Langholm … the muckle whisky toon.

May 25, 2011 § 10 Comments

Having hills, bikes and whisky as my hobbies sometimes allows me to combine all three on an adventure. On Friday 30th April, when the Royalists amongst us were glued to their TVs watching events in London, I headed up Ben Chonzie (pronounced Ben Honzee) with my fellow Republican Ian who works at Exxon Mobil in Aberdeen but lives in Tillicoultry with the lady I introduced him to many years ago. His dog, Sol, a Republican Dalmatian, also came with us. The weather was wonderful as the entire country basked in unseasonal warmth. It was a long haul, made worse by a constant headwind that was blowing in from the east.

The summit view towards Ben Lawers

We took the route up from Invergeldie north of Comrie which is more direct than the last time I had been up this Munro (931m/3056ft) in the 1980s when I bumped into Tom Weir who must have been into his 70s then. That ascent was from north of Glenturret Distillery to the east and was much longer but more scenic. Glenturret boasts that it is Scotland’s oldest distillery (1775) but this is a spurious claim which has no foundation in fact (a bit like Bushmills’ claim) and dates from the 1820s. Later that weekend I would be looking at a lost distillery that predates the Glenturret claimed date by 10 years and is still largely standing. There is little to remark about Ben Chonzie, it is a big lump of a hill but the views on the summit north-west to Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas, both of which I had climbed last summer, over Loch Tay were stunning. The descent was by the same route and were were back at the car having spent just over four hours on the trek.

The next day I was off to Langholm via Moffat where I switched over to my father’s 650 Kawasaki ER6-f to do some runs over the lesser known roads in Dumfriesshire that I used to bike over back in the 70s. I also wanted to see if I could take some pictures of  two distillery sites for research and archive and drop in to see old friends in Canonbie. I took the old Carlisle road out of Moffat and turned off at Pumplaburn Farm to head over the Windshiel Hills to Boreland where I headed over the moors to Eskdalemuir and thence on to Langholm. These roads require a bit of care (and knowledge) but are brilliant, nonetheless. On the way over the Windsheils I stopped to reminisce beside an old Second World War army tank training ground where I first learnt clutch control on the concrete roads that has been laid in the fields.

Once at Langholm I spent some time taking pictures of the distillery that stands on the west side of Skipper’s Bridge at the bottom of the town.

Langholm Distillery from Skipper's Bridge

The distillery is certainly one of the best in terms of its state of preservation, largely due to the fact that it has always been in one use or another since 1765. In 1825 the business was closed but restarted soon and when Alfred Barnard visited in 1886 it was producing 46,000 gallons of malt annually. Distilling continued until 1915 when it finally closed for good. After that the premises were converted into a motor garage and petrol station until that business closed and the premises converted to residential use.

The distillery in the 1920s after closure. Courtesy of James Brown.

After taking some pictures I went on to Canonbie to visit my friends Kenny and Barbara. While Barbara plied me with good tea and home-baked scones, Kenny announced he had something for me and produced a picture of what he thought was Glen Tarras Distillery (Langholm’s other distillery). It was dated 1830 and after further inspection it became clear that it was of Langholm Distillery. The date intrigued me and I struggled to recall an older picture in existence. After my return to Glasgow I asked Christine McCafferty at the Diageo Archive if there were older, verified images of distilleries in the Menstrie collection. The answer, it seemed, was probably not, although there was one of Cameronbridge but it was undated and in terms of style, looked mid- to late-Victorian. So here’s the challenge … can anyone out there come up with anything older?

Langholm Distillery, 1830


§ 10 Responses to Langholm … the muckle whisky toon.

  • Patrick says:

    Dear Neil,
    I am currently preparing a short article about the Langholm distillery and I read with interest this post. The illustration of the “Langholm” distillery from 1830 is coming from the Diageo archives, but could you please provide the details of the records?
    And you attributed then name of the distillery as Langholm distillery due to the presence of the bridge on the left hand? The Layout from the distillery is very different from the photographs I have found from the 1900s.

