CAMERONBRIDGE CAMERON BRIG AND THE HAIG DIMPLE
Built between the rivers Leven and Ore near Windygates in the Kingdom of Fife, the Cameronbridge distillery dwarfs all other distilleries in Scotland, both those for malt and grain whisky. The distillery takes its name from the bridge that crosses the River Leven on the distillery grounds. With a production capacity of circa 100,000,000 litres of alcohol per year, the Diageo's wholly-owned grain plant Cameronbridge not only provides the backbone of many of the company's blends, it produces the liquid for the Cameron Brig and Haig Club single grain whiskies.
Cameronbridge is the largest grain distillery in Europe. It can also lay claim to be the oldest. Its story also involves two of the most remarkable – and strangely overlooked – distilling dynasties in whisky, the Haig and Stein families. In 1826, Cameronbridge became the very first Scotch distillery to produce grain whisky in a continuous still. However, this was not a 'Coffey still', at least not yet - instead, it was a much more primitive version, invented by one Robert Stein (John Haig's cousin). This version of the continuous still was just a series of pot stills that were arranged consecutively.
The first record of a Haig making whisky was in 1655, when Robert Haig was hauled up in front of the church elders for daring to distil on the Sabbath. In 1751 his great-great-grandson John married Margaret Stein whose family members were already making whisky at their distilleries in Kilbagie in Clackmannanshire and Kennetpans in Kirkliston. Four of their sons became distillers, opening their own plants in central Scotland and Ireland. The youngest, William, founded Kincaple and Seggie in Fife; the eldest son John founded Cameronbridge in 1824.
Their daughter, also named Margaret, had married a local lawyer John Jameson in 1788. The Jamesons moved to Dublin to run a new Stein family distillery in Bow Street which had been opened in 1780. Contrary to popular belief, the Jameson Irish Whiskey company was not actually founded in 1780, but in 1810 when John Jameson bought the distillery from his wife's cousins, the Steins. The original Jameson Distillery in Bow Street is now home to the Jameson Visitor Centre. The Stein, Haig, and Jameson families were significant figures in the whisky market from that time forward.
It was a time of rapid growth in production and also in new methods of making whisky. The Lowland distillers had long been large-scale producers, but had been limited by technology and law to producing their whisky from pot stills. Things were changing however, and in 1829 John installed the patent still which his cousin Robert Stein had invented and was operating at his own Kilbagie distillery. One of the Stein stills was used until 1929.
Soon after, Irish engineer Aeneas Coffey had improved Stein’s design with his own patent still. John Haig immediately installed one of them as well. When Alfred Barnard visited in the 1880s, two Stein, two Coffey and a pot still (to make ‘pot still Irish’) were operational. Though considerably larger in scale, today the same Coffey design is still used at Cameronbridge.
This pioneering move by Cameronbridge changed the course of Scotch whisky history, though Haig continued making malt whisky at the distillery. That finally ended in 1929 with the removal of Cameronbridge’s pot stills, and it has been grain all the way ever since. Today the distillery’s three column stills pump out an ocean of alcohol, split between grain whisky for blends and neutral grain spirit for the likes of Smirnoff, Gordon’s, Pimm’s and Tanqueray, the world leader in Gin. Surplus neutral grain spirit has a ready demand for numerous applications the world over, including medicine.
In 1865 John joined in an alliance with eight other grain distillers and in 1877 this was formalised into the Distillers Company Limited [DCL]. Haig joined with the owners of Port Dundas, Carsebridge, Glenochil, Cambus, and Kirkliston to control 75% of Scotland’s grain capacity. This not only allowed the new firm a dominant – eventually monopoly – position in supply, but the ability to fix prices. DCL would, in time and after many mergers, evolve into Diageo.
Cameronbridge remained as the powerhouse of DCL’s grain division and, with the closure of Port Dundas in 2010, is now Diageo’s sole wholly-owned grain plant and from 1998, production of Gordon’s and Tanqueray gins and Smirnoff vodka has also been based here. It was expanded further as part of a £40m investment in 2007.
It was unusual insofar as for many years it was the only one of the grain distilleries to have its own brand – Cameron Brig. Although other distilleries would try their hand at this, only Cameron Brig survived. In 2014, the distillery was given greater prominence as the provider of the whisky for the David Beckham/Diageo single grain brand Haig Club.
Dimple Haig first came to market rather late in 1893 at a time when demand for blended Scotch whisky was exploding in all directions. Its successor, the triangular dumpy bottle with a dimple on each face (Dimple Pinch) became the deluxe, sophisticated brother to the standard Haig & Haig blend within a lustrum, while in the US it has long been known as Dimple Pinch and is so named. It consists of over thirty malt and grain whiskies.
The extended Haig family dominated the industrial Lowland whisky scene and were well-placed to surf the boom. The distilleries concerned were primarily Glenkinchie and Linkwood for their single malts and Cameronbridge for their single grains.
