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Sunday 22 September 2019


Scotch Whiskies with unusual Backgrounds

With over 300 distilleries over time in Scotland, there is a plethora of strange stories related to them, their owners and Scotch Whisky, occurring at or soon after their launch, or are dark predictions and curses. Serving as a USP, the brand story is key to almost every marketing campaign, and often determines the success of the liquid before it even hits the shelf, even more than the spooks that reportedly haunt the thousand-year and older pubs dotting the countryside.  

 Bowmore Devils' Casks

                          BATCH 1  10 YO                                            BATCH 2  10YO                            BATCH 3  NAS
First launched in 2013 for Halloween, The Devil’s Casks series pays homage to the Islay tale of how the devil himself was chased through the village of Bowmore and into the gates of its distillery before escaping in a cask of whisky bound for the mainland. Three total expressions make up the range. The most recent whisky, The Devil’s Casks III Double the Devil, was released in October 2015.

The Story: The legend on Islay is that the devil once visited the Round Church in the village of Bowmore. The Round Church, as its name implies, is in fact circular and it was built that way so there would be no corner in which the devil could hide. The local congregation spotted the devil in the church and chased him down through the village and into Bowmore Distillery’s famed No. 1 Vaults. Here, as the warehousemen were filling casks and loading them aboard a paddle-steamer, the devil was lost. It is believed that he escaped into a cask of Bowmore bound for the mainland.

This story was the inspiration for Devil’s Casks which is matured exclusively – and uniquely – in the finest first-fill sherry casks which help bring out Bowmore’s intense qualities and show off its deep mahogany colour and rich fruitcake and dark chocolate flavours. Bowmore’s The Devil’s Casks Small Batch Release is a spellbinding potion that is non-chill-filtered and offered at cask strength (56.9% ABV). Ten years’ maturation in first-fill sherry casks has brought out Bowmore’s fiery characteristics. The notes in this dram are hot and seductive. This small batch release is quite simply, devilishly good. It’s easy to get mesmerised by the ‘old is good but older is better’. Devil's Cask is a prime example where more barrel and wood time would have hurt this one. The second and third releases followed in 2014 & 2015 as a 10 YO and NAS respectively.   

The hellish fictional hound of Baskervilles supposedly terrorised an entire estate in England. A similar fable wafts over the peat moorlands surrounding the village of Tomatin: The Legend of Cù Bòcan.

One of the most famous stories describes the experience of a Tomatin distillery worker while on a late-night walk in the woods. He suddenly caught a glimpse of a spectral being in the shape of a majestic hound, nostrils flared, teeth bared and light emanating from its ethereal body. Despite his natural instincts to run, he felt compelled to touch the dense fur of the beast. As his hand drew closer, the spectral figure dissolved into a cloud of blue smoke leaving the witness with nothing but an eerie silence and the burden of what he had just experienced. This is the legend that inspired the Tomatin Cu Bocan.

About Tomatin: Located just south of Inverness, the production of whisky in the village of Tomatin can be traced all the way back to the 1700s. The earliest distillers used juniper wood for their distillation process. Though whisky distillation was legalised in 1823, it would, however, only begin in 1897 in this tale when John MacDougall, John MacLeish, and Alexander Allan joined hands to form the Tomatin Spey District Distillery. Choosing this location was no accident. The location was isolated enough for a supply of untouched freshwater and yet not so far away that markets became inaccessible.

The Biggest Distillery in Scotland: Since its launch, the Tomatin Distillery saw a steady rise in whisky production. By 1974, the total number of stills summed up to 23, with 12 wash stills and 11 spirit stills. At this time, Tomatin’s full capacity stood at 12 million litres of alcohol annually, making it the largest distillery in Scotland. But like all good things, the Tomatin golden age too was to come to an end. In 1986, they joined hands with their partner of 20 years, Takara Shuzo Ltd., to form the Tomatin Distillery Company — Scotland’s first distillery to be wholly owned by a Japanese brand. The change in ownership proved to be beneficial with the Tomatin brand growing in its own right. In 1997, Tomatin Distillery Co. acquired J&W Hardie, adding the legendary Antiquary blend to its offerings.

The Cu Bocan: The inspiration from the legend of Cu Bocan runs deep in its namesake whisky while keeping with the character expected of a Highlands spirit. The 1988 Limited Edition Cu Bocan is one of the best this distillery has to offer. At 51.5% ABV, the 1988 is a blend of refill hogshead and refill sherry-matured whisky distilled on December 2, 1988. The whisky has a peaty nose reminiscent of campfire smoke and ash which slowly gives way to toasted coconut, freshly cut grass, and heather. In the mouth, the whisky opens up a little more, letting you get a peek into a world of candied tropical fruits, earthy peat, and blood orange. The finish of earthy smoke and oak spice transports you into the woods and is evidence of the legend of the beast.

From its old cattle drovers to the new age Cu Bocan, Tomatin truly embodies the changing moods of scotch whisky.

Douglas Laing’s Scallywag whisky inspired by family dog

In 2013, Douglas Laing & Co created a small batch of blended Speyside malt whisky named Scallywag, inspired by the family’s long line of Fox Terriers. The vatting of several single malts from across Speyside’s distilleries – including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes amongst others – uses a high proportion of liquid from Spanish Sherry Butts and has been available since. This remarkably breathtaking area sits in a fertile valley of rivers and secluded glens. The archetypal Speyside character is a rich, nutty and robust style of Malt Scotch Whisky.

Non-chill-filtered and bottled at 46% ABV, Douglas Laing’s Scallywag has a “richly spiced character” with vanilla, sweet stewed fruit and Christmas pudding notes. From a chance sketch by a designer of their sweet, wee rascal of a Fox Terrier was the Scallywag Malt Whisky born. ‘Sweet’ was the key focus of Speyside. Its cask selection is self-evidently heavy on the Sherry background, balanced by first-fill Bourbon casks – so the resulting ‘vatted’ malt comes with an excellent pedigree. The family Fox Terrier is featured prominently on Scallywag’s packaging.

Its success in the market saw Douglas Laing & Co launching a cask strength whisky under the same brand name, Scallywag. Bottled at 53.6% ABV, Scallywag Cask Strength is described as a “complex, powerful” whisky that “heightens” the character of the original expression. This Cask Strength Scallywag bottling makes the wee dog’s eyes pop, his ears blow open and his monocle ping. The mellifluously fruity, spicy character and barley, mocha, vanilla and orange flavours make it a human treat worth begging for. Just 1,000 bottles of Scallywag Cask Strength were available from June 2015 from specialist whisky retailers.

Glenmorangie Legends Collection

The Glenmorangie’s travel retail exclusive Legends Collection comprises Glenmorangie Duthac, Tayne, Tarlogan and Cadboll. Duthac was inspired by Scottish King James IV’s annual pilgrimage in the late 15th century to Saint Duthac’s shrine in Tain, where the distillery has resided since 1843, while Tayne pays homage to a Spanish Galleon that it is said to have sunk in Dornoch Firth, formerly known as the Firth of Tayne, in 1588. 

The Duthac

Glenmorangie had long planned a collection themed around ancient tales from The Royal Burgh of Tain where their whisky is made. The distillery worked on Glenmorangie Duthac for many years, releasing this new expression as the first in The Glenmorangie Legends Collection.

One of those tales recalls the annual pilgrimage of Scotland’s King James IV along ‘The King’s Route’ to the shrine of St Duthac in Tain. St Duthac is Tain’s patron saint, a ‘worker of miracles’ born in the town some 1,000 years ago. The pilgrimage he inspired became incredibly popular at the end of the Medieval period and the ruins of a chapel built in his memory still stand today. Even now ‘The King’s Route’ through the rocky Highlands and out into the golden barley fields in the country’s far northeast is still a popular trail.

King James IV made the difficult journey 18 times. In 1494 he commissioned a Scottish monk to produce ‘acqua vitae’ for him, this being the earliest written record of distilling in Scotland.

Glenmorangie’s new whisky, the first of its Legends Collection, celebrates the pilgrimage which King James IV made so often in St Duthac’s name. The Duthac is a NAS whisky “fit for a King”.

The Tayne

Glenmorangie Tayne is a no-age statement single malt whisky inspired by ancient treasures. Its name recalls local lore which tells of a 16th Century Spanish galleon’s lost riches sunk in the depths of the Tayne Firth, beside which the Glenmorangie Distillery can be found.

In 1583 a Spanish Armada was circumnavigating the British Isles, fleeing from the English Navy in the Channel. Making their way up the east coast they planned to sail around the top of Scotland out into the Atlantic and then make for home. Of the 130 Spanish ships, many were lost to wild winds and uncharted coastlines in these foreign waters. The warships carried gold, silver and jewels from Spain, Portugal and Italy, most of it lost forever. 30,000 soldiers and sailors had set out with the invasion force, but only 10,000 returned home.

Legend has it that one ship was wrecked in the Tayne Firth – now known as The Dornoch Firth – close to Glenmorangie distillery. A growing storm had forced part of the fleet to seek refuge and one unlucky ship ran aground on a sandbar off the Doune of Creich. Some survivors, it is said, settled in Scotland. And there are still dark-haired and dusky highlanders who claim them amongst their ancestors!

Glenmorangie's new whisky remembers this story and has genuine elements of rare Spanish treasure about it, capturing something of the unique tale which determined its name.

The Cadboll

The Cadboll Cup, specifically for which artefact this Glenmorangie has been created, was a fabled 16th-century heirloom used by the Macleods to drink their wine. A Maclean or Maclean-Macleod coat of arms flanked by the letters M and N is engraved in the centre of the cup in a leaf-scroll border. Since its creation, the Cadboll Cup has intrigued admirers with its enigmatic beauty, entwining Scottish artistry and mysterious French influencers in its magnificent design. The Cadboll Cup’s secret past is fascinating. Even now, no one knows who crafted the cup – or how its marriage of Highland and continental design came to be. All that may be said is that this precious and intricately decorated silver wine cup was a treasure for generations by the MacLeods of Cadboll, whose connections with Glenmorangie's homeland ran deep. The Glenmorangie Cadboll is a non-age statement expression finished in casks which formerly contained sweet French white wines, a travel retail exclusive retailing at £75 as a chill-filtered single malt, bottled at 43% ABV. Centuries on we’re sure the clan would have been honoured to have a dram or two of this beauty from their goblet, a refined 43% expression initially released as a travel retail exclusive.

The Tarlogan

The Glenmorangie Tarlogan raises a glass to the Pictish King reputed to be the namesake of the company’s famous water source, the Tarlogie Springs.

The packaging is wrapped in a rich, metallic, forest green, which is accented with splashes of Glenmorangie gold, used to pick out key details such as the design’s central icon. Derived from a Pictish ceremonial shield and containing within it a representation of a Pictish chieftain on horseback, the device is framed by richly detailed, sculpturally debossed natural forms that pay homage to both the natural Highland landscape and the intricate stone carvings that are the only imprint the ancient Pictish people left upon it. Elsewhere in the background, Glenmorangie’s iconic ‘watermark’ is adapted to continue this theme, with a graphical representation of Pictish iconography that adds a further layer of detail and mystery.


Glenmorangie’s ghost seems to have a penchant for interior design – and impressive DIY skills. The White Lady, as she is known, used to do most of her haunting around the distillery’s (now decommissioned) floor maltings, but is also said to have removed whole sheets of wallpaper without even causing a tear.

As then distillery manager Graham Eunson told Kindred Spirits magazine in 2005: ‘We could have understood it if the walls had been damp, but they were bone-dry. No one could explain it, which inevitably led to talk of the White Lady having been at work.’

But there may be an altogether more prosaic explanation for the ghostly goings-on: night shifts.

‘Back in the days when Glenmorangie had its floor maltings site, the shovellers were expected to work around the clock,’ recalled Eunson. ‘Given that one sleepy shoveller could ruin the next day’s mash, it’s possible the threat of an imminent apparition was all that was needed to keep the night shift awake…’


Jura is home to a single whisky distillery—Isle of Jura. The story behind its birth is spine-chilling. A parsimonious laird, Archibald Campbell, founded the distillery in 1810. Legend has it that Campbell awoke one night to see the ghost of an old woman floating over his bed. She chided him for the lack of good whisky offered on the island. Campbell promptly established his distillery in an old smugglers' cave. He then evicted an aged female soothsayer who lived there. She cursed him. As the story goes, the evicted oracle prophesized that the last of the Campbell family to finally depart from the island would have only one eye and all of his earthly belongings would be carried in a cart pulled by a lone white horse. In 1938, Charles Campbell fell on hard times. Blind in one eye as a result of a World War I injury, he was seen walking his white horse and all his possessions to the pier, leaving Jura for good.

The distillery eventually fell into disrepair and neglect, and remained so until the 1950s when two local real estate developers rebuilt the distillery; by 1963, the distillery was thriving, offering new job opportunities to the locals, and the island began to prosper once again.

Isle of Jura Single Malt has brought out four expressions of its malt, each of which bears the unique symbols associated with the legend of its birth, and with a bit of the island’s history thrown in for good measure.

Origin 10, which sports the Celtic symbol for birth, beginnings, and the forces of nature is, quite literally, the whisky that started it all.

Jura Superstition: This superstition dictates that a bartender cannot open a new bottle of the spirit; the honour must go to the guest who ordered it. Ensconced in legends of the Hebrides, and branded with an Egyptian Ankh hieroglyph on every bottle, the whisky must be opened with enough pressure to imprint this symbol onto the opener’s palm. What’s more, an empty bottle of Superstition can only be thrown out once the Ankh is removed and hung proudly on the bar.

Prophecy, named after a three-hundred-year-old Diurach prophecy, wears the symbol of an all-seeing eye.

Is that ghostly old woman satisfied with the array of whisky now on the island? Locals say she hasn’t yet returned. However, if she ever does, a bottle of a 16 YO, the locals’ favourite, is kept hidden in a secret cave and it has her name written all over it.

Elvis the cat

Jura’s second ghost story is more recent. Elvis the cat, a local feline, caught a picture of a ghostly woman on his cat cam that was being used as a promotional tool for the distillery. An actual (or so she says) psychic, Joan Charles, was then called to the island to investigate.

She stayed in the distillery lodge and sensed the presence of someone who was strong, authoritative and kind. She claimed the ghost’s name was Elizabeth Quinn. As it turns out, then-distillery manager Willie Cochrane confirmed that there had been a schoolteacher named Elizabeth who once lived on the island.

