Ainslie Baillie and Co, who ordered 5 hogsheads.
17th January, G. Marchant?, Buchanan Street
An order for 3 hogsheads, need to research this entry more.
18th January, MacDonald & Muir, Port of Leith.
A sizeable order for 20 hogsheads. Wine and spirits merchant known for the Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Highland Queen blends at this time. They had a large bonded warehouse on Commerical Street in Edinburgh, beside the docks.
22nd January, Walker & Sons, Buchanan Street.
This firm needs no introduction and ordered 4 hogsheads.
26th January, MacDonald & Muir, Leith.
After some debate, we believe this is MacDonald & Muir once again (see 18th January) and accounted for 5 hogsheads. Backing up this train of thought (sorry) is that the destination is just Leith as opposed to the earlier destination of the Port of Leith. Research confirms that the firm had 2 bonded warehouses with the smaller of these on Water Street in Edinburgh, which was further away from the docks than their Commerical Street site.
30th January, Ford & Sons, Port of Leith.
This relates to James Ford of William Ford & Sons, tea, wine and spirit merchants of Leith, who were co-owners of Bunnahabhain. 10 hogsheads ordered.
These were turbulent times for Glen Mhor. Effectively mothballed - or soon to be - with the presence of the US military. A business of some sorts was being maintained via providing for the blenders who had always sought whisky from the distillery.
16th February 1917
Here's another document from Distillery View, that shows Glen Mhor continued to use the haulage services of Donald MacDonald (as seen in 1894) to supply the distillery with barley, coal and malt. Interestingly, Thornbush is the name of a quay in Inverness harbour, so potentially, the firm was employed to deliver goods delivered by sea to the distillery; not a huge distance, in reality, a couple of thousand metres. These boats may have been too big to take advantage of the direct canal route to Glen Mhor.
Also of interest, is confirmation that barley was being shipped from Glen Mhor to elsewhere and with no mention of peat on this invoice, was a new source being utilised instead?
26th June 1917
There are few names more famous than John Walker of Kilkmarnock when it comes to whisky and Glen Mhor did have an association and joint interest with this prosperous blending firm. Unfortunately, this isn't explored in Nick Morgan's recent book on Johnnie Walker, but hopefully, we can shed some light on it through research, as eventually, this led to Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn becoming part of DCL/SMD in the 1970s.
Our thanks to Distillery View for this invoice, which totals 238 casks and also underlines that Glen Mhor was using treated butts at this time. And the timing is of interest as this would have been around the US Navy occupation when both Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn fell silent during the First World War.
John Walker & Sons looked for quality stock and these 238 casks being sent to Glen Mhor for filling underline that effort. Glen Mhor was highly valued by blenders, as shown by the discovery of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt at the South Pole, dating from 1907 and its recreation in 2012 by Richard Paterson.
11th August 1919
6th February 1924
Here's a fascinating receipt from the Anti-Prohibition Fund, acknowledging the donation of £25 from Mackinlay's & Birnie Ltd, Inverness. This donation in 2020 would be the equivalent of £1,529.90.
As an alcohol producer, such a donation shouldn't come as a surprise. However, it does mark a longstanding trend as you will see in our Newspaper Section in 1908. When a spokesman for the Temperance movement, which was a social movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, visited Glen Mhor and was given an opinion by Bailie Birnie, who we would envisage is John Birnie.
Our thanks to Distillery View for this document.
Through our research, we know that William Birnie apart from coming from a blending family of note was the custodian of Glen Albyn and Glen Mhor through turbulent times in the industry. A trained accountant, he was well versed in figures and by the 1960s was highlighting the issue of overproduction in Scotch, as seen in our Newspaper Section specifically in 1962.
Compiling statistics of the industry was fairly unique during his time and given his role at Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn, he would have been well-connected with the distilleries filling casks for blenders, as they had done since for decades. Assessing demand, meeting orders, filling casks etc. would have been part of the regular routine as the distilleries sought to maintain healthy orders and not fall into the trap of producing too much.
