Distillery Focus

Scotland's own Marie Celeste (Dallas Dhu)

Dallas Dhu is a distillery musuem. But does it have any soul left? The Mystery Visitor went to the eerily deserted site
By Mystery Visitor
Dallas Dhu styles itself a ‘historic distillery’ – quite fittingly, as it is in the charge of Historic Scotland.Better known for its castles and heritage sites this government agency seems an unlikely custodian of the cratur.But there is a logic to all this. As the excellent guide book explains, “Whisky is Scotland’s national drink. It has evolved out of our landscape and history… While the march of change has transformed many distilleries, and closed others, Dallas Dhu remains – a perfectly preserved time capsule.”From all this you will gather that Dallas Dhu is silent. In fact, it last distilled in March 1983 after which it was closed. Its owners, UDV (now Diageo), transferred it to Historic Scotland who have operated it as a visitor attraction and museum since 1988.So now it stands, cold and empty, looking slightly forlorn in the grey light of a dull Scottish day. Located just outside Forres, on the edge of a drab housing estate, Dallas Dhu presents an enigmatic face to the visitor. Its purpose lost, it seems forever questioning its new role. On the one hand, there is nothing sadder than a silent distillery that you sense will never re-open. Mothballed machinery lies idle, a deep cold pervades the still room and water-filled casks make believe they are maturing in the dunnage warehouses.The angels have long departed. It’s all unbearably poignant. One longs for the confidence and energy of the Victorian entrepreneurs who built this little place.And yet… and yet. As is stands, frozen in time, Dallas Dhu presents a unique opportunity to the visitor. It is possible, for example, to look right inside the stills themselves and clearly see the steam coils – a privileged view, nigh impossible in a working distillery. So how, exactly, does it work? The visit follows a predictable pattern. After paying for admission (£4 for adults) there’s the regulation video presentation. This one alternates between a hammy actor playing Roderick Dhu (the personality on the distillery’s original label, itself a reference to a character from Sir Walter Scott), supported by a surprisingly authoritative script (written, I noted, by Derek Cooper).You move round the distillery at your own pace, using a simple hand-held audio guide which explains the key steps in the process. Clear, uncluttered text panels support this.Your self-guided tour takes in the original floor maltings, mill room, mash tun, cooler, wash backs, yeast room, still house, filling store and warehouse. There’s a dram of Roderick Dhu blend, of course, and an extensive shop.Essential buys include various Gordon & MacPhail bottlings of Dallas Dhu single malt (when it’s gone, it really will be gone) and attractive reproductions of the specially commissioned linocuts by Scottish artist Willie Rodger.They feature in the guidebook, itself a well-produced and accurately researched piece of work, in the Roderick Dhu room and on the wall of the maltings. The strong simple images convey the energy and craftsmanship now lost at Dallas Dhu.As a tantalising step back in time Dallas Dhu has to be seen. It’s a unique experience, part education and part warning. Certainly the most complete Victorian distillery remaining in Scotland is of interest, but it’s what you don’t experience that you end up yearning for.With no movement, no sharp CO2 tang in the wash backs, no sultry heat in the still room and no heady, earthy, woody aroma in the warehouse you realise how much your senses are engaged on any other distillery visit. If only Dallas Dhu could rise again…I’ll leave the final words to Mr F Wright, manager at Dallas Dhu in 1934 who, despite the distillery being mothballed at the time, was moved to the following verse:“When ‘e are feeling rather blue,
Juist try a nip o’ Dallas Dhu
Sip it and roll it in yer moo;
It’s juist like cream straicht frae the coo.
When cronies roond the Yule Log gather
They swear this nip beats ony ither.”Contact
Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery. Forres. Moray. IV36 2RR
Tel: +44 (0)1309 676 548
Open all year (restricted winter hours).