On another occasion, Jura brand ambassador Willie Tait once heard a ghostly voice late at night in the lodge telling him "the children are alright." So at least it seems to be a friendly ghost.

ARDBEG Airigh Nam Beist

Ardbeg is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay and produces its signature brand of boldly flavoured, heavily peated spirit. It has, however, also been the site of many a blood-chilling spooky tale over the years.

Many years ago, on a bitter October evening, a pair of mainlanders working at the distillery had to leave their posts and head into the cold air to investigate a blockage in the plant's water supply. Cautiously making their way up the hill, their lanterns flickering in the wind, the men huddled together for warmth and reassurance against the great unknown of the surrounding hillside as it was slowly swallowed up by the blackness of night.

Ardbeg had long since been drawing its water from Loch Uigeadail, the ‘dark and mysterious place’ and it was in that direction the two men headed. As they drew near the eerie place known as ‘Airigh Nam Beist‘, where the ruin of some ancient croft lay crumbling in the mud, the men froze in terror as a hideous shriek pierced the night air. For what must have seemed an eternity, they stood in total silence, daring not even to breathe in case they should alert whatever demonic thing could have produced such a noise.
They slowly regained their composure and decided they must carry on with the task at hand. Slowly creeping forward, they rounded a broken wall only to be confronted with the most dreadful stench. Covering his mouth to stop from retching, the most advanced of the men took a step forward but was stopped by an inhuman grunting sound, coming from the direction of the stream which lay somewhere to his left. Peering into the darkness, he could just make out a black form, struggling in the sticky peat-bog by the water’s edge. Assuming it to be some pitiful, half-dead cow, the man placed his lantern on the ground and tentatively reached into the darkness to aid the poor beast. When his hand found its intended target, however, he knew in an instant that it was no cow. The hide was covered in thick fur, broken intermittently by patches of scaly skin. At his touch, the beast recoiled and let out an angry bellow, the likes of which could drive any man mad. The creature drew itself to a height of well over eight feet and loomed over him as he cowered in fear in the soaking mud. He closed his eyes in preparation for the end but was saved by the quick thinking of his colleague, who hurled his lantern as hard as he could against the great body of the vile thing.

As the lantern struck home and flame exploded from its casing, the great beast howled in rage before pulling itself free and disappearing in the direction of the Loch. Fearing it might return at any moment, the two men fled downhill towards the safe haven of the distillery, barring the doors and windows upon their arrival. Pouring themselves a drink in order to calm their shattered nerves, the men resolved to tell their co-workers the full story in the morning…

Many scoffed in their face, of course, taking the scent of Ardbeg on their breath as all the evidence that was required, but others were less dismissive. Some nodded solemnly as the two men, clearly still shaken, recounted their terrible tale and one, long in the tooth and nearing the end of his working life, told them it was not the first time he had heard such things. He could even translate for them, the name of the ruined croft where they faced their demon just a few hours before. Airigh Nam Beist – Shelter of the Beast.

The Johnnie Walker Brand

By 1889, Johnnie Walker, currently owned by the spirits conglomerate Diageo, had settled into the commercial blending of whiskies on a large scale. They started with Walker’s Kilmarnock Old Special, a 6 YO with a white label. 1892 saw the launch of Walker’s Kilmarnock Special Old Highland, a 9 YO with a red label and 1904, Walker’s Kilmarnock Extra Special, a 12 YO with a black label. In 1909, these were renamed by the colour of their labels, taking names already in use by the public, viz., Johnnie Walker White/Red/Black Labels. The Red was now a world-beating 10 YO.

In Asia, the prime brand was the Black Dog, launched in 1884 as the Black Dog Rare, an 8 YO and the Phipson Black Dog Premium, a 12 YO, in 1889. 

Johnnie Walker’s Promotional Programmes: First created in 1908, the Striding Man has become one of the world's most recognised brand icons and is symbolic of progress for all those who enjoy Johnnie Walker. In 1999 Johnnie Walker launched 'Keep Walking' – the brand’s first-ever global advertising campaign. This new global positioning transformed Johnnie Walker into a global leader and saw the brand grow from strength to strength. The pioneering campaign saw Johnnie Walker's famous Striding Man icon change direction to appear to be walking forward and was launched in every market around the world.

Dwindling sales saw Johnnie Walker launch parallel programmes in 1914, unable to topple Indian Whisky brand Officer’s Choice from the top spot, they launched the “Joy Will Take You Further” campaign as an extension of the brand’s long-running “Keep Walking” campaign. Aiming to “define the next era” of the Scotch whisky industry, the campaign launched in 50 countries simultaneously on 16 September 2015 – the first time the group has launched a single marketing activation in so many countries simultaneously. The campaign centres around the idea that joy can act as a catalyst for success.

In 2018, bottles of some Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky looked a little different from March 1 with the brand’s famous striding man replaced by a woman, Jane Walker. The new bottle launch coincided with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Going further, the brand kicked off "WALK," a new campaign to push the boundaries for local creative minds.

Johnnie Walker is never found wanting in ideas to grow from strength to strength every year. 2020 saw it launch The Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Series, to encourage traffic between blended and malt whisky customers. It has launched two exclusive Chinese New Year limited editions this year, an intricately illustrated Johnnie Walker Blue Label and a first-of-its-kind John Walker & Sons King George V limited edition.

Johnnie Walker has also announced, through its parent company Diageo, that it will release a limited edition of Johnnie Walker whisky using bottles made of paper rather than glass. According to Diageo, it is the world’s first plastic-free paper-based spirits bottle. The paper will come from sustainably-sourced wood pulp, and the whisky will be launched this year. To create the bottle, Diageo partnered with venture management company Pilot Lite to launch Pulpex Limited, a new sustainable packaging technology company. The paper bottle is designed to be scalable and fully recyclable in standard waste streams.

Dewars White Label: Riding the White Horse

In 1886, John Dewar’s whisky won its first medal for blended whisky at the Edinburgh Exhibition. Five years later Dewar, inadvertently, pulled off the marketing coup of the century. Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, ordered a small keg of Dewar’s to be sent to President Benjamin Harrison in order to chide him for not supporting homegrown products like bourbon. The resulting publicity led to a quintupling of sales of his blended whisky. 

With American sales booming, and with a solid foothold in the domestic British market, Thomas Dewar embarked on his “ramble around the globe” in 1892. This, one-man, two-year sales mission to 26 countries worldwide, resulted in the appointment of 32 agents and set up Dewar’s export network. His sales and marketing success earned Dewar’s a Royal Warrant. Dewar’s has received Warrants from every British monarch from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II.

Looking ahead Dewar saw that to meet rising demand, the firm would need a guaranteed supply of a superior quality Highland malt whisky for use in the company’s blends. He set up the Aberfeldy Distillery in 1898 and unveiled Dewar’s White Label in 1899. He pioneered the concept of marrying whiskies by region of origin before the creation of the final blend and the tagline: “It never varies.” The company’s five distilleries, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Macduff (now closed), Craigellachie, and Royal Brackla, with blends up to 27 YO, were part of the Distillers Co Ltd. The group eventually morphed into Diageo in 1997. Dewar’s and its associated distilleries were sold to Bacardi the following year.

Thomas Dewar was an iconic character in the early days of the modern whisky industry. He was famous, amongst other things, for pithy epithets including the all-time favourite, “There are lots of people out there trying to find new ways to make mistakes.” A real storyteller, among his favourite stories, was the one he recounted about travelling through “dry” states in the Southern US in the late nineteenth century. When he asked about the availability of whisky in one “dry” southern town he was told none was available but he could try the anti-cholera medicine instead. The “medicine” turned out to be a bottle of Dewar’s own flagship brand, the original label still on the front of the bottle and a new label advertising it as anti-cholera medicine on the back. Dewar stated that he took his anti-cholera medicine as instructed three times a day and never came down with cholera while travelling through the region.

Justerini & Brooks: Immortality

Justerini & Brooks, or J&B, now owned by Diageo, is another classic tale from the folklore of Scotch whisky. In 1749, Giacomo Justerini from Bologna, Italy followed his ladylove—an opera singer named Margherita Bellino—to London, only to be spurned. He found an English partner, George Johnson, and they set up shop as wine merchants. In 1760, Justerini gave up and went back home to Italy. He sold his share of the business to Johnson on the condition that his name would forever be retained on the company regardless of who owned it. 

That same year, King George III honoured the firm with the first of its eight Royal Warrants. In 1831, the business was bought by Alfred Brooks and the firm was renamed Justerini & Brooks.

Seeing the potential for blended whisky, J&B was one of the first London spirits merchants to acquire existing stocks of mature malt whisky and combine them with grain whiskies to create its own “house” blend. Named Club, the brand is still available in J&B’s shops in London and Edinburgh. They booked nearly all of the output of Speyside's Glen Spey to fuel future expansion. This prescient step saw fruition during Prohibition in the USA when company sales boomed.

They created a special brand for the American market, J&B Rare. This was a blend of forty-two Scottish malt and grain whiskies, with Speyside malts at its core, and in particular its ‘heart malt’ Knockando, along with Auchroisk. By stockpiling whisky at bonded government warehouses on various islands in the Bahamas they were able to supply bootleggers with as much as they could buy. When Prohibition ended in 1933, it flooded the American market, instantly becoming the top whisky brand in New York City. By 1963 they were selling one million cases a year in the United States, the first Scotch whisky to reach this milestone.

Post globalisation, J&B is the fifth-bestselling blended whisky in the world today, second only to Johnnie Walker in the Diageo stable. They also sell J&B Reserve 15 YO, Jet 12 YO, and a “pure malt” (blended malt), only in France, called J&B Exception. J&B also launched its first global campaign ‘Start a Party'. J&B is notably popular in southern European markets, mainly Spain and is promoted there as the world’s ‘party whisky’, prompted by its Nightology boat parties on an 11-tonne cargo boat starting in 2003.

The Real McCoy

The Cutty Sark is the world’s last remaining clipper ship. It was built on the Clyde, in Glasgow, in 1869 for the China tea trade, and was one of the fastest clipper ships ever built. Edrington PLC, a company whose head office was located ten miles from where the famous ship was built, used the name for a whisky it launched on March 23, 1923. Cutty Sark was the first light-coloured, blended whisky. Launched at the height of the “cocktail culture”, it was designed to be mixed and was aimed squarely at the American market.

During Prohibition, Cutty Sark gave rise to the term “the real McCoy.” The whisky was bootlegged by the legendary Bill McCoy, an American smuggler based in the Bahamas. McCoy, a nondrinker, guaranteed his contraband was uncut and unadulterated. The quality of his whisky gave rise to the expression, “the real McCoy”, an expression that remains a synonym for integrity and authenticity. During Prohibition, “ordering a real McCoy” became slang for ordering a Cutty Sark.

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the impeccable reputation of the whisky led to a surge in sales and Cutty Sark became one of the best-selling Scotch whisky brands in the United States. It remains one of that country’s most popular blends. Bill McCoy died a multi-millionaire in 1948. In 2013, Edrington released Cutty Sark, Prohibition Edition, a 50% ABV blended Scotch, to commemorate Bill McCoy and the 90th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Prohibition Edition is reminiscent of the Cutty Sark smuggled into the United States during the era of Prohibition.

NOTE: There is absolutely no connection between McCoy and the clipper Cutty Sark. Bill McCoy operated the schooner, Henry L. Marshall. He then began to smuggle whisky into the U.S., travelling from Nassau and Bimini in the Bahamas to the east coast of the United States, spending most time dealing on "Rum Row" off New Jersey. After a few successful trips smuggling liquor off the coast of the United States, Bill McCoy bought the schooner Arethusa, registered in Britain to avoid being under US jurisdiction. Bill renamed the vessel The Tomoka.

McCoy made a number of successful trips aboard the Tomoka, and – along with the Henry L. Marshall and up to five other vessels – became a household name through his smuggling activities. He mostly hauled Rye, Irish and Canadian whisky as well as other fine liquors and wines, but never Scotch Whisky.

McCoy became an enemy of the U.S. Government for organised crime. When the Coast Guard discovered McCoy, he established the system of anchoring large ships off the coast in international waters and selling liquor to smaller ships that transferred it to the shore. McCoy also smuggled liquor and spirits from the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon located south of Newfoundland. Finally arrested, Bill McCoy spent nine months in a New Jersey jail. He returned to Florida and invested his money in real estate. He and his brother continued in the lucrative boat-building business. 

The Glenrothes – Byeway the distillery ghost

If you visit the Glenrothes distillery in Speyside, it's customary to "toast to the ghost." In this case, you're celebrating the memory of Biawe ‘Byeway’ Makalaga. When still a young orphan, he was rescued from famine-plagued Matabeleland (in Zimbabwe) by Major James Grant, owner of the Glen Grant Distillery, and taken to Scotland where he served as the Major’s page boy and then butler.

Byeway ended up outliving the major by 40 years and had a quiet life until his death in 1972. He was known as an avid fan of the local football club, Rothes FC, and was awarded a complimentary seat for life, as well as a cup of tea at halftime.

After the rebuilding of the Glenrothes still house in 1979, one of the stills (still 4) was giving trouble and not performing at the same level as the other stills. Reports from the distillery spoke of an old man with dark skin and a scraggly beard emerging during the evening and night shifts. The workers mentioned this to Paul Rickards, head of spirit quality at the distillery. Rickards had known Biawa since 1962 and also knew professor Cedric Wilson, a pharmacologist who had developed a keen interest in the paranormal. Professor Wilson surveyed the site using dowsing techniques and declared that Byeway’s spirit was disturbed by the installation of the new whisky stills, one of which had its ley lines damaged.

Wilson ordered the engineers at the site to sink two stakes of pig iron into the ground to “repair” the ley line. Paul Rickards reported that “a silence descended and tension lifted” after Professor Wilson’s intervention. Wilson then went to the graveyard and unerringly located Byeway’s grave and ‘spoke’ with him, claiming that the issue had been settled amicably. Still, 4 apparently gave no more trouble from then on and Byeway’s ghost hasn’t been seen since.


Hidden within the valley of Forgue, deep within the Scottish Highlands, and in a grand country house, Glen House, James Allardice sits feet up, with a dram of a whisky that he’d spent quite some time making and named GlenDronach. His next challenge was to sell his stock.

James left the following morning with a large barrel and flagon in tow for Edinburgh. He discovered that selling GlenDronach was going to be trickier than he first thought. “We already have our stock for the season,” the landlords all said, “but we’ll bear you in mind for next year.”


