View from a former warehouse, Ballechin Distillery

Scotch Whisky History: Ballechin Distillery

The Ballechin Distillery, east of Aberfeldy in Perthshire, closed for good in 1927 and only some ruins remain right beside the A827 today. However, recently Ballechin whisky was granted a new lease of life…

Founded in 1810, the Ballechin Distillery was already in operation for more than 70 years when the famous Alfred Barnard visited it. He noted that it was built in an L-shape, the front facing the Grandtully Moors and Strathtay, and found that ‘the view therefrom of the surrounding country is picturesque in the extreme.’

Ballechin map 1908
Map from 1908 with the Ballechin Distillery

The granaries were located farthest uphill, being ’70 feet long and 50 feet wide’, holding 300 quarters (about 3.8 tons) of grain.

After getting soaked in a stone steep for two days, the barley was put on the malting floor underneath and was later dried in a kiln holding 20 quarters (~254 kg) over a peat fire.

The peat for kilning was brought down from Inverness-shire and the Orkney Islands, ‘the peat mosses on the estate being almost inaccessible.’

The mashtun held about 4,000 litres and had to be emptied by hand after the wort was drained. Wort cooling was done in a refrigerator of the owner’s own invention, then it was piped into one of the five washbacks with a capacity of over 8,000 litres each. It would be interesting to know how the fermentation was handled, but Barnard does not lose a word about that.

Ballechin Farm
Sign at the Ballechin Farm

He described the two stills (one 3,400 L wash still and one 3,000 L spirit still) as ‘antiquated’ and continues, ‘The worm tub is the most ancient we have seen, a regular smuggler’s worm…’

Back then (in the mid-1880s), the three bonded warehouse where new, holding over 180,000 litres of maturing whisky in total.

The distillery also included a cooperage, a smithy, a carpenter’s shop and an engine shop with an 8-hp ‘horizontal engine […] for driving various machinery’.

Edradour Ballechin Bourbon Matured
Edradour Ballechin Bourbon Matured

The owners, Robertson & Sons, kept the distillery running until the advent of WWI. Later, in 1923 the production was re-started under a new owner, but like so many other distilleries, Ballechin suffered from the effects of the prohibition in the US and 1927 saw the last mashing. The warehouses were in use for a few more years, but yet another new owner ordered the last stock to be sold and the final casks were removed in December 1933.

Thus ended another chapter in the history of Scotch whisky…

…until the new owner of the Edradour Distillery in nearby Pitlochry started distilling a heavily peated spirit in 2003 and named it – Ballechin.

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