Deanston: From mill to distillery, Part 1

The majority of Scottish distilleries are in ‘closed season’ in July [2017], but it must have been rush hour when I visited [3mlpa] Deanston – ive never seen so much staff activity going on all at once throughout a distillery. Even the giants such as Glenlivet tend to exude a feeling of calm whilst pumping out in-excess of 10mlpa, side-by-side huge visitor numbers flocking by the minute. During the tour, our guide was accidentally covered in a floury dust plume when someone disengaged a hopper lever. Someone else was subsequently very busy in the mill house, one operating/monitoring the open-topped mash tun and another hands-on in the still house. Meanwhile there was copious chat & activity in the yard including the ubiquitous draff transporter filling up. Picture-postcard distillery stuff!

 

panoramic

On the visitors side, its hard to imagine Deanston without a visitors centre – a fairly recent edition for the distillery that was opened in 2012. For the two hours I was there it was packed with punters, with many visiting the cafe solely for a spot of lunch etc – much like at Annandale BLOG. Credit to Distell [via Burn Stewart] for the innovation & regeneration that has gone into Deanston over the last few years, with focused concentration on the customer service side [official report], but equally so with its juice. Bunnahabhain & Tobermory [their peated Ledaig in particular], have also seen positive changes since Burn Stewart distillers [bought by Distell SW in 2013] took the reigns. Looking back however, the Deanston story is one of innovation & regeneration ever since its birth as a cotton mill in 1785.

distillery tower

And its refreshing to see a distillery proud of its non-whisky heritage, one that is equally compelling. Deanston is an inspirational place simply as an historical industrial site, let alone as a modernised distillery.

Our tour guide, Brian, has been working at Deanston for two years – the longest-serving staff member [customer side], since Distell took over in 2013.

Unusually, I heartily recommend the tour video. There are no romantic [BS] overtones from a softly spoken poetic narrator, waxing lyrical about the ‘time-aged traditions’ or the ‘magic of the Teith’ – set to Highland bagpipe themes. This is a video packed with interesting historical information regarding the cotton mill, innovation, the people of Deanston in context of the industrial age and the fairly recent transformation of the mill to a distillery – presented in a swift yet relaxed read-only format. Fortunately you dont need to go all the way to Deanston to watch it, thanks to the tinterweb:

 

Back in the day, the old cotton mill was as much a part of Deanston village as its people were to the factory. As the video above showed, many of its workers lived on-site in the now grade-listed & still intact/preserved houses. Due to the shortage of coins, Deanston even had its own currency which wasnt uncommon with other factories & especially workhouses of the period, though many owners payed workers in vouchers instead of money to use in the factory shop[s] – not that they often had a choice in this. Deanston had three grocery shops, a haberdashery and later a schoolhouse that was completed in 1897 for the workers children. Incredibly, there was to be no Public House, for fear that it may ‘corrupt the workforce’.

Hercules.jpg

The mill was powered by two huge water wheels that took their power from the Teith that runs alongside. It is claimed that their biggest wheel Hercules was the biggest water wheel in Europe at the time.

hydro electric station.jpgTwo hydro-electric turbines now power the distillery. Built in 1913 & 1924 respectively, they arrived at Deanston second-hand in 1949 and currently produce x4 their power requirements. As a result, 75% of their electricity generated is sold to the national grid. Even the two water wheels had the capacity to produce an impressive 50% of the energy produced by the turbines, still twice as much power as Deanston require today. Deanston are the only distillery generating their own power on this scale, and are arguably therefore the greenest.

In the 2000s, gift tubes were replaced by cardboard boxes, Burn Stewart insisting that all packaged materials were to be either recycled or recyclable.

The mill was permanently closed by 1965, allowing Brodie Hepburn to realise the potential of the mill for a distillery.

 

Part 2 HERE

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