After only selling a trickle, a disheartened Allardice was walking up the Canongate, when he was accosted by two young ladies of the night who want him to take them...for a drink. James told them that he had his very own ‘Guid GlenDronach’ whisky that they could sup on, and returned to his hotel room, to the mortification of the hotel staff, with the two ladies, one on each arm!

The following day, word of mouth spread like wildfire about the previous night’s shenanigans and the two women returned for another bottle of GlenDronach to share with their friends. James had pretty much given up on his abortive sales drive in Edinburgh and had planned to return home, so he gave the women the remainder of his flagon.


Later that afternoon, the street was full of women who had consumed one drop too many. This got the neighbourhood talking and everyone became curious to try some of what the ladies were drinking. So they started requesting GlenDronach by name when they went into their local pubs.

As the story goes, James did not return home as planned the following day. Instead, he stayed a while in Edinburgh where he sold all of his stock. Not long after, bottles could be found in every pub along the Royal Mile. GlenDronach had arrived!

Glendronach – The Spanish Ghost

Another Speyside distillery, Glendronach imported a large amount of Spanish Oloroso sherry casks in the 1970s. Apparently, while one of the cask shipments was being unloaded, a stowaway was spotted escaping from an empty cask, dressed in scarlet and black, wearing a full mantilla.

She was described as small and dark. Since then, there have been numerous sightings of a beautiful, exotic woman around different parts of the distillery, with rustling skirts hinting her presence. Her favourite location, however, is rumoured to be the nearby Glen House, specifically the GlenDronach room, where she can take shelter from the Scottish cold. It’s said that it’s easier to sense her after a few whiskies, especially if you are a single man...


Islay has a chilling story attached to Bowmore. So chilling that it is said to have influenced the drinking culture on the island…

The story goes that Islay crofter Lachlan Bàn was returning home one dark and stormy night when he saw the ghostly silhouette of a headless horseman galloping away from his house.

Despite lacking a head, the horseman was clearly a convivial type: he appeared to have left Bàn a bottle of Bowmore (but only after taking a dram himself). When Bàn walked in, the bottle stood open on the table and the fire had gone out. Thoroughly terrified, he didn’t fancy keeping the ghost’s gift, so he threw it away.

Of course, there’s a logical explanation for all of this. According to Bowmore, Bàn’s brother later told him: ‘Lachlan, I passed last Friday night during that dreadful storm.

‘The wind had forced your door open and blown out the fire. I brought a bottle of Bowmore to share with you, but I couldn't wait long, so I took a quick dram and rode for home with my cloak pulled tight over my head to keep out the rain.’

Once Bàn heard this, he was – perhaps understandably – too embarrassed to tell the islanders the truth. So, even now, a true Ileach (native of Islay) will always open a fresh bottle for guests.

A Double Deal on Islay 

An undisclosed ileach (resident of Islay) and maker of whisky for ages grew tired of avoiding the law in the form of gaugers (excise men) and decided to foreswear illicit distilling. He carried out his illicit distilling in the hills around the Glen Road to the SE side of the island. His hideout was a cave bang in the middle of the hills from where he carried his hooch and sold it to local buyers on the sly.

That fateful day, he took the last lot of booze which he hid in a keg under his arm and went across the hills onto the road when he was stopped by a carriage which caught him unaware. With no chance to run and take cover, he decided to brazen it out. He boldly went on to meet the law. The officer, taken aback at being accosted, asked him where he was off to and why he had a keg of whisky under his arm. He replied that some time back he made his own whisky, but with new distilling laws in place, he had to destroy his still and get rid of the whisky he had in hand. “I am headed for the village of Bowmore to hand over this keg to the Excise Officer and to tell him that I’ll never make whisky again,” he said. .

The officer feted him on his honesty and told him that he was the Excise Officer from Bowmore, calling for the Ileach put on an act of surprise. He was reluctantly about to hand over the keg when the Excise Officer stopped him. “Well, my honest man, when you reach Bowmore, would you please go to my house and deliver that keg to my wife to put under the bed beside the other one I have there.” So he went to Bowmore and sold the whisky to a regular buyer. .

He then went to the Excise house, knocked at the door and told the lady that he met her husband on the road and that he was to collect a keg of whisky kept for him upstairs under the bed. She invited him in and asked him to pick up the heavy keg by himself. He did so with alacrity and was warmly thanked by the good lady who even gave him a tip for all his trouble.

He promptly sold the keg of whisky to his buyer and disappeared into the hills. The exciseman tried to trace him later, but he had vanished into the Scottish gloom.

Glen Scotia Distillery: HAUNTED BY A PREVIOUS OWNER?

The buildings of Glen Scotia Distillery, including the malt barns and the barley lofts, are Victorian and the stillhouse is thought to be original. Glen Scotia maintained its cooperage function and there has always been a cooper on the distillery payroll. The water is drawn from Crosshill Loch and the distillery’s own wells which are 80 feet deep.

Campbeltown is also not immune to a haunting or two and the Glen Scotia distillery has one very specific spectre that haunts them. This is the story of Duncan MacCallum, the founder of the Benromach Distillery Company in 1898, who died in what today’s distillery manager Iain McAlister calls “mysterious circumstances.” close to the Glen Scotia distillery.

According to Berry Bros & Rudd, on the night before Christmas Eve in 1930, local industrialist and distillery owner Duncan drowned himself in Crosshill Loch after a dodgy business deal which lost him a fortune. Whatever the truth of the matter, his ghost remains at the distillery to this day – meaning that many employees won’t venture into certain areas after dark. Moreover, MacCallum’s ghost remains at the distillery and will allegedly make his presence known to visiting contractors to ensure no more business deals go bad for the distillery! Crosshill Loch was later made famous in a popular song by Scots entertainer, Andy Stewart. The singer dreams that the loch is full of whisky, not water, and tries to drink it dry.

 TWIN TALES of Arran

The White Stag

The story of the white stag is also well-known to the inhabitants of Arran. Standing proud and tall, this almost ghostly creature has been spotted throughout the island down the centuries. Whether it is the same stag or not is impossible for people to say, but many say that it is.

It has long been recognised that good fortune and luck come to those who spy the white stag and many look for it when they visit. The white stag is the king of all the deer that live on the island – of which there are many – and young stags compete to challenge this monarch during rutting season.

As yet undefeated the white stag retains the first choice of the island’s hinds and is often spotted with four or five does in its company. On the morning that Arran Distillery opened, the white stag was spotted in the meadow in Lochranza overlooking the new distillery building. It was seen by the distillery manager and head distiller and has brought them good fortune ever since.


The Arran Machrie Moor Peated Single Malt Whisky relates to the Stones of Arran. On the rear label, you will find this story:

"The Peated Arran. Lightly peated at 20 ppm, this mythical malt has proved a popular addition to the Arran range. On the west coast of the Isle of Arran lies a windswept and mystical peat bog called Machrie Moor. Bronze Age stone circles and standing stones are strewn across its barren, undulating terrain. One of the stone circles is known as Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, where sits a stone with a carved hole. The legendary warrior giant Fingal is said to have tethered his favourite dog Bran to this stone. This peated expression of the Arran Single Malt perfectly captures the rugged beauty and lore of the landscape. Unleash the legend that is Machrie Moor."

Standing stones on Machrie Moor. To the right of the largest stone is Goat Fell, Arran's highest mountain. 

There are six stone circles located immediately east of the now-derelict Moss Farm. The stone circles are the most prominent monuments on the moor today, erected in about 2000 BC. There is evidence to show that these stones replaced timber circles, first created in 3500 BC.

A wide variety of circles are found on Machrie Moor. Only the one closest to Moss Farm consists of two concentric rings. The most striking is Circle 2. This is now represented by three tall, slender stones (up to 5.5m high), but originally consisted of seven or eight stones. One of its fallen stones now lies in two pieces, fashioned into millstones which never made it to their 18th-century mill.

The circles were associated with the religious and ceremonial activities of the Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers living on Machrie Moor. The stone circles aligned with a prominent notch at the head of Machrie Glen, where the midsummer sunrise would have been visible. Later on, the circles were used for burials, including cremations and inhumations for prominent members of the community. A fine food vessel was found in the middle of circle 2.

The stone circle known as ‘Fingal’s Cauldron Seat’ is named after Fingal the giant – a mythic figure probably derived from the Irish Fionn Mac Cumhail. One stone has a hole in it. This is where Fingal is said to have tethered his dog Bran while he ate a meal in the inner ring.

Dougal and the Giant of Atholl

A long time ago, a great giant was said to terrorise the land of Atholl (what is now the upper parts of Perthshire). The giant – creatures that were apparently a common problem in those days had nothing but contempt for humans and would often steal cattle. Worse, the giant would empty any grain stores he found, filling his great sack and leaving entire communities to struggle to survive through winter.
Fed up with the constant predations of this bothersome giant, Dougal, a young hunter from one of the many clachans surrounding the giant’s glen, hatched a daring plot to rid the lands of this nuisance.
Dougal was smart enough to know that to fight the creature head-on would be foolish, as many had tried and their bodies were by now scattered across the glens.
Instead, Dougal sneaked down to where the giant kept his ill-gotten gains, finding there sacks of oats, jars of honey and incredibly, several small casks of whisky.  It was then he began to formulate a plan.
Using his knife he cut open the sack of oats, he poured them into what was clearly the giant’s drinking cup (a hollowed-out boulder that rested before a stone well), before adding the honey and both of the casks of whisky.
Coming across this bountiful surprise the giant drank his fill, and eventually fell asleep beneath an ancient oak tree. Seeing his chance, Dougal slipped out from his hiding place beneath the sacks of oats and slew the giant as he slept.
Dougal returned to his homestead as a hero and his recipe for the Atholl Brose was passed on from generation to generation.
The Highlander and the Devil

A few centuries ago a young Highlander called Tom Campbell left his home in Wester Ross to become a sailor as many of his kinsmen did in those days.  Joining a ship in Ullapool, Campbell travelled far and wide before returning home to Wigtown where, falling in love with a local girl, he decided to settle down and raise a family.
Tom took a job with the local blacksmith and soon, he and his wife had three lovely bairns. Now Tom, being a Highlander and all, was fond of the usige beatha and would often take in a nip or two when he had finished a hard day of work.
And hard work it was, for the town had become besieged by a plague and Tom was one of the few able-bodied men left who hadn’t succumbed to the sickness. Following a late shift Tom stopped at the local tavern and purchased a bottle of the finest whisky he could afford, in fear that he would have to spend more time at home should the plague worsen.
Before he left he held a toast saying: “The plague is devil’s work right enough! But he’ll not get the better of me!”
On his way home, the way was dark and only the light of the full moon gave him any bearing. Suddenly, he heard a coarse laugh and turned to find himself facing what he had at first mistook for a Highland coo but in fact out to be the devil himself.
“Tom! I hear you have been having a laugh at my expense! Now it is time to pay.” He let out a huge roar, intended to cow the young man. However, he had misjudged the Highlander.
“Och it’s you,” Tom said,”I expected more to be honest. Will you take a drink?”
With that, Tom pulled from his coat his fine bottle of whisky and offered it to the Devil. Tom didn’t know what sort of spirit the devil was used to but the young Highlander could tell he’d never drunk anything like what he was currently tasting. Before Tom knew the devil had sunk nearly half the bottle.
“Save some for me!” Tom cried and took back the bottle to sup some of the whisky himself. The devil staggered slightly and Tom thought to himself that the devil was clearly not used to imbibing the good stuff.
“Well now,” boomed the devil “We will fight for your soul by the code of the cothrom na feinne, the fair play of the Fianna.”
By this, he meant the ancient Highland code of fair combat. Tom nodded and the devil continued, “If I win, your soul will be mine.”
“And if I win?” Tom asked, to which the devil smiled, confident that the Highlander would lose.
“Unlikely, but name your prize.”
Tom continued: “If I win, you will remove the plague and leave the people of this area alone.”
The devil agreed and the two squared up to wrestle. Tom had a few inches on his nefarious opponent but the devil had the greater bulk. The two wrestled for hours and Tom took strength from the sips of whisky he had consumed, while the devil seemed to be struggling with the effects of drinking so much of the powerful spirit.
Finally, as the dawn’s light began to shine and the two wrestled on the beach, the devil’s foot slipped and Tom tossed him onto his back. The Highlander let out a loud whoop of celebration and the devil cursed before disappearing.
Exhausted, Tom slumped to the ground and, taking a final swig from his bottle, he passed out. He was awoken hours later by the local priest who had been searching for him with Tom’s wife. The priest tried to raise him as his wife approached.
“This is a double boon indeed,” the priest cried, “for we have found your husband!”
“Double boon?” Tom asked groggily, as his wife hugged him.
“The plague, my dear man, it lifted this morning, the people are no longer sick!”
Though none believed him, Tom knew that, with the help of the uisge beatha, he had bested the devil that night and saved the people of Wigtown.
Ben Nevis 45-Year-Old & The Fairy Dog

One of these bottles just launched is seen as the beginning of an exciting Scottish Folklore Series. Headed by Cask 88, a supplier of some of the rarest and oldest casks of Scotch whisky in existence, this project pulls drinkers into the fairy tales of Scotland, a land rich in myth and legend. The project kicked off today, May 31st, with the Ben Nevis 45-Year-Old, available on the Cask 88 online store. The first bottling tells the story of Cù-Sìth.

Distilled at the Ben Nevis distillery in 1972, the whisky spent 45 years in a sherry hogshead before the cask was bottled, yielding just 228 bottles, at 43%. This is one of the oldest Ben Nevis casks to be ever bottled and delivers the rich character and immense depth expected after 45 years in wood.

It's dark and deep. These words also describe the tale of Cù-Sìth, the legendary hound rumoured to haunt the Highlands of Scotland. Said to be the size of a small bull, with black and green fur, the ‘fairy dog’, as it came to be known, was believed to be a harbinger of death. The dog hunted its prey in silence, eventually dragging the unlucky souls down to the underworld. When the hound’s howls were heard, men locked up the women and children so they wouldn’t be taken away. According to legend, if you heard the hound’s howl three times, that was it - You’d be on your way to the underworld. Aided by art historian and Celtic Revival specialist Dr Frances Fowle, the Cask 88 team sought to understand and deliver the story of the Cù-Sìth, and its place in Scottish folklore.

The Women’s Only Club

Cardhu: In 1811, John Cumming and his wife leased a farm at Cardow – pronounced ‘Cardoo’ – and, like other farmers near the river Spey, began small-scale distilling, but without a licence. By 1816, John was convicted three times for unauthorised distilling. Interestingly, he was actually a farmer and his wife, Helen, was an illegal distiller. Situated high up on Mannoch Hill, above River Spey, it operated initially as a seasonal farm distillery, post the gathering of the harvest.

