10.5.7 Brewing and Distilling

Small scale brewing and distilling, legal and illegal, has been a part of Highland life for centuries. Less is known about brewing, with some breweries only denoted on maps. Further work examining map and estate documents would likely draw attention to more establishments. For example, in 1755, one area on the Black Isle had eight breweries. Small scale operations like these would have left few traces, though buildings from larger enterprises still survive in places in the Highlands (see Table 10.4; Donnachie 1979).

Thurso BreweryCLate 18th century; demolished in 2007MHG1445; Case Study: Thurso Brewery
Pultney Brewery, WickCEarly 19th century; surviving buildings, much alteredMHG2119
BroraSBuilt in 1817. Later used as a lemonade factoryMHG32863
Springfield Brewery, TainEROn 1st edition OS mapMHG32317
Cromarty BreweryERLarge three-storey stone building; 1790 to end of 19th centuryMHG8784
Haugh BreweryIEarly to mid-19th centuryMHG3065
Thornbush BreweryIMid-19th centuryMHG3121
LewistonIOn 1st edition OS mapMHG24097
Nairn BreweryNOn 1st edition OS mapMHG31211
Fort WilliamLNo further informationMHG36016
Table 10.4   Highland Breweries recorded in the HER

Manson’s Lane, Thurso, showing the Brewery and Brewery House. ©HES

More is known about distilleries, a long lasting and thriving industry still today. The distilling industry is the topic of a PhD in progress by Darroch Bratt (University of Highlands and Islands), who is investigating archaeological evidence of legal and illegal distilling in the Highlands. Documentary evidence, especially relating to illicit production, is discussed in a number of sources including Devine (1994, 119ff). Small stills have increasingly been identified in the landscape, most probably were illegal. The NoSAS survey of Strathconon identified over 50 still sites; some were in remote mountain terrain and others in the lower more accessible wooded parts of the glen (Marshall 2011b). Many of the bothies had associated buildings such as lookouts, stores or structures for accommodation. While some stills were probably maintained for local consumption, many fed into an illicit trade, which was clearly a thriving activity. Unusually documentary information, not normally available for such clandestine operationson the illicit activities specifically at Strathconon was located in a report to a Government Enquiry in 1822, published in 1823 (Marshall 2010, 6). Criminal proceedings following assaults on excise officers provide further information.

There is also scope for investigating legal small-scale distilling, using estate map evidence as a first basis. The lands of Ferintosh on the Black Isle are known to have been home to a booming whisky manufacture trade from 1690 or earlier, thanks to the ‘Ferintosh Privilege’. From the objections to the Ferintosh Privilege researchers also know that other landlords produced whisky on their own estates (Mowat 1981, 58ff). One possible distillery site survives at Mulchaich on the Black Isle; it was surveyed by NoSAS (Marshall 2011a, Case Study Mulchaich distillery and township), suggesting opportunities for further work to identify the characteristics of a small scale distilling site with dating and environmental evidence.

Aerial view of the township remains at West Mulchaich. ©NOSAS JS Bone Collection

Large distilleries were established throughout the Highlands; the remains of many of these sites are still well preserved, though others have disappeared entirely. The Highland HER lists over 100 large distilleries. The earliest known structure is from the 18th century. Before 1786, the legislation around alcohol production meant it was impossible for most Highland distillers to meet the minimum scale of operations; this was due to the cost of grain and the limited market. In recent decades dozens of new distilleries have been built and mothballed distilleries have been brought back into service (Bratt forthcoming). The traditional process for distilling requires a number of specialised areas and buildings, many of which can be identified in older distilleries. They also needed to be located close to supplies of peat (or other fuel), barley and water (Hume 1977, 28ff).

Dalmore distillery, 1917. ©Invergordon Museum


Case Study: Mulchaich distillery and township


Case Study: Thurso Brewery




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