At Glenkinchie, clear wort and long ferments pushed things towards lightness and fruit, while a glance at the enormous stills (the wash still is the largest in Scotland) immediately suggests masses of copper contact and reflux. The new make is rather sulphurous, but this facet disappears in the cask, leaving this light, fragrant whisky with just a hint of meadow flowers and lemon.
Linkwood is another of the light Speyside camp. The new make has the aroma of a spring meadow – mixing cut grass, apple and peach blossom.
Two of John Haig’s sons – Alicius and Hugh Vietch –established Haig & Haig in 1888 as an export business, overseeing the sale of the company’s whiskies in the US. Their work in the lead-up to Prohibition established the popularity of Dimple Pinch in the US. The 12 YO Dimple Pinch that came to the US circa 1900 as the deluxe, sophisticated brother to the standard Haig & Haig blend was a bestseller in the premium class, till overtaken by Chivas Regal 25 YO in 1910.
Whether the name inspired the bottle or vice versa is unclear, but Dimple has always been packaged in a distinctive lozenge-shaped three-sided bottle with pinched sides like a collapsed pot still. By 1900, Dimple was the second-best selling premium whisky in Colonial Asia after Phipson’s Black Dog, till overtaken by Johnnie Walker Black Label ~1925.
By 1939 the combination of the Dimple and Gold Label brand extensions made Haig the top-selling Scotch in the UK, while Dimple Pinch had recovered its pre-Prohibition sales in the States. While the brand disappeared in the UK (until the advent of Haig Club), Dimple was stilling selling over a million cases by the millennium when its key markets were South Korea, Germany, Greece and the US.
A Biomass Energy Plant was installed converting spent grains and pot ale into energy and supplying about 30 MW or 95% of new energy needed by the distillery. Carbon dioxide emissions have been cut back by 95%. A production water recovery system saves about 30% distillery waters. The waste water is so treated that the effluent disposal into the nearby River Forth has been cut down to 1 % compared to the system of the past. 10,000 homes and a local hospital are supplied the otherwise waste heat.
12 year old Cameron Brig Single Grain is said to be the basis of the Johnnie Walker 12 year old expression. The distillery plant creates the grain spirit used in brands such as Johnnie Walker, J&B, Bell’s, Black and White, Haig and White Horse. Cameron Bridge Grain whiskies are also bottled by the independent Bottlers like Cadenhead, Duncan Taylor, Signatory, Scottish Malt Whisky Society and others. A distillery bottling called Cameronbrig (a NAS Single Grain Whisky) is also available.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Grain whisky production differs from the processes used to create malt whisky in several key ways. Firstly, the bulk of cereal is not malted barley, but unmalted wheat or maize, with a small proportion of malted barley included to promote effective fermentation. The use of unmalted cereals reduces costs.
Secondly, prior to mashing, the unmalted cereal is milled and fed into giant cookers, where it is heated with water. It is then pumped into large mashtuns, where the malted barley is added. From this point onwards, production mirrors the sequence familiar to malt whisky distilling, though the actual distillation process takes place in continuous, columns or Coffey stills, all of which operate on similar principles, and consist of parallel analyser and rectifier columns. These stills are able to produce much larger quantities of spirit than their pot still counterparts. The use of non-malted cereal and the sheer scale of operation make grain whisky considerably cheaper per litre than malt whisky.
At Cameronbridge, 4,000 tonnes of cereal are used every week and it is estimated that the distillery consumes as much as 15 per cent of Scotland’s entire wheat crop. Each of the three Coffey stills can turn out 4,000 litres of alcohol per hour, and is able to operate continuously for more than 200 hours before cleaning is required. While one of Diageo’s smaller malt distilleries, such as Oban, handles 36 tonnes of mash per week, Cameronbridge processes up to 30 tonnes of mash per hour.
The Haig Club Scotch Whisky RTD Cans
Haig Club single grain Scotch created a range of ready-to-drink (RTD) cans in partnership with David Beckham in 2020. The pre-mixed range comes in two flavours: Haig Club Clubman mixed with root ginger ale and lime, and Haig Club Clubman mixed with crafted cola.
Bottled at 5% ABV, the Haig Club RTDs are available to purchase from Supermarkets like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s in the UK priced at RRP £2 (US$2.50) per 330ml can. This innovation with Haig Club provides low ABV pre-mixed drinks for convenience and are reportedly selling well with great taste and were particularly popular in summer.
According to the brand, the sweetness of the cola complements the whisky’s “smooth toffee, butterscotch and vanilla notes”, while the classic combination of ginger ale and lime gives drinkers a “zesty citrus” hit. The cans share the same striking electric blue packaging at the whisky’s distinctive square glass bottles that take design cues from the world of fragrance.