In effect, Cardow Distillery was run by women only. Started by Helen, or ‘Granny Cumming’, selling bottles of whisky out of her kitchen window for a shilling a pop, she would convert the distillery into a bakery when Excise Duty men came over and then serve them tea. She would hoist a red flag or hang her washed clothes out to dry to alert her neighbours that the gaugers had dropped in. The street urchins, the prochahs, who ran messages around the district, would see the signal and run to tell the others. Quite often, she would give the Excise Staff a bed for the night and wish them well on their way the next morning. Alfred Barnard, the liquor historian of those times, was enthralled by her energy, innovative spirit and courage and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth’s business sense. Cardow obtained a licence in 1824 and kept raising the distillery’s output. Stories also go that she would walk all the way to Elgin – some 20 miles away – with bladders of whisky tied up underneath her skirts to sell on to willing consumers.

In 1872, Helen handed Cardhu off to Elizabeth, a shrewd businesswoman, who did much to secure the family fortune. Liz quickly expanded the capacity of Cardhu’s facility. Such was Elizabeth’s success, that in 1885 a new piece of land was purchased and over the next two years a bigger new distillery was built. The old stills were sold to William Grant who was then building a brand-new startup distillery called Glenfiddich in Dufftown, and new equipment with a much larger capacity was purchased in its place. The name changed in 1981 from Cardow to Cardhu. Cardhu Pure Highland Malt Scotch Whisky’ was re-launched the next year in a new pack and was made available across the globe.

By the 1890s, production was three times what it had been just 10 years before, and much of Cardhu’s malt was being sold as a blending component to Johnnie Walker. In 1893, Elizabeth oversaw a lucrative deal to sell the distillery to the upcoming grocery-turned-blending company John Walker & Sons, and purchased 100 shares in Walker, an already prosperous business. The Cummings family fortune was sealed! That was a good thing, as it was a big family – Helen had eight children and 56 grandchildren! Liz did not walk away from the business that she and Helen had built up. Instead, she ensured that her son – John Cumming – became a board member, while she continued living on the estate. She also made certain all of the distillery workers kept their jobs.

Dalmore’s Royal Heritage

The Dalmore’s heritage dates back to 1263. It was in this year that Colin of Kintail, Chief of the Clan Mackenzie, saved King Alexander III from the fury of a charging stag. In recognition of this noble act the King granted the Mackenzie Clan the right to use the 12-pointed Royal stag emblem on their coat of arms.

When descendants of the Clan became owners of The Dalmore distillery in 1867, the Royal Stag became the recognisable icon that proudly adorns each bottle of The Dalmore today; an emblem which encapsulates a rich past whilst also embodying a promise that The Dalmore will remain at the pinnacle of single malt.

Since its inception in 1839, The Dalmore single malt has been at the very forefront of innovation. Maturation in a range of casks, including Sherry casks available only to the distillery, deliver whiskies of uncommon depth and elegance: the Dalmore house style derives from a close and trusted relationship that was forged with sherry house González Byass over 100 years ago. The rare casks, which have previously held 30-year-old Matusalem oloroso sherry, are exclusive to The Dalmore. These casks enrich the signature chocolate and orange character of our whisky with rich and nutty flavours.


This is a tale of vindictive fairies, illicit stills and angry smugglers – not to mention the greatest Glenlivet distiller you’ve probably never heard of, the ‘Cripple Captain’.

Captain William Grant of Auchorachan (1791-1877) could have been one of Glenlivet’s most famous distillers. But then he offended the little people, and his luck ran out. An Army Captain in 1809, he resigned and retired on half pay with the honorary title of Captain, and became a farmer at Auchorachan.

Glenlivet had become a notorious den of illicit whisky distilling at the end of the 18th century. The Excise authorities complained that local lairds connived in the illicit trade, encouraging their sub-tenants to distil whisky in order to earn hard currency with which to pay their rents. The lairds, sitting as Justices of the Peace gave laughably lenient sentences to those convicted of manufacturing or smuggling illicit whisky. The Captain himself was known to be one of the conniving Justices.

When distilling was legalised in 1823, the new distilleries were hounded by angry smugglers. One such hard-pressed distiller, James MacPherson of Tomalienen, gave up in 1826. The Captain stepped in, purchased his stills and utensils, and set up his new ‘Glenlivat Distillery’ at Auchorachan.

The Captain and his near neighbour, George Smith at Upper Drumin, survived the difficult early years. They were assisted by the Duke of Gordon’s land agent, who placed substantial orders for their whisky to be sent to the Duke’s great mansion at Fochabers, and to the cellars of many of the Duke’s friends.

When building a new byre at Auchorachan, the Captain was short of a large piece of masonry to serve as a lintel. He decided to remove a great standing stone from the brow of the hill at Auchorachan, one that had stood there from time immemorial, to serve the purpose.

His farm servants warned him of the dangers of doing so: local legend had it that the stone had been erected by the fairies, and there were many folk tales about the vengeful nature of the little people, and of the evils that had befallen mere mortals when they had interfered in matters relating to the Fairy Kingdom. The Captain laughed off the superstitions of his servants and had the stone installed in his byre. And then the ill luck began…

The Captain’s cattle began to fall sick and die of a terrible unknown illness, which no one could identify or cure. In vain did the Captain seek help from cattlemen and veterinarians. At last, in desperation, he took the advice of his neighbours, who told him that the fairies had cursed his byre and that his cattle would continue to sicken until the stone was returned to its rightful place. So he agreed to return the standing stone to its original position on the hill. And, sure enough, his cattle began to recover.

This may have suggested that the Captain had assuaged the anger of the fairies, but his subsequent luck suggests otherwise. His horse bolted from under him and Capt Grant was badly injured in the fall. According to the Banffshire Advertiser, he ‘dislocated the joint at the top of his thigh and fractured a bone there’, suggesting he suffered a compound fracture. A few months later, the Captain’s wife died.

The Captain’s injuries were not treated effectively and proved so severe that he was unable to actively manage his far-flung estates, and his business affairs ‘fell into a jumble’. He was forced to relinquish the leases, and retired to live with his daughter in Dufftown, where he was given the nickname ‘The Cripple Captain’. He died there in 1877.

The Captain may not have become the most famous distiller in Glenlivet, but he did leave an important legacy. The Glenlivat Distillery’s manager, James Grant, had a son also called James, who learned the arts of distilling as a boy. In 1895, this other Grant of Auchorachan purchased the Highland Park Distillery on Orkney, and James Grant & Co went on to become one of the great names in the Scotch whisky trade.



Glenlivet is not only a distillery, but also a general area in Speyside. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Whisky made here became known as some of the best drams in Scotland, due to their characteristic smoothness.

The Indenture is an agreement signed in 1884 by all the local Speyside distillers that states, once and for all, that The Glenlivet is the only whisky to legally use that official nomenclature. The bottom line says there can be only one The Glenlivet whisky, but other distillers can use ‘Glenlivet’ in the name. This is what sets The Glenlivet apart from all other whiskies, probably the most important thing in terms of intelligent property.

Stored in a metal case among the archives is the uniform that Col George Smith Grant – the third owner of The Glenlivet distillery – wore in his painted portrait. It is proudly displayed in the Guardians Library at The Glenlivet distillery. It’s an officer’s dress uniform of the Gordon Highlanders [a line infantry regiment of the British Army that existed for 113 years, from 1881 until 1994]. It was stored in an old Gordon Highlanders’ uniform trunk for a long time and was in reasonable shape seeing as it’s 120 years old and it was in a metal box for 100 years, but required restoration.  It had to be frozen for about six months to kill bacteria, including the hat, the hat box to preserve it and the dress plume that would have been used as decoration. It’s likely to be goose quills, looking at their size.

Nestled in the archives is a newspaper clipping from The Caledonian Mercury in 1834, in which George Smith writes a front-page piece that he believed was “important to connoisseurs of whisky”. There are many newspaper cuttings and clippings in the archive. One from 1834 shows George Smith himself saying that people are starting to copy his whisky. He basically says on the front page: “‘Don’t copy my whisky!’ It’s worth noting that it’s actually another 50 years until they had the Indenture.”

The Balvenie Green Lady

The Balvenie distillery is set up in the unwanted proximity of a castle from a dark period of Scottish history, and a ghost haunts both the floor malting and the cooling cum drying floor for the maltings heated in the furnace, a Green Lady. A mechanical turning-over machine has been installed in 2021. Before it was installed, turning the cooling barley was done by hand, with protective gear in a hot, smoky room; one of the more unpleasant jobs in the distillery—and still not enough to escape the Green Lady. Robbie Gormley, The Balvenie’s recently retired head maltman who had worked there for over 40 years, never turned the barley with his back to the door in fear of the Green Lady sneaking up behind him and tapping him on the shoulder. When at work at night, Robbie often heard her footsteps, so he started to play rock music really loudly so that he didn’t hear them.

Later, for want of a better name, it was called Balvenie Castle. A poem has been written about the ghost:

But I’m tellin’ you noo that I’m nae leein’
There comen’ ben the loft
Wis the Green Lady
And on her shoulder was the elusive malt monkey!
“Aye, and the monkey fichered aboot and played wi’ her hair.”

The phantom was a lady of the manor who had been murdered by some aristocratic brute and symbolised by a hair-obsessed monkey.

Brian Webster, a mashman at the distillery for around fifty years, said:
“Ah’ve nae heerd of nae malt monkey. But ah’ll nae say it doesnae exist.” So that was that: supernatural ambiguity. As Gunn once said, witchcraft is “one of our older Scottish industries.”


The Balvenie: A Day Of Dark Barley 26 YO is a special expression ensconced in unusual settings - The arrival at the distillery of a batch of dark roasted malted barley, more commonly used in the production of stout, caught Maltman Robbie Gormley and Mashman Brian Webster who were on duty on a wet summer’s day in 1992 off guard. Even so, it marked the beginning of a 14-year-long experiment. Its success led to a following 26-year-long trial. The result was a pleasing depth – smokiness and oakiness as well as the classic honey, vanilla and citrus flavours.

No day is quite the same at The Balvenie, but the story of some particular days can be more memorable than others. One such day, in the long wet summer of 1992, a very special batch of barley was bought in. The malt arrived at the distillery quite suddenly, catching the team on the back foot. “Panic stations at The Balvenie! We weren’t ready for it yet, so finding a place to store it was tricky, in the end, the only place was the barley loft, which caused quite a commotion when it came time to carry every single sack back down again,” says Brian Webster, Mashman at The Balvenie.

Robbie remembers handling the over-roasted barley. “You know where barley’s at by feeling it in your hand, in your fingers – you can normally crush the seed in your fingers, split it with your nails. The roasted malted barley was hard–brittle. When our barley’s in the kiln, it’s hard, but it’s nae brittle. And this was hard hard. You could smell it had been roasted. You could smell the dryness.”

It was mixed with Balvenie’s traditional malted home barley, ready for their signature Balvenie mash. Turning a deep, dark burnt black-brown, this unusual one-off batch of barley was part of an experiment undertaken at The Balvenie at a time of significant change.

As long-time Maltman Robbie Gormley says, the experiment came about after ‘listening to the folk, people coming up from other distilleries, thinking “maybe I can change something?” Whisky’s longest-serving Malt Master, The Balvenie’s David C Stewart, agreed: “We did the roasted malt trials to see if we could change something at the point of distillation rather than in the cask. These things do take time – you need patience.”

Brian remembers the mash process: “When we started to mash it in, all went well… It was used like any other malt, transferred from the maltings into our malt bins, ground through the mill, mashed in, then pumped to the wash back. It was here that you could see the difference – it was black as tar, or treacle! As one of the other guys said ‘just as well there was only one batch of this stuff.’”

This unique whisky was originally released in 2006, as The Balvenie Roasted Malt Aged 14 Years. It was the first single malt Scotch whisky to be made using a batch of dark roasted malted barley, more commonly used in the production of stout.

After 14 years of maturation, it had developed a characteristically well-matured Balvenie flavour profile, with honey and oak notes, and an accompanying toastiness and hint of roasted malt. They kept some back – but didn’t know then how long they’d keep it back for.

After its release in 2006, the question became – how would the whisky mature? What would it become? The oldest Scotch whisky made using over-roasted barley, the end result came out for devotees and new Balvenie fans alike. It still had that honey, vanilla, citrus flavour from the first fill Bourbon casks – but some things a little bit different, too. There’s a smokiness and an oakiness. It’s a heavier note, with more wood influence. Extra depth.



Dallas Dhu was the last of the Speyside distilleries to be connected with Victorian entrepreneur Alexander Edward, the site for the plant being on his estate. In 1899, he sold it to the blending firm Wright & Greig, whose brand was Roderick Dhu.

It has not produced whisky since 1983 when it closed due to a water shortage. Since 1988 Dallas Dhu has been a non-working distillery museum and it now seems unlikely to operate as a working distillery again after the license was returned in 1992. However, there is a small chance of it re-opening as apparently most of the distillery apparatus is still in place. Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which manages the site in Forres, Moray, has submitted a public notice “inviting proposals from any interested parties” to develop the Speyside distillery. This is not the first time the site has been considered for reopening. In September 2015, the Scottish Government said it was assessing the feasibility of the project.

This defunct distillery located in Forres, is now a visitor attraction. Many visitors claim that they felt a 'strong and intelligent' presence around them when touring the museum distillery. Those who mention this to the staff members are told the story of the distillery employee who drowned in one of the massive mash tuns decades earlier. If their tales are to be believed, when the visitor centre gets quieter, steps and unexplained noises are often heard where the malting floors once were. The old and stiff light switches appear to be turned at night and very often, workers will go to the distillery in the morning and find the lights on.

CAPTAIN WILLIAM FRASER: Royal Brackla Distillery

An Unsung Hero of Scotch Whisky History

He may very well have been arrogant and stubborn, but Captain William Fraser’s refusal to give in to adversity enabled Royal Brackla distillery to flourish, become the first distillery to gain a Royal Warrant, and ultimately stand the test of time.

According to whisky lore, Captain William Fraser (1767-1846), the founder of the Royal Brackla Distillery was an arrant villain, aloof, arrogant, spiteful and dishonest. Joseph Pacey, the Excise officer stationed at the distillery in Nairnshire in the late 1830s, painted a vivid picture of this ‘tall, muscular, big-framed man. When he spoke it was in a commanding way, especially to those of an inferior position in life to himself.’

