In the first of a series of blog articles charting the demise of Scotland’s closed distilleries, The Whisky Barrel looks at Mill of Banff Distillery & Banff Distillery in the North East of Scotland.
Only one official bottling of Banff single malt whiskey was ever released during the entire working life of Banff Distillery which closed in 1983. Up until quite recently a large proportion of whiskey produced in Scotland’s distilleries flowed into scotch blends and a goodly volume was swallowed up at quite a young age. The Glasgow based blending and exporting company Slater Roger and Co. Ltd. was established in 1885 and produced Rodger’s Old Scots blended which included Banff malt whisky. Banff malt undoubtedly travelled the world.
The Mill of Banff Distillery was established by Major James McKilligan at his home Mains of Colleonard just to the south of Banff in 1824. He was born in 1764 became an army cadet in the East India Company in 1785 and later a Captain in the Highland Fencibles, serving in Gibraltar, until 1803 when he retired from military service and moved to Banff where he was appointed to the rank of Major of the Banffshire Local Militia and Provost of the Burgh of Banff. Both he and his wife died on the same day in January 1837.
Originally equiped with two stills, the wash still had a capacity of 94 gallons and the low wines 52 gallons, Mill of Banff distillery produced a total of 9,759 gallons of proof spirit from malted barley in 1825 and in 1826 had 1,549 gallons of spirit in its on-site bonded warehouse. The production process seemes to have worked well and by the following year 3,824 gallons were resting in the warehouses.
Alex Mackay then operated the distillery from 1837 until 1852 when his son-in-law James Simpson took over the business having leased the property from Lord Seafield in 1851, and was joined in the business by his son James Simpson jnr. However the Simpsons closed the Mill of Banff Distillery in 1863 when James junior opened his modern new Banff Distillery that same year at Inverdondie just to the west of the town of Banff.
Whilst the distillery prospered, under the guidance of James Simpson jnr. and also his sons, years of economic depression and wars in the early decades of the 1900s caused financial difficulties and the distillery changed hands and finally came to rest in what is now the Diageo portfolio.
The downturn in demand by the early 1980s resulted in Banff Distillery closing in 1983 and the principal buildings had been demolished by 1991. A similar fate befell Port Ellen, Brora and Dallas Dhu distilleries in 1983.
The walls of a few warehouses at Banff Distillery remain standing and although the demolished production buildings now form mounds of grass-covered rubble some of the distillery houses are still standing and in private ownership. For those who enjoy venturing to savour the geographical ‘place’ of Scotland’s lost distilleries the footprint of Banff remains close by the Highland shores of the Moray Firth.
July 2012 sees the release of a new single cask expression from our chums at Douglas Laing & Co. Distilled in 1976 and, at the age 7 years when the distillery closed, was a prime candidate for the blending market. And so it was with some foresight that Douglas Laing selected this top quality cask, and others like it, and granted their contents much time and space and Scottish air to rest and mature. Now at the majestic age of 36 years we have the opportunity to savour not only a well-aged whiskey from a lost Scottish distillery and a Banff single malt but also a Banff single cask malt whisky.
Meanwhile, if that’s not tickled your tastebuds Gordon & MacPahil’s Connoisseur Choice series still (for now) includes a 34 year old matured in a refill sherry hogshead – the result is a sweet, fruity and floral malt with a smoky finish.