We know that the difficulty of finding orders in the late 60s and early 70s would be a reason for selling up to DCL in 1972.
Such figures would have been of use to William in planning ahead. Was there an increased need for blended stock? Was the demand there from the independent market, or as a bottler of an official single malt, were their new opportunities forming?
We'll post all the pages in our Document Section, of particular note is the following where William predicted maturing stock represented just under 4 years supply, which with a war around the corner, would have been barely enough...
We know that William Birnie was adept at figures having been an accountant. On a regular basis, he produced a set of statistics that was referred to as the Whisky Bible (yes, before the other one) based on his research. This would lead him to become very respected within the whisky industry and influential.
Unfortunately, his predictions of overproduction as early as 1962 as seen in our Newspaper Section, were not heeded and the rest as they say, is history. But we're uncovering history right here with thanks to Alan for this image.
The rest of the report is sadly lost for now, but Alan has managed to provide us with fuller copies of Birnie's 1938 and 1946 reports. We will be publishing these shortly. As for the above report, the font and style of layout are similar to the 1946 edition and not the pre-war edition. Therefore, we can speculate a little that this document is post-1945.
You'll see some news articles in our newspaper section first appearing in 1962, where his Bible made such forecasts. My thanks to Alan for the document and to Rose for brushing up the images.Perhaps the most striking aspect above is the impact of the war which threw a spanner in the sustained growth of the industry. You can also see as things start to ramp up once again, stock levels diminishing rapidly as blenders seek whiskies for their recipes. Sowing the seeds for another 'boom' which was partially fuelled by playing catch-up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8th March 1954
10th January 1955
Here's a fantastic find, a cask label from 1956. Nowadays, whisky casks are fairly sedimentary things, often filled in central locations far away from the distillery and never seen again until they are emptied.
Glen Mhor's main business outside of its own single malt and blending needs of the Mackinlay's, was filling orders. We've seen from our Railway invoices that these casks were shipped across the country. On the casks would have been labels such as this, confirming that #2321 was destined for Campbell's for Elgin on Linkwood Road along with 9 others.
Following research, this is Campbell, Hope & King that were acquired by Whitbread in 1970 and have been lost to time. Whereas Elgin's other independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, has gone from strength to strength. Prior to being acquired, Campbell's had an outlet in Elgin that was well-known for bottling single malts from a variety of distilleries including Macallan. Also, in Elgin, was a bottling and blending operation. So we can deduce that Glen Mhor was supplying this bottler for their blend that was short-lived and only endured for a couple of decades. Bottled as Campbell's of Elgin, this was originally a liqueur whisky, before becoming a blended scotch in the 1960s.
Also known as Archibald, Campbell, Hope and King, this explains the 'A' on the label as there was only so much room to fit everything onto the line. Glen Mhor is proudly stated on the label, these aren't Glen Albyn casks, which were also owned by Mackinlay & Birnie.
My thanks to Alan for this great find and to Rose for preparing the image.
13th February 1956A bonding invoice for casks of Glen Mhor in Montrose, you can read more about this in the original article.
A couple of pages from a privately published pamphlet from William Birnie, that looks as if it was originally from the 1930s and then revisited in 1963.
My thanks to Alan for these images, these as far as we're aware are the only copies in existence currently, as we've not been able to track down an original of the pamphlet. However, we do like a challenge. It's an interesting premise as William - as we've shown - was well versed in whisky and statistics. We'll be publishing some of his reports in the coming weeks. This particular pamphlet looks more like a general introduction to whisky. There's also the hint above about a specific leaflet on malting, hinting at the rise of Saladin boxes which would have been in use at Glen Albyn and Glen Mhor under William's leadership.
Here are two simplistic adverts for Glen Mhor dating from 1972 and the Aberdeen Press and Journal:
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