Fraser had earned a reputation for clashing with the Excise authorities and Pavey complained that the ex-army Captain was accustomed to command and unwilling to accept instructions from mere civilians. Most especially, he did not enjoy paying Excise duty.  

Because Brackla was aged for longer than other whiskies, the Captain lost more than others to the ‘Angel’s Share’ and would regularly attempt to evade paying duty on the ‘missing’ spirit. The Exciseman refused to turn a blind eye: the Captain was fined heavily on several occasions for his serious breaches of the regulations. The 'vengeful' Captain then became ‘haughty, imperious and tyrannical’.  He forbade his family and workers from having dealings with the Exciseman.

The Captain was concerned that farmers on his estate were turning to illicit whisky distillers to find buyers for their barley. The passing of the Small Stills Act in 1816, however, encouraged many local landowners to set up small licensed distilleries and the Captain joined four other men to build one at Brackla. They struggled to compete with the whisky smugglers and his partners gave up after two years of heavy financial losses. The stubborn Captain continued alone.

Inverness was one of the few Scottish ports which were permitted at the time to ship whisky to London. In 1826 the Captain sent his first consignment of 900 gallons of Brackla to the capital, where he had entered into an exclusive agency agreement with an enterprising wine and spirit merchant, Henry Brett. Brackla was soon the best-known whisky in the capital.

In 1833, Royal Brackla became the first distillery to be awarded a Royal Warrant by King William IV, which was renewed in 1838 by Queen Victoria. The Royal Warrant gave the Captain the privilege to ‘use the Royal Arms on everything connected with his distillery, as a mark of approbation for the complete success which has attended his efforts to produce Highland whisky by licensed distillation…’.

The Captain immediately renamed his distillery Royal Brackla, and Brett placed a series of advertisements in the leading London newspapers offering to supply Londoners with ‘The King’s Own Whisky’.

Brett informed his customers that ‘Every North Briton is aware that Malt Whisky attains the peculiar mellowness, which constitutes its chief excellence, only in casks; we have therefore determined not to bottle largely, but to draw the Royal Brackla whisky from the original Highland puncheons’.

He claimed Royal Brackla was ‘perhaps the only Malt Spirit which proves alike congenial to the palate and constitution of connoisseurs of every country! It is peat-flavoured, but far from rank; strong, but not fiery.’

The whisky was sold at £1 per gallon or in bottles at £2 and 4 shillings (£2.20) per dozen. The price was right, and the Captain prospered. Then, in 1838, the young Queen Victoria granted the distiller her own Royal Warrant. By the time the Captain died in 1846, Royal Brackla was famous throughout Britain.

So, was this pioneering distiller really such a monster? Even Exciseman Pavey admitted his old foe was warm-hearted and generous to his friends and employees. Newspaper reports reveal he was a popular chairman of many local dinners and celebrations, characterised as ‘an excellent neighbour and a kind-hearted country gentleman’.

Pavey, meanwhile, confessed that he had himself earned a reputation as inflexible when serving as the Exciseman in Campbeltown in 1834, where he ‘was blinded somewhat by official zeal’. The evidence suggests that the Captain got a bum rap from the pettifogging Exciseman. William Fraser of Royal Brackla is surely one of the unsung heroes of Scotch whisky history. Albeit a very grumpy one.

Clàr Àrainneachd Eachdraidheil na Ghàidhealtachd

Within the sight of the Balblair Distillery, on the ancient plain of Eadar Dun, lies a great stone monument, erected over four millennia ago by a race now lost to history. It was this race, the Picts, who for a period took their place in the annals of Scottish history and imbued the stone with their myth and legend. It is this sacred stone, the 'Clach Biorach', meaning sharp stone, which has inspired Balblair. The Pictish rock, ageless in a time of change, is part of the very essence of Balblair.

The Clach Biorach is a three-metre Standing Stone located 1⁄4 mile (0.40 km) northwest of the village of Edderton in Easter Ross. It dates to the Bronze Age, but two Pictish-style symbols were later engraved on the north side, making it a Class I Pictish symbol stone. The symbols are a double disc with a z-rod and a salmon above.

Balblair Distillery, in Scotland's Northern Highlands, was founded by John Ross in 1790 on the shores of the Dornoch Firth in the village of Edderton. This village takes its name from the ancient settlement of Eadar Dun, meaning 'between the forts'. It is on the very hills where these 'forts' reside that the pure water of the Ault Dearg burn runs freely, supplying the distillery with the same rich source for over 200 years.

Balblair distillery was found in a 2006 EU survey to have the cleanest air in Scotland. It is the oldest working distillery in the Highlands, and one of Scotland's oldest distilleries with production starting in 1790 - only Glenturret, Bowmore and Strathisla have been operating longer. Records suggest, however, that a Balblair distillery was in existence in the 1740s.

Abhainn Dearg the Red River Myth and SEAFORTH Legend

The river with two names, only the latter was translated to English - Abhainn Dearg, Red River, you won't find it on an OS map, only Abhainn Caslabhat, but what use is a legend to a modern map maker?

The stories stretch back to prehistory. There's a lot of archaeology on Lewis that pre-dates history, the Callanish Stones are probably the most famous. This was a land of Pagan Gods, ritual and magic, oh how beliefs have changed, but not the passion of the islands conviction.

References to fairies, fairy mounds and the like are as recent as the late 1800s and of course, there is the Selkie to consider. The sea peoples, mythical creatures who live primarily as seals, but can assume human form by removing their seal skin. The Norse ruled here but were seen off and much blood has been spilt over this land, now those that fought are gone, and those that died all those years ago are nameless, perhaps, just maybe, their spirits live on?

The tales are not fact, nor are they fiction, written records are scant and confused, and the stories are gleaned from the folk of Uig and have been passed down through history.


While his mother was one evening tending her cattle in a summer shealing on the side of a ridge called Cnoceothail, which overlooks the burying ground of Baile-na-Cille, in Uig, she saw, about the still hour of midnight, the whole of the graves in the churchyard opening, and a vast multitude of people of every age, from the newly born babe to the grey-haired sage, rising from their graves, and going away in every conceivable direction. In about an hour they began to return and were all soon after back in their graves, which closed upon them as before. But, on scanning the burying place more closely, Kenneth's mother observed one grave, near the side, still open. Being a courageous woman, she determined to ascertain the cause of this singular circumstance, so, hastening to the grave, and placing her "cuigeal" (distaff) athwart its mouth (for she had heard it said that the spirit could not enter the grave again while that instrument was upon it), she watched the result.

In a minute or two she noticed a fair lady coming in the direction of the churchyard, rushing through the air, from the north. On her arrival, the fair one addressed her thus--"Lift thy distaff from off my grave, and let me enter my dwelling of the dead." "I shall do so," answered the other, "when you explain to me what detained you so long after your neighbours." "That you shall soon hear," the ghost replied; "My journey was much longer than theirs--I had to go all the way to Norway." She then addressed her:--"I am a daughter of the King of Norway; I was drowned while bathing in that country; my body was found on the beach close to where we now stand, and I was interred in this grave. In remembrance of me, and as a small reward for your intrepidity and courage, I shall possess you of a valuable secret--go and find in yonder lake a small round blue stone, which give to your son, Kenneth, who by it shall reveal future events."

She did as requested, found the stone, and gave it to her son, Kenneth. No sooner had he thus received the gift of divination than his fame spread far and wide. He was sought after by the gentry throughout the length and breadth of the land, and no special assembly of theirs was complete unless Coinneach Odhar was amongst them. Being born on the lands of Seaforth, in the Lews, he was more associated with that family than with any other in the country, and he latterly removed to the neighbourhood of Loch Ussie, on the Brahan estate, where he worked as a common labourer on a neighbouring farm.


The Earl of Seaforth disposed of the Coinneach Odhar, to meet a fate in the manner which Coinneach had unquestionably predicted. He went away to Paris and in due time the Earl returned to his home, after the fascinations of Paris had paled, and when he felt disposed to exchange frivolous or vicious enjoyment abroad for the exercise of despotic authority in the society of a jealous Countess at home. He was gathered to his fathers in 1678 and was succeeded by his eldest son, the fourth Earl. It is not our purpose to relate here the vicissitudes of the family which are unconnected with the curse of Coinneach Odhar, further than by giving a brief outline, though they are sufficiently remarkable to supply a strange chapter of domestic history.

The fourth Earl married a daughter of the illustrious family of Herbert, Marquis of Powis, and he himself was created a Marquis by the abdicated King of St. Germains, while his wife's brother was created a Duke. His son, the fifth Earl, having engaged in the rebellion of 1715, forfeited his estate and titles to the Crown; but in 1726 his lands were restored to him, and he, and his son after him, lived in wealth and honour as great Highland chiefs. The latter, who was by courtesy styled Lord Fortrose, represented his native county of Ross in several Parliaments about the middle of last century. In 1766, the honours of the peerage were restored to his son, who was created Viscount Fortrose, and in 1771, Earl of Seaforth; but those titles, which were Irish, did not last long, and became extinct at his death, in 1781. 

None of these vicissitudes was foretold in the seer's prophecy; and, in spite of them all, the family continued to prosper. That ruin which the unsuccessful rising in 1715 had brought upon many other great houses, was retrieved in the case of Seaforth, by the exercise of sovereign favour; and restored possessions and renewed honours preserved the grandeur of the race. But on the death of the last Earl, his second cousin descended from a younger son of the third Earl and his vindictive Countess, inherited the family estates and the chiefdom of the Mackenzies, which he held for two short years, but never actually enjoyed, being slain at sea by the Mahrattas, at Gheriah, in the south of India, in 1783, after a gallant resistance. He was succeeded by his brother, in whom, as the last of his race, the seer's prophecy was accomplished.

Francis Humberston Mackenzie was a very remarkable man. He was born in 1794, and although deaf, and latterly dumb, he was, by the force of his natural abilities and the favour of fortune, able to fill an important position in the world. It would have been already observed that the "Last of the Seaforths" was born in full possession of all his faculties and that he only became deaf from the effects of a severe attack of scarlet fever, while a boy in school, which we have previously noticed in connection with his remarkable dream. He continued to speak a little, and it was only towards the close of his life, and particularly during the last two years, that he was unable to articulate--or perhaps, unwilling to make the attempt, on finding himself the last male of his line. He may be said to have, prior to this, fairly recovered the use of speech, for he was able to converse pretty distinctly; but he was so totally deaf, that all communications were made to him by signs or in writing. 

Yet he raised a regiment at the beginning of the great European war; he was created a British peer in 1797, as Baron Seaforth of Kintail; in 1800 he went out to Barbados as Governor, and afterwards to Demerara and Berbice; and in 1808 he was made a Lieutenant-General. These were singular incidents in the life of a deaf and dumb man. He married a very amiable and excellent woman, Mary Proby, the daughter of a dignitary of the Church, and niece of the first Lord Carysfort, by whom he had a fine family of four sons and six daughters. When he considered his own position--deaf, and formerly dumb; when he saw his four sons, three of them rising to man's estate; and when he looked around him and observed the peculiar marks set upon the persons of the four contemporary great Highland lairds, all in strict accordance with Coinneach's prophecy--he must have felt ill at ease, unless he was able, with the incredulous indifference of a man of the world, to spurn the idea from him as an old wife's superstition.

However, a fatal conviction was forced upon him, and on all those who remembered the family tradition, by the lamentable events which filled his house with mourning. One after another his three promising sons (the fourth died young) were cut off by death. The last, who was the most distinguished of them all, for the finest qualities both of head and heart, was stricken by a sore and lingering disease and had gone, with a part of the family, for his health, to the south of England. Lord Seaforth remained in the north, at Brahan castle. A daily bulletin was sent to him from the sick chamber of his beloved son. One morning, the accounts being rather more favourable, the household began to rejoice, and a friend in the neighbourhood, who was visiting the chief, came down after breakfast full of the good news and gladly imparted it to the old family piper, whom he met in front of the Castle. The aged retainer shook his head and sighed--"Na, Na," said he, "he'll never recover. It's decreed that Seaforth must outlive all his four sons." This he said in allusion to the seer's prophecy; thus his words were understood by the family; and thus members of the family have again and again repeated the strange tale. The words of the old piper proved too true. A few more posts brought to Seaforth the tidings of the death of the last of his four sons.

At length, on the 11th of January 1815, Lord Seaforth died, the last of his race. His modern title became extinct. The chiefdom of the Mackenzies, divested of its rank and honour, passed away to a very remote collateral, who succeeded to no portion of the property, and the great Seaforth estates were inherited by a white-hooded lassie from the East. Lord Seaforth's eldest surviving daughter, the Honourable Mary Frederica Elizabeth Mackenzie, had married, in 1804, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, Bart., K.B., who was Admiral of the West India station while Seaforth himself was Governor in those islands. Sir Samuel afterwards had the chief command in the Indian seas, whither his lady accompanied him, and spent several years with him in different parts of the East Indies. He died while holding that high command, very nearly at the same time as Lord Seaforth, so his youthful wife was a recent widow at the time, and returned home from India in her widow's weeds, to take possession of her paternal inheritance. She was thus literally a white-coifed or white-hooded lassie (that is, a young woman in widow's weeds, and a Hood by name) from the East. After some years of widowhood, Lady Hood Mackenzie married a second time, Mr Stewart, a grandson of the sixth Earl of Galloway, who assumed the name of Mackenzie and established himself on his lady's extensive estates in the North. Thus, the possessions of Seaforth may be truly said to have passed from the male line of the ancient house of Mackenzie. And still more strikingly was this fulfilled, as regarded a large portion of these estates, when Mr and Mrs Stewart Mackenzie sold the great Island of Lewis to Sir James Matheson.


Sir James Matheson had no immediate plans for a sheep farm or a deer park for Dalmore or Dalbeg. This was the "year of the big sheep" in Dalmore and other parts of Uig Parish. The "Big Sheep" which came with the Highland Clearances was the Cheviot, a breed of sheep from the Scottish Borders, which eclipsed the indigenous Black Face in size, weight and wool growth. In time the "Caora Dubh" would be cleared. Of course, Matheson was intent on boosting estate revenues like the other British gentlemen he'd meet in the clubs of London or Edinburgh. These people looked on themselves as farmers on a grand scale, and readily adopted the latest farming methods which they would discuss among themselves. Because of the nature of the Lewis terrain, Matheson knew that sheep, deer, salmon and white fish were to be his estate's principal commodities, and efforts would be made to establish these "industries" as soon as possible. Thus the lands and rivers were let to tacksmen (tenants)"from a'the pairts" at very attractive rents (well,Sir James thought so). One can still examine the rentals for this period. Dalmore's rent was at this time £115-5-0 which was high compared with land of a similar acreage in another part of the island. The Cheviot was a voracious eating machine, wasn't particularly fussy, but would do so much better on the lush pastures of Dalmore and Dalbeg.

