In the last issue we focused on the Dufftown distillery of Parkmore, and this time around we are taking a look at two other distilleries in the north of Scotland that were born out of the great Victorian distilling boom decade of the 1890s, but, like Parkmore, failed to survive into the modern era.
The distilleries in question are Towiemore and Speyside, the former being located some five miles to the north-east of Dufftown at Botriphnie, while the latter was in Kingussie, close to the River Spey, and some 40 miles south of Inverness.
Towiemore was the brainchild of locally-born distilling entrepreneur Peter Dawson, and construction began alongside the Dufftown to Keith railway line in November 1897. The following year it was purchased by the Towiemore-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd. Towiemore ceased to operate during the First World War and production recommenced when hostilities ceased, the operators went into liquidation in 1930.
As was the case with so many whisky companies and distilleries that failed during the inter-war years, the Distillers Company Ltd purchased Towiemore, but whisky-making never took place there again. However, the maltings were used for a time, and the distillery’s warehousing capability was utilised until 1993.
One of the reasons for Towiemore’s demise was that the whisky – reputedly of fine quality –sometimes effervesced when water was added, perhaps due to contamination by lime, and despite the installation of filtration equipment, the problem could not be fully solved. Around 1922 the distillery’s main blending customers declined to purchase any more of the ‘make’ on account of its intermittent cloudiness, which was an economic disaster for the distillery, and its eventual demise was inevitable as a result.
Today, the distillery site continues to have a whisky-related use, being home to LH Stainless Ltd, who specialise in supplying vessels, tanks and pipe-work to the Scotch whisky industry. Two original warehouses, the maltings and the former cooperage survive.
Meanwhile, the eponymous and most southerly ‘Speyside’ distillery pre-dated Towiemore by two years, with the Speyside Distillery Company Ltd being formed at the behest of local laird Sir George MacPherson Grant.
The distillery was created on a 10-acre site behind the Gordon Arms Hotel and close to the Gynack Burn, just back from Kingussie’s High Street, with production commencing in 1895. The design seems to have been sound, the water source reliable and there was a private siding from the Perth to Inverness railway line. Outwardly there seems no reason why the attractive, £20,000 distillery did not thrive, and no records survive to hint at what problems were experienced by the Speyside distillery.
Although many other Scottish distilleries were badly affected by the crisis of over-production that came to a head round the turn of the century, it seems clear that Speyside’s problems pre-dated that sudden onset of ‘bust’ and were much more related to practical production issues.
Whatever, the cause, the distillery closed between 1905 and 1910, giving it the unhappy distinction of being one of the shortest-lived of all Scottish distilleries in comparatively modern times. After its closure the site and its structures were sold for a mere £750, and all but one house and the former administrative buildings were subsequently demolished. The surviving buildings, now bordering a public car park and a medical centre, found later uses as a printing works and Masonic lodge, and several parts have been developed for domestic use.
Some of the distillery plant was salvaged, with a worm tub being installed at nearby Dalwhinnie, where it apparently survived in use until 1986. By coincidence, Dalwhinnie also acquired surplus plant from Towiemore after suffering a serious fire in 1934.
If Speyside distillery itself was short-lived, and soon lost, its name lives on in the modern Speyside distillery, situated a couple of miles away and opened in 1990. By one of those peculiar coincidences, the house, called Old Milton, purchased by new Speyside distillery founder George Christie, was once home to the ‘old’ distillery’s managing director, John MacPherson Grant. It is believed that remains of the old telephone system connecting the house with the original Speyside distillery remain intact to this day.