There was no choice. The area had to be evacuated and people were advised to emigrate to Canada. Dalmore's fate was sealed by 1851, but three years earlier, what happened then did not augur well for Dalmore. A few years earlier, the villagers of Tolsta Chaolais asked Sir James Matheson for permission to build a school/ religious meeting house, and permission was granted. Matheson also granted them permission to remove the roof timbers from the old church in Dalmore so that they might be used in the new building at Tolsta Chaolais. They carried the timbers on their backs from Dalmore, and the building was completed in 1848. Now, anyone who remembers dates will have noticed a discrepancy in dates referring to the church. In an earlier post, the stripping of the roof was given as 1858 instead of the correct date of 1848. Sir James would hate to see the church roof removed from over the heads of its churchgoers. It was more likely that the church could no longer field a minister, such was the reputation of Dalmore.

The 1851 Census gives the population of Dalmore as 66 and already we see how Matheson's plan was biting. In the year 1851, 26 people emigrated on a ship named the "Barlow" anchored in East Loch Roag. It was a June day when 400 Lewis people(mostly from Uig) bade farewell to their homeland on a ship of deaths bound for Quebec. In 1855 another emigrant ship with many more Leodhasich on board left from the same spot in the month of May(Aird na Moineach,Tolsta Chaolais). This boat too was going to Canada.

Those who did not need to emigrate but were cleared to make way for sheep moved to other parts of the island such as North and South Shawbost, Upper Carloway, Laxay(Lochs) and beside Sir James in the town of Stornoway.

At this time in Dalbeg, people here were being "moved". One of these was the oldest man in the village. His home was at Cuil a Mhullach (between the present Dalbeg and the quarry) and he was being carried from his house by four men using a bed cover. When they were leaving the village, he asked the men to stop and to turn him around to face the Cleit (Dalbeg's highest hill)where he had spent his youth. Looking at the Cleit, he addressed the hill thus. "How I envy you. At least, they will never be able to remove you!”

By 1852 Dalmore and Dalbeg had been "cleared" of its people and the sheep and shepherds had taken over. Between then and 1875, Donald and John Mackenzie held the tenancy of these two villages separately or together with, for example, a rent of £55.0.0 for Dalbeg alone in 1853, and £100.0.0 for Dalmore and Dalbeg taken as one tack for the period 1853-1860. The next good shepherd to arrive on the scene was one John Sinclair, tenant of both dales initially from 1875 until 1887 at a rent of £102.0.0, and in 1888 this reduced to £90.0.0 because the South Shawbost crofters won back from him the grazings at the west end of Loch Raoinavat, which had been taken from them about 30 years earlier. This judgement in favour of the common people was due to The Napier Commission's Report which came out in April 1884 and generally sided with the crofters' case.


The number of stills was doubled from two to four in 1874 and following Alexander Matheson's death the distillery was sold to the Mackenzies in 1891.

In 1917 production ceased as the Royal Navy was using the warehouses as factories to produce mines. After they left in 1920, part of the distillery had been damaged by fire following an explosion in the warehouses and Dalmore only resumed production in 1922, while Andrew Mackenzie took the Navy to court in a row over compensation.

A Saladin box malting system was installed in 1956, which remained in operation until 1982, the last time any barley was malted on site. The distillery remained under sole ownership until 1960 when it was merged with Whyte and Mackay. The new company increased the number of stills from four to eight in 1966.

In the period between 1970 and 2002 ownership of Whyte and Mackay changed hands a few times and the company went through a bit of an identity crisis. I will try and elucidate the facts to the best of my understanding but dates are conflicted in some of my sources, so apologies in advance for any inaccuracies.

According to the Whyte & Mackay website: "The company became part of Sir Hugh Fraser's SUITS group in 1971. Two years later Tomintoul and Fettercairn distilleries were purchased. SUITS was acquired by Lonrho in 1981 and subsequently, Whyte & Mackay was sold to Brent Walker in 1988 and then to American Brands (now Fortune Brands) in 1990."

The company then acquired Isle of Jura and Tamnavulin in 1993 when they bought Invergordon Distillers. Tomintoul was sold to Angus Dundee Distillers in 2000, but Fettercairn, Jura and Tamnavulin remain part of the W & M stable.

The Whyte and Mackay company name was changed in 1996 to JBB (Europe). American Brands had become Fortune Brands by the time JBB (Europe) staged a management buyout in 2001, changing their name to Kyndal Spirits. This name change proved a confusion too far, though, and the following year Kyndal returned to being called Whyte and Mackay.

Despite all the upheaval, during this period Dalmore was releasing some of the finest malt whisky ever to come out of the Highlands, thanks in large part to the abundant talents of one of the most well-respected ambassadors the whisky industry has: Whyte & Mackay's master blender, the irrepressible Richard Paterson.

Dalmore was next under Indian ownership, with parent company Whyte & Mackay having been bought by Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya's United Brands group in 2007. Mallya ran into financial distress and sold off Whyte & Mackay to Andrew Tan-led Emperador Inc. from the Philippines. The acquisition of Whyte & Mackay was completed by its subsidiary Emperador UK Ltd on October 31, 2014, for an enterprise value of £430 million (P31 billion).


Dun Bheagan Castle
Dunvegan (Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Bheagain) is a village within the parish of Duirinish on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It is famous for Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the chief of Clan MacLeod. Rumour has it that it has been the home of many illicit distilleries over the years and is where the art of whisky making has been passed down through generations.

In The Norse Influence on Gaelic Scotland, it is suggested that the name Dùn Bheagain derives from Old Gaelic Dùn Bheccáin ([the] fort of Beccán), Beccán being a Gaelic personal name. Dùn Bheagain would not mean 'little fort' as this would be Dùn Beag in Gaelic.

Dunvegan sits on the shores of the large Loch Dunvegan, and the Old School Restaurant in the village is noted for its fish, caught freshly from the loch itself. Its permanent population is declining. However, numbers staying in the area during holidays have increased dramatically over the years since 2001.

There are numerous expressions that sport this name.

The Auchenbathie Hooch

Auchenbathie, Auchinbathie Tower or rarely Barcraigs Tower is a ruined fortification, a tower house, once held by the Wallace Clan of Elderslie, situated in Renfrewshire, Parish of Lochwinnoch, Scotland.

Fultons of Auchenbathie:  The Fultons of Auchenbathie were a cadet branch of the old Grangehill family. Fulton of that Ilk is said to have moved here following the loss of their lands in the parish of Kilbarchan. John Fulton was a staunch Jacobite and acquired considerable wealth through smuggling. Contraband was transported inland on horseback, owing to the bad state of the roads. In 1748 John Fulton of Auchenbathie was killed by David Malloch, an excise officer, whilst smuggling spirits near Pollockshaw. Auchenbathie tower was sold off.

Wilson of Auchenbathie: Saunders Wilson was a Paisley weaver and also made illicit whisky. To pursue his whisky distilling he decided to move to Auchenbathie Tower which was not only a safer place but also Beith at that time was a centre of smuggling. In 1785 he had a son Alan whose birth to his wife Katherine Brown is recorded in the parish register. Quite probably, Alan continued smuggling whisky.

The Caledonian Mercury of Thursday 7th November 1822 recounted the story of Thomas Wilson, an officer of excise within the town of Beith who witnessed an innocent-looking horse and cart undergo the town before having his suspicions raised when four stout Highlanders followed behind, apparently offering some protection of the cargo. Mr Wilson gave chase and at the Toll Bar outside Kilbirnie, he attempted to seize the cart and its cargo. For his troubles, he was attacked by the four Highlanders and thrown into a ditch, where they “proceeded to abuse him within the most barbarous manner” whilst the fifth man escaped with the horse and cart.

Two local lads came to the exciseman’s rescue and together, the three gave chase, eventually coming to a stop in Barr, near Lochwinnoch where they found nine casks of whisky abandoned by the roadside. Contained within was some eighty or ninety gallons of whisky but in time they were once more beset by the Highlanders, leading to a “severe and unremitting skirmish” that only ended when some Lochwinnoch men chased the smugglers away. Despite suffering considerable personal injury, the officer accomplished his task and delivered the number of smuggled whisky to the excise office in Beith. Distilling was legalised in 1823.

The London Courier and Evening Gazette of 23 May 1836 carried a billboard from Henry Brett & Co… “The admirers of illicitly-distilled spirit have now a rare opportunity of laying during a stock of true poteen Scotch of extraordinary age and flavour, from actual seizures recently submitted to sale by the Honourable Commissioners of Excise, of which we were purchasers.”

Being late for one's own funeral

In Scotland, it is customary for a fair amount of whisky to be consumed at a funeral, which often leads to quite spirited services. Indeed, the custom has even led to the saying 'A Scottish funeral is often merrier than an English wedding.'

In the years before motorised transport, the recently deceased would be carried from their homes to the local kirk, and funerals would often involve the entire community, who would share drams and stories of the recently departed as the coffin was carried along on its fateful journey. One such funeral was that of Miss Jessy Colquhoun of Angus. The community had gathered to see her off and the men had raised her coffin to carry her to the kirkyard. Led by her brother Jamie, the men set off on the four-mile journey to the kirk. In those days, it was customary for the men to stop at each inn they passed to toast the deceased and to take a rest before resuming the journey.

At each stop, the coffin would be laid upon Lecker stanes, flat stones designed for just such a job. The funeral party set off at just after noon and made a stop at each of the three inns on the way to the kirk. Arriving at the kirkyard and now nearing sunset, Jamie apologised to Auld Tam the gravedigger for being late, swaying slightly as he did so.

Auld Tam nodded before saying: "That's aw very well but where's Miss Jessy?"

Jamie turned to look at the party, which by now had swelled to almost a hundred strong, only to realise they'd left the coffin at the last inn. Six of the youngest (and soberest) boys were dispatched with haste to retrieve her.

It is from this story that many believe the phrase 'being late for one's own funeral' arose.


From legends we learn that St Andrews is possessed of a prodigious number of supernatural appearances of different kinds, sizes, and shapes—most of them of an awe-inspiring and blood curdling type. In fact, so numerous are they—more than 80 in number—that there is really no room for any modern aspirants who may want a quiet place to appear and turn people's hair white.

There is the celebrated Phantom Coach that champion jockey Willie Carson tells us about. It has been heard and seen by many. There is also a white lady that used to haunt the Abbey Road, the Haunted Tower ghost, the Blackfriars ghost, the wraith of Hackston of Rathillet, the spectre of the old Castle, the Dancing Skeletons, the smothered Piper Lad, the Phantom Bloodhound, the Priory Ghost, and many, many more. We could first get to some story of relevance before adding a hackles-raiser, the tale of "The Veiled Nun of St Leonards Church Avenue."

Kingsbarns Distillery, the brain-child of former St Andrews golf caddie Douglas Clement was five years in the planning but took just 18 months to build. All new distilleries, regardless of the scale, need a lot of working capital, but Clement had little beyond a box full of business cards gathered as a caddie for wealthy golfers at Kingsbarns Golf Links on the Fife coast, a few miles from St Andrews.

Realising there was no nearby whisky distillery to satisfy the thirst of the course’s visitors, and having come across a derelict 18th-century farm steading on the Cambo Estate, situated just a short distance from Kingsbarns, Clement decided to build his own. Despite all efforts, he couldn’t manage the funding and sold out to the Wemyss family, owners of Wemyss Malts. Kingsbarns Dream to Dram is the flagship single malt from Kingsbarns Distillery in the Lowlands.

However, we now know that’s not all it’s famous for; The spooky story that follows doesn’t feature any gruesome or scary apparitions, but rather the tale of the friendly monk in St. Rules Tower, the tallest tower in St. Andrew’s Cathedral grounds and it is a very popular destination for visitors of the historic seaside town.

The relics of St Andrew (Patron Saint of Scotland) were brought to what was then known as Kilrimont or Cennrígmonaid (now St Andrews) by Bishop Acca of Hexham. There is an alternative and probably more fanciful story, that Saint Rule (also known as St Regulus) brought a number of St Andrew's bones here by boat in 347 AD, having sailed from Patras in Greece and eventually surviving a shipwreck near the site of today's harbour.

One of the best-known ghosts is that of the friendly monk in St Rules tower, all that remains of the original St Rules Church. It was in the late 1950s that the tale gained in popularity when a visitor made the long climb up the tight spiral staircase to the top of the 100-foot high tower. As he did so, he stumbled on the old, worn stairs and was offered assistance by a gentleman who was coming down the stairs.

The visitor politely declined the help and the man continued past towards the bottom of the tower. After spending some time completely alone at the top of the tower, the visitor returned to the staircase and, as he descended, he became aware of just how narrow they were and his thoughts turned to the man he had encountered earlier. The stairs are far too narrow for two people to stand side by side, yet he had not felt the man even brush against him as they had passed. He also recalled that he had been wearing some form of a robe, an unusual choice of garment. Upon reaching the bottom of the tower, the visitor spotted a custodian and asked about the other man.

The custodian assured him no one else had been up the tower but, upon hearing his story, assured him that he had simply encountered the spirit of the monk, who comes to the aid of those who struggle with the stairs. The ghost is believed to be that of Robert de Montrose, who was a prior at the cathedral in the 14th century. A young monk in his care named Thomas Platter was particularly disruptive, yet Montrose refused to give up on him, believing everyone had some good in them.

Platter however did not appreciate the faith his Prior had in him, and while spending a night locked up due to yet another misdemeanour, he plotted his revenge and, in 1393, he followed Montrose as he went about his nightly duties and stabbed him several times in the back. The prior survived long enough to identify his assailant, who after a short trial was sentenced to imprisonment on limited rations and was, in effect, starved to death. It seems Montrose has never lost his faith in people, still returning to offer help to those in need.

The Nun of St Leonards is as curious and interesting as any of them, though a bit weird and gruesome. In the time of Queen Mary Stuart, there lived in the old South Street a very lovely lady belonging to a very old Scottish family, and her beauty and wit brought many admirers to claim her hand, but with little or no success. She waved them all away. At last she became affianced to a fine and brave young fellow who came from the East Lothian country, and all went merrily as a marriage bell, but clouds overspread the rosy horizon. She resolved that she would never become an earthly bride, but would become a bride of Holy Church—a nun, in point of fact. When her lover heard that she had left home and entered a house of Holy Sisters, he announced his intention of rushing to St Andrews, seizing her, and marrying her at once, a project the young lady's parents blessed. He left immediately, and there received a terrible shock. On meeting this once lovely and loved maiden, he discovered that she had actually done what she had written and threatened to do. Sooner than be an earthly bride she had mutilated her face by slitting her nostrils, cut off her eyelids and both her top and bottom lips, and had branded her cheeks with hot irons.

The poor youth fled in grief to Edinburgh, where he committed suicide, and she died from grief and remorse. That all happened nearly 400 years ago; but her spirit with the terribly marred and mutilated face still wanders o' nights in the peaceful little avenue to old St Leonard’s iron Kirk gate down the Pends Road. She is all dressed in black, with a long black veil over the once lovely face, and carries a lantern in her hand. Should any bold visitor to that avenue meet her, she slowly sweeps her face veil aside, raises the lantern to her scarred face, and discloses those awful features to his horrified gaze. Many have seen her.

A decade ago, an acquaintance was walking up and down Pends Road and thought he would take a survey of the little avenue when at the end he saw a light approaching him, and he turned back to meet it. Thinking it was a policeman, he wished him "Good evening," but got no reply. Once nearer, he saw it to be a veiled female with a lantern. Getting quite close, she stopped in front of him, drew aside her long veil, and held up the lantern towards him. "My God," said he, "I can never forget or describe that terrible, fearful face. I felt choked, and I fell like a log at her feet. Some kind soul has brought me back, but I leave tomorrow"—and he did by the first train. We never saw him again, but I had a letter from him a year later, telling me that on Christmas day he had had another vision, dream, or whatever it was, of the same awful spectre. Some months later, I read in a paper that he had died on Christmas night of heart failure. I often wonder if the dear old chap had had another visit from the terrible Veiled Nun of St Leonards Avenue. 



The Factor of Kildalton Castle - An Ancient Islay Ghost

In the early days, there was a strong belief in "familiars" and ghosts. A familiar is an animal-shaped spirit who serves for witchery, a demon or other magician-related subjects. Familiars were imagined to serve their owners as domestic servants, farmhands, spies, and companions, in addition to helping bewitch enemies. In this story however the familiar is the appearance of a person who was known to be somewhere else.

Kildalton Castle near Port Ellen (famous for two apparitions) has its very own resident ghost. There is a story known on Islay about a "laird" who had an employee, a sort of factor, whose appearance was very distinctive. The laird lived in Kildalton Castle, which was demolished years ago, and his employee had to leave the island on several occasions. During his absence, he was however seen several times wandering in the large castle. Many years after this man was dead and buried, a couple of women were sitting just off the path which runs through Craigmore wood, once the property of the "laird". As they sat they became aware of someone approaching. Looking up they saw a man coming towards them dressed in clothes of a bygone age. The strange thing was that he was followed by a terrier dog. The women let the man pass and while he did there was not a sound at all and he and his dog disappeared into the bushes. The women were rather scared and frightened and feeling they could not stay any longer in these woods, they made for home. One of the women related the incident to her mother, describing the man she had seen. The mother, who had been in the "laird's" employment for many years, recognised the description as that of the "laird's" employee, the factor of Kildalton Castle.

The Port Ellen Haunting

Next, is the haunting in Port Ellen. Now a country hotel, this building was once a distillery. When the building was still in use as a distillery in the nineteenth century, a thirsty burglar paid a visit. Indeed, being surrounded by barrels of fine malt whisky, he had a tipple or two or three or four. As a result, not being sharp with sobriety, he made for the closest exit. Unfortunately, this was a second-floor window! He did not survive the fall and is said to still haunt the building to this day. From time to time he can be seen at the spot where he fell surprising any visitors in his path. The window has since been bricked over.

Highland Park Valknut

The Orkney Isles have a history dating back to Norse and Pictish times there is a lot of grave history and heritage on these majestic isles. Skaill House, near the Highland Park distillery, is said to be built on top of an ancient Pictish burial ground which has led to numerous reports of ghostly figures and apparitions in the House’s empty rooms!

The Valknut (pronounced VAL-knoot) is one of the most widely-discussed yet enigmatic of all of the symbols that appear in connection with Norse mythology. Visually, it’s comprised of three interlocking triangles. Archaeologically, it appears on several runestones and pictorial memorial stones that date from the Viking Age. Valknut is a modern Norwegian compound word that means “knot of those fallen in battle” and was introduced by Norwegians who lived long after the Viking Age.

In the archaeological record, the Valknut appears only in connection with the cult of the dead, as in the aforementioned runestones and ship burial. Similar-looking symbols can also be found on the cremation urns of the Anglo-Saxons. In most cases, Odin is also present. To find associations with both death and Odin together is no surprise, since Odin was, among many, many other things, a psychopomp –a figure who ferries the spirits of the dead to the underworld and then back to the world of the living – as well as the leader of various hosts of the dead, such as the warriors of Valhalla and of the Wild Hunt.  

Captain Beaton of King Street, Aberdeen

King Street was made famous in the early 1860s when the Chivas brothers set up shop there. This street in the heart of Aberdeen has had numerous reports of strange goings-on, which link back to the 1860s when the street was home to army barracks. Some of these reports include sightings of a soldier with bandages around his head and hands, others have seen a soldier in uniform (complete with white spats, a kilt and a greatcoat), cold spots have been felt in parts of the building, and the sound of two men having a conversation has been heard when nobody else was around!

Captain Beaton of the Gordon Highlanders knew very well the horrors of the Western Front during WWI. He had been seriously wounded there and was recuperating in Aberdeen when he was recalled for duty and told to join the 3rd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders at their King Street barracks in March 1918. The next morning, he was found hanging in the Officer’s Mess in the southeast turret of the building.

The military authorities erased him from the records for his “cowardice”. But Captain Beaton’s story doesn’t end there. Following his tragic death, there were reports of supernatural occurrences, sudden cold spots, weird noises – and of an officer in full regimental dress spotted roaming in the building.

The site manager for the developer Stewart Milne, told of his experience. “It was a warm March evening and I was walking down the south stairs. I felt a freezing cold breeze rush by me. It was really freaky.”He was not the only one to be freaked. A brick worker was also left shaken. “I was in a room with other workers and all of a sudden a one-way sign that was leaning against a wall started to rattle. The windows were all closed and there was no breeze coming through.”The Evening Express report of the ghostly goings-on in 2010 also said a length of rope was found in the rafters of the south turret during the refurbishment work.

But stories of Captain Beaton go back well beyond just a decade. There is a tale of a young girl visiting her aunt when the barracks were converted to houses just after the First World War. She was playing in the loft and saw a soldier who suddenly vanished. As old-timer Joe Mackie recalls, “I remember in my days when I was there as a conductor and driver there was a canteen area that drivers and conductors who were waiting to go on to their buses or tram cars sat in. There were certain individuals who were pretty scared to go up there and sit alone. They were okay if there were a few of them, but they wouldn’t go up on their own because of this ghostly feeling.”

The bright, modern facilities were opened by the Princess Royal in 2010 – which brought the Army back on parade. Captain Beaton seems to have quietened down of late – perhaps the salute of honour to the military history of King Street has soothed his troubled soul.


Glen Moray distillery lies nestling on the banks of the river Lossie in the Western quarter of the ancient city and royal burgh of Elgin. Glen Moray Single Malt Whisky has been distilled on-site since 1897 by a small dedicated team of craftsmen. In over a century of distilling at Glen Moray, much has changed, however, the ingredients, processes and skills of those responsible for producing Glen Moray remain constant.

Glen Moray distillery had always been a workhorse for Glenmorangie's blended products and cheap supermarket own-label brands. This clearly would not fit with the philosophy of new owners since 2104, Louis Vuitton - Moet Hennessy (LVMH) and few were surprised when in late 2008 it was announced that Glen Moray had been sold to the French company La Martiniquaise. It seems likely that the bulk of Glen Moray's output will now end up in the new owner's flagship Label 5 blended whisky, most prevalent in the Far East.

The original road into Elgin passes through the distillery grounds under the shadow of Gallow Hill, where executions were carried out until the end of the 17th century. The old road into Elgin passes right through the distillery grounds which have been witness, through the centuries, to the ebb and flow of the nation's legends, triumphs and disasters. A litany of names: St Columba, Edward the First, the 'Hammer of the Scots', the Wolf of Badenoch who burnt down the city's cathedral. Macbeth, High Steward of Moray, later King of Scotland pursued the wounded Duncan after the Battle of Torfness to his death in Elgin. Prince Charles retreated this way to Culloden Moor followed by 'Butcher' Cumberland and the Hanoverian forces. During an expansion decades ago, grim reminders of its dark times were unearthed, including seven skulls which for years were displayed within the distillery before being properly re-buried.


There is a tantalising assertion in Misako Udo’s book ‘The Scottish Whisky Distilleries’ that Aberlour distillery “is haunted by a lady and a dog.” Surprisingly, Misako could not remember where she read about it. Nobody else can recall such a story. So here is a spectral snippet waiting either for deeper research or for someone to make up a story to fit. Aberlour does have a ‘Fairy Knowe’ at the rear of the distillery. This signpost to another realm is even marked on the Ordnance Survey map. The name Aberlour itself means ‘mouth of the chattering burn’ and this suggests a pre-Christian belief in talking spirits. Yet people say they sometimes hear the voices of ancient Celts coming from the burn. Hearing voices is not always a good sign.

At Dailuaine, in previous times, lived an infamous outlaw and smuggler, James Grant, known as ‘James of the Hills,’ whose bothy was supposed to be haunted. Alfred Barnard tells the story: “A popular legend has it that the midnight wanderer may yet see pieces of evidence of their craft and that the darker the night and the wilder the weather the more likely is he to stumble across the haunted bothy, which is situated in a rocky cavern in a ravine through which rushes one of the Dail-Uaine Burns. There the still-fires are seen weirdly sparkling like eyes of diamonds, and the ghosts of the departed smugglers busy at their ancient avocation.”

In another reference to smugglers’ ghosts, Barnard tells a story from Glendarroch distillery in Ardrishaig: “Tradition says that there is a smuggler imprisoned in the heart of the hill, who is kept in durance vile by the avenging spirit of a revenue officer whose life he took.“He is allowed to come forth once a year at midnight, on the anniversary of the day upon which the crime was committed, and should he then happen to meet the spirit of the comrade who betrayed him to the officers of the law, the spell would be broken and he released.”

Most distillery ghosts are the un-departed spirits of people who died there, usually in unfortunate circumstances. Glen Ord is haunted by a former maltman, Cardhu by a mashman, the ghost of Mr Cochran Cartwright (manager 1869 – 1899) walks Glengoyne, Glen Spey is the sad limbo of a soldier who committed suicide and Glen Scotia is troubled by the ghost of a former proprietor who drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch after being conned out of his savings. Glenkinchie has multiple ghosts, including a former maltman Gentle Tam, Mrs Redpath and Mischievous Willie, who throws distillery guides across the floor.

Not all ghosts are harmful. The wife of John Haig took to her bed and refused to get up when he died suddenly in 1773 until the ghost of her dead mother spoke to her. Encouraged by what the ghost told her, she left her bed and set her sons on the path to founding the Haig whisky dynasty. Ghosts may ‘appear’ but it is difficult for the living to initiate contact with revenants. Paul Pacult tried when he spent the night in the chilly, silent darkness of a warehouse at Highland Park hoping to meet the ghost of founder Magnus Eunson. He heard clanking sounds and a gust of wind brought “a rolling wave of rich, almost vanilla-like fragrance,” but he never saw Eunson. Talking to the watchman in the morning, he discovered, that there had been no one in the distillery and that far from windy, it had been ‘calm as the dead all night.’ Highland Park workers continue to maintain that Magnus Eunson does wander the place after dark.

In 2003, the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay came to the attention of the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency(DTRA). The small distillery had webcams from which internet browsers could view the day-to-day running of the distillery. The webmaster received an email from “Ursula” who told him that one of their cameras was a bit wonky. The webmaster emailed back thanking Ursula and on further enquiry found that he was corresponding with the DTRA who had been monitoring the place as a potential security threat!


Whirlpool Corryvreckan takes its name from the Gulf of the same name that contains the whirlpool that characterises its waters, located between the islands of Jura and Islay, and one of the largest in Europe.

Apparently, the whirlpool is named after the Viking Prince Breacan, who perished when he attempted to prove his love for an Islay princess by lasting three full nights on a boat in the whirlpool’s swirl. Goddess, Cailleach Bheare, guardian of the whirlpool, took pity on Prince Breacan and brought him down to her dark lair at the bottom of the sea where he has slept ever since. Lo and behold, he has finally awoken in a bottle of whisky.

In Gaelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx) myth, the Cailleach is a divine hag and ancestor, associated with the creation of the landscape and with the weather, especially storms and winter. In modern Irish folklore studies, she is also known as The Hag of Beara, while in Scotland she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter.

The Cailleach is often referred to as the Cailleach Bhéara[ch] in Irish and Cailleach Bheurra[ch] in Scottish Gaelic. Gearóid Ó Crualaoich believes this comes from a word meaning 'sharp, shrill, inimical' – bior[ach] or beur[ach] – and refers to the Cailleach's association with winter and wilderness, as well as her association with horned beasts or cattle. The 8th- to 9th-century Irish poem The Lament of the Old Woman says that the Cailleach's name is Digdi or Digde. In Manx Gaelic, she is known as the Caillagh.

In Scotland, 20th-century folklorist Donald Alexander Mackenzie has named her Beira, Queen of Winter and she is credited with making numerous mountains and large hills, said to have been formed when she was striding across the land and accidentally dropped rocks from her creel or wicker basket. In other cases she is said to have built the mountains intentionally, to serve as her stepping stones. She carries a hammer for shaping the hills and valleys and is said to be the mother of all the goddesses and gods. According to Mackenzie, Beira was a one-eyed giantess with white hair, dark blue skin, and rust-coloured teeth. The Cailleach displays several traits befitting the personification of winter: she herds deer, she fights spring, and her staff freezes the ground.

In partnership with the goddess Brìghde, the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhainn (1 November or first day of winter) and Bealltainn (1 May or first day of summer), while Brìghde rules the summer months between Bealltainn and Samhainn. Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brìghde as two faces of the same goddess, while others describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Bealltainn and reverting to humanoid form on Samhainn in time to rule over the winter months. Depending on local climate, the transfer of power between the winter goddess and the summer goddess is celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brìghde (1 February) at the earliest, Latha na Cailliche (25 March) or Bealltainn (1 May) at the latest, and the local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde.

Là Fhèill Brìghde is also the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on 1 February is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if Là Fhèill Brìghde is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over.

On the west coast of Scotland, the Cailleach ushers in winter by washing her great plaid in the Gulf of Corryvreckan (Gaelic: Coire Bhreacain - 'whirlpool/cauldron of the plaid'). This process is said to take three days, during which the roar of the coming tempest is heard as far away as twenty miles (32 km) inland. When she is finished, her plaid is pure white and snow covers the land.

The Cailleach is prominent in the landscape of Argyll and Bute, Scotland. She is also known as the Cailleach nan Cruachan ("the witch of Ben Cruachan"). Ben Cruachan is the tallest mountain in the region. Tea towels and postcards of her are sold in the visitor shop for the Hollow Mountain, which also features a mural depicting her accidental creation of Loch Awe. Legend has it that the Cailleach was tired from a long day herding deer. Atop Ben Cruachan, she fell asleep on her watch and a well she was tending overflowed, running down from the highlands and flooding the valleys below, forming first a river and then the loch. She is also associated with other Scottish mountains. Ben Nevis was said to be her "mountain throne".

Such then is the background to Ardbeg's highest-proof whisky, all of 57.1% ABV, The Ardbeg Corryvreckan.


The much older village of Mortlach preceded Dufftown and sits next to the Mortlach Church, an ancient monument and one of the oldest places of continual worship in Scotland. The Mortlach Church is believed to have been founded by St. Moulag in 566. It appears that prior to the building of the church, the site was used as a place of Pictish worship. There is a Pictish stone in the graveyard in the shape of a cross, known as the battle stone and standing 1.75 metres high. Another older stone, the elephant stone was found in the churchyard in 1925 and has now been built into the wall of the church. Some parts of the original church still exist, heavily reconstructed through 1876 and final restoration work was undertaken in 1931.

The Battle of Mortlach took place in 1010 and was fought by King Malcolm II against the invading Viking Danes led by Enetus (or Enecus) who was the General of the forces of Sweyn Forkbeard. Malcolm II (or Mael Coluim mac Cinaeda) was King of Alba from 25 March 1005 to his death on 25 November 1034.

The first clashes of the battle were near the site between Mortlach church and what is now Mortlach distillery.  The Scots attacked quickly and with speed. The Danes repelled the advancing Scots and the Scots suffered heavy losses.  Three thrains (or lords) were slain, Kenneth of the Isles, Dunbar of Lothian, and Graeme of Strathern and the Scots fled along with Malcolm.  

Malcolm was able to stop the retreat at the monastery dedicated to St Molocus or St Moluag and gathered his remaining forces. At this point, he kneeled in the graveyard of the church and prayed for the help of God and St Molag. The monks associated with the church and nearby monastery saw that Malcolm was a good Christian and with Malcolm's promise to enlarge their church by 3 spear lengths they joined Malcolm's forces.

With their help and the advantage of the higher ground, the Scots re-engaged the Danes who were spread out due to the speed of their pursuit. The tide of the battle changed. Enetus was slain by the prowess of Malcolm, who threw Enetus off his horse and strangled him.

Enetus was buried with a huge and irregularly blue-black roundish stone over his grave which was brought from his homeland.  For many years after the elders of the area would meet at the grave every New Year to salute the grave with a dram. The stone was later rolled some distance away and made a part of a fence around a field of corn. This stone then became known as the Aquavitae Stone as the men who struggled to move the stone were rewarded for their labour with a pint of whisky which they drank over the stone. The location of the stone has since been lost.

Malcolm kept his promise to enlarge what is now Mortlach Church. The obelisk on the banks of the Dullan is said to have been erected to mark the victory.  The Battle Stone is certainly a late Pictish symbol stone of green slate, and does probably date from the mid-11th century. It is a Class II stone, i.e. it bears Christian symbols on one side and more traditional Pictish symbols on the other. In this case, the stone has an incised Celtic-style cross, a pair of fishmongers and a beast on one side, and a serpent, ox skull, bird, dog, and horseman on the other.  The stone stands about 1.75 metres high (just over 5.5 feet), and can be found beside the path in the lowest part of the graveyard. The Battle Stone is only one of two Pictish stones at Mortlach. The other, probably older, is in the church vestibule. This second stone has an incised carving of a beast, possibly an elephant, and a curved symbol which may represent a brooch.

Dufftown square has an attractive clock tower at the crossroads in its town centre, the focal point of the town. The three-storey tower was constructed of grey granite with pink granite dressings in 1839 and was originally the Dufftown jail. The tower was originally topped by a leaded steeple; it now has a bellcote with a leaded ogee roof, ball finial and weathervane. Later it became the burgh chambers.  It also had a spell as a private home. Until recently it housed the tourist information centre. The clock itself was originally from Banff and is known locally as "the clock that hanged Macpherson". 

Macpherson was a man of magnificent stature, strength and intellect; an expert swordsman and an accomplished fiddler. He, with his band of outlaws, terrorised the landed gentry and he earned a reputation as a Scottish Robin Hood by stealing from the wealthy and sharing the spoils with the less fortunate.

Macpherson was finally captured in Keith by a posse organised by his arch-enemy, Lord Duff of Braco.   He was tried in Banff and condemned to hang. On the day of the execution, Lord Braco heard that a lone rider was approaching from Turriff with a reprieve. Legend has it that he had the town clock turned forward by fifteen minutes to ensure the execution was not stopped. The people involved in moving the clock forward were punished lightly, and for many years afterwards the clock was kept fifteen minutes fast, as a reminder of that fateful day. 


A week or so after a writer to Pitlochry had settled in a rented floor of a gracious lady’s home, he took, at her suggestion, a rest from his writing, and spent the day on Loch Tay, leaving again for "Donald Murray House" at seven o'clock in the evening. He cycled, and after a hard but thoroughly enjoyable spell of pedalling, eventually came to a standstill on the high road, a mile or two from the first lights of Pitlochry. He halted, not through fatigue, but because he was entranced with the delightful atmosphere, and wanted to draw in a few really deep draughts of it before turning into bed. His halting place was on a triangular plot of grass at the junction of four roads.

He remained there for ten minutes and was about to remount his bicycle when he suddenly became icy cold, and a frightful, hideous terror seized and gripped him so hard that the machine, slipping from his palsied hands, fell to the ground with a crash. The next instant something—its outline blurred and indefinite—alighted on the open space in front of him with a soft thud, and remained standing as bolt upright as a cylindrical pillar. From afar off, there then came the low rumble of wheels, which momentarily grew in intensity, until there thundered into view a waggon, weighed down beneath a monstrous stack of hay, on the top of which sat a man in a wide-brimmed straw hat, engaged in a deep confabulation with a boy in corduroys who sprawled beside him. The horse, catching sight of the motionless "thing" opposite me, at once stood still and snorted violently. The man cried out, "Hey! hey! What's the matter with ye, beast?" And then in a hysterical kind of screech, "Great God! What's yon figure that I see? What's yon figure, Tammas?"

The boy immediately raised himself into a kneeling position, and, clutching hold of the man's arm, screamed, "I dinna ken, I dinna ken, Matthew; but take heed, mon, it does na touch me. It's me it's come after, na ye."

The moonlight was so strong that the faces of the speakers were revealed to him with extraordinary vividness, and their horrified expressions were even more startling than was the silent, ghastly figure of the Unknown. The scene comes back with its every detail as clearly marked as on the night it was first enacted. The long-range of cone-shaped mountains, darkly silhouetted against the silvery sky, and seemingly hushed in gaping expectancy; the shining, scaly surface of some far-off tarn or river, perceptible only at intervals, owing to the thick clusters of gently nodding pines; the white-washed walls of cottages, glistening amid the dark green denseness of the thickly leaved box trees, and the light, feathery foliage of the golden laburnum; the undulating meadows, besprinkled with gorse and grotesquely moulded crags of granite; the white, the dazzling white roads, saturated with moonbeams; all—all were overwhelmed with stillness—the stillness that belongs, and belongs only, to the mountains, and trees, and plains—the stillness of shadowland.

And while these minute particulars were being driven into his soul, the cause of it all—the indefinable, esoteric column—stood silent and motionless over against the hedge, a baleful glow emanating from it.

The horse suddenly broke the spell. Dashing its head forward, it broke off at a gallop, and, tearing frantically past the phantasm, went helter-skelter down the road to my left. Tammas turned a somersault, miraculously saved from falling head first onto the road, by rebounding from the pitchfork which had been wedged upright in the hay, whilst the figure, which followed in their wake with prodigious bounds, was apparently trying to get at him with its spidery arms. But whether it succeeded or not is unknown, as he mounted the bicycle and rode as never ridden before and never ridden since.

The landlady seemed very serious. "It was stupid of me not to have warned you," she said. "That particular spot in the road has always—at least ever since I can remember—borne the reputation of being haunted. None of the peasants round here will venture within a mile of it after twilight, so the carters you saw must have been strangers. No one has ever seen the ghost except in the misty form in which it appeared to you. It does not frequent the place every night; it only appears periodically; and its method never varies. It leaps over a wall or hedge, remains stationary till someone approaches, and then pursues them with monstrous springs. The person it touches invariably dies within a year. I well recollect when I was in my teens, on just such a night as this, driving home with my father from Lady Colin Ferner's croquet party at Blair Atholl. A gigantic figure, with leaps and bounds, suddenly overtook us, and, thrusting out its long, thin arms, touched my father lightly on the hand, and then with a harsh cry, more like that of some strange animal than that of a human being, disappeared. Neither of us spoke till we reached home,—I did not live here then, but in a house on the other side of Pitlochry,—when my father, who was still as white as a sheet, took me aside and whispered, 'Whatever you do, girl, don't breathe a word of what has happened to your mother, and never let her go along that road at night. It was the death bogle. I shall die within twelve months.'And he did.

Glen Spey 11-Year-Old Fable Bottling: Ghost

The Ghost Piper of Clanyard Bay

Eons ago, a small settlement perched on a sea cliff in Scotland’s wild southwest corner. The four compass points would take you elsewhere – east to the borders, north to the country’s heart, south to glacial lakes and west by boat across the waters - but the locals stayed put, for the land here, which should have been barren was remarkably rich for farming (a well-kept secret).

Lashed by rain, these were hardy folk as tough as the granite rock beneath their feet. They did not complain or scare easily, but for one strange thing. On stormy nights, when the moon was nearly drowned, eerie screams seemed to come from below them.

There, where jarring waves met rugged bay, stood a gaping, hollow cave. The cave was left untouched until, one day as the earth was thawing, an old piper appeared with a dog. The rough hound was as grey as the beard of its owner. The piper was surely the finest in the land (as no doubt was his father before him). His bagpipes were crudely made and yet, from this instrument, came a merry sound that even stopped the crows from cawing. No one had heard such cheerful tunes.

And so, accompanied by his faithful dog, the piper ventured into the cave, playing boldly as we went. At the entrance, the locals waited and listened. Hours passed and the pipes grew quieter until there was no sound at all. Suddenly the hound, once shaggy, ran out of the cave howling, without a single hair left on his shivering body. 

Deep underground, the piper continued to play as the fairies yelled, cursing him to leave. On he went, with a chill upon him, towards a distant light. The music soared above the terrible cries until the piper reached the cave’s centre. The piper was now in the mouth of a dreadful storm yet still he played. Furious at being bested by a human, the fairies departed, leaving a labyrinthine of mazes behind them to trap the poor piper inside.

The piper was never seen again and not one settler could later recall his face. The cave’s entrance is now long gone, but hear me! Stand on that cliff in the middle of the night and a faint melody of pipes can still be heard coming from the depths below.


Aberlour: Aberlour distillery is supposedly “haunted by a lady and a dog.” No employee or neighbour knows about these spectral creatures. Aberlour does have a ‘Fairy Knowe’ at the rear of the distillery. This signpost to another realm is even marked on the Ordnance Survey map. The name Aberlour itself means ‘mouth of the chattering burn’ and this suggests a pre-Christian belief in talking spirits.

Dailuaine: At Dailuaine, in previous times, lived an infamous outlaw and smuggler, James Grant, known as ‘James of the Hills,’ whose bothy was supposed to be haunted. Alfred Barnard, a voice from 1887, tells the story: “A popular legend has it that the midnight wanderer may yet see evidence of their craft and that the darker the night and the wilder the weather the more likely is he to stumble across the haunted bothy, which is situated in a rocky cavern in a ravine through which rushes one of the Dail-Uaine Burns. There the still-fires are seen weirdly sparkling like eyes of diamonds, and the ghosts of the departed smugglers busy at their ancient avocation.”

Glendarroch: Barnard, in another reference to smugglers’ ghosts tells a story from Glendarroch distillery in Ardrishaig: Tradition says that there is a smuggler imprisoned in the heart of the hill, who is kept in durance vile by the avenging spirit of a revenue officer whose life he took. He is allowed to come forth once a year at midnight, on the anniversary of the day upon which the crime was committed, and should he then happen to meet the spirit of the comrade who betrayed him to the officers of the law, the spell would be broken and he released.

Trivia: Most distillery ghosts are the un-departed spirits of people who died there, usually in unfortunate circumstances. Glen Ord is haunted by a former maltman, Cardhu by a mashman, the ghost of Mr Cochran Cartwright (manager 1869 – 1899) walks Glengoyne. Glenkinchie has multiple ghosts-- including a former maltman Gentle Tam-- Mrs Redpath and Mischievous Willie, who throws distillery guides across the floor.

Not all ghosts are harmful. The wife of John Haig took to her bed and refused to get up when he died suddenly in 1773 until the ghost of her dead mother spoke to her. Encouraged by what the ghost told her, she left her bed and set her sons on the path to founding the Haig whisky dynasty.

Paul Pacult tried when he spent the night in the chilly, silent darkness of a warehouse at Highland Park hoping to meet the ghost of founder Magnus Eunson. He heard clanking sounds and a gust of wind brought “a rolling wave of rich, almost vanilla-like fragrance,” but he never saw Eunson. Talking to the watchman in the morning, he discovered, that there had been no one in the distillery and that far from windy, it had been ‘calm as the dead all night.’ Highland Park workers continue to maintain that Magnus Eunson does wander the place after dark.

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