    Thank you in advance for answering.

    • Patrick,

      I am sorry to have not replied. The picture is not in the Diageo Archive. It is mine. The picture has the date ‘1830’ on the rear and the name: ‘Langholm Distillery.’ The layout of the distillery changed over time and the buildings today date from the late 1880s, early 1900s.

      All the best,


  • Jim Brown says:

    Hi Neil. I was fascinated by your challenge to come up with an image of a distillery that could be identified as being prior to 1830. I presume no-one has replied thus far with anything to pre-date the Langholm image – it’s all rather tantalising though and it would be illuminating if something did creep out of the woodwork at some stage. Can I perhaps pose another challenge even if it’s not as difficult a proposition to solve. Andrew Usher is normally credited as being the first blender of whiskies in the 1850’s. Is this accurate and what is the evidence for such a claim. I only ask as I’m aware of a claim from 1901 by Messers Robertson and Sanderson & Co of Leith that they “may be regarded as the pioneers of the Blended Whisky Trade for their business was established in 1846, and when some years afterwards the Government first sanctioned blending in bond, this Firm was first in the Kingdom to take advantage of it. It is very many years since they discovered it was mpossible to produce a good blend from inferior Whiskies, and made the “study of blending” the most important branch of their business, recognising that many Whiskies on the market were not blends at all, but simply “Mixtures”.” etc etc. Certainly old labels relating to Sanderson’s “Original Mountain Dew” are quite commonplace and instantly recognisable. Do you think there is any veracity in Robertson, Sanderson & Co’s claim or is there compelling evidence that Usher’s were the true pioneers?

    • Hi Jim. I had not come across the Sanderson claim before … or if I had, I had not taken note of it. The company is barely mentioned in Moss & Hume or Morrice. What is you source for the info? Cursory digging around does not seem to come up with much. On the illustration front Glenfarclas claim to have a picture from 1771, but I doubt it. It appears to be a depiction of the old distillery from that date and at first glance looks to have been done later as the style is not of that time, nor the colours and the rendition. I still stand by the fact that the Langholm picture is verifiably 1830.

      • Jim Brown says:

        Hi Neil – The source for the Robertson & Sanderson claim was a booklet entitled “The Blend of Empire” that they produced as “A Souvenir of the Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to Australia in 1901”. They do go into a bit of detail around the “High Art” of blending and then refer to themselves as “Scientific Blenders. They are dismissive of others viz. “In days gone by, unscrupulous traders were in the habit of throwing together two or three new Whiskies at haphazard, adding thereto a larger portion of any cheap, plain spirit they could get hold of. Happily the public are now getting too wise to drink such concoctions.” They also state that “Had we space at our command we would mention the Distilleries belonging to the Firm and describe their spacious Bonded Warehouses, handsome offices, and magnificent premises.” Nothing like hiding you light under a bush (or should that be “bushel”) in this case. Charles Craig refers to the company owning Auchtertool distillery for a short time, so their claim to owning “distilleries” in the plural is harder to confirm. Anyway, I just thought I’d pose the question to find out what others might know.

    • Patrick says:

      As mentioned by Neil, I would be interested by your reference.
      According to what I read, Usher and William Sanderson were the first blenders. Who was the first, difficult to know with exactitude. From what I remember, William Sanderson produced mainly cordials at start and proposed whiskies (mainly or only?) infused with herbs, berries and/or other excipients.

  • Gents,

    Are we at cross-purposes here? William Sanderson’s claim is well known. If we are talking about Robertson & Sanderson and their Mountain Dew blend than that is not William Sanderson’s. Need some clarity on the source for the R&S claim Jim.

  • Yes, they seem to be flattering themselves a bit here. They did own Auchtertool but I don’t think any others at that time. They are also making the claim some 40 years after they were doing it and deriding everybody else at the same time. Proceed with caution I think. I’d like to see the booklet next time we meet up if poss.

  • Jim Brown says:

    The firm and the booklet to which I refer is definitely not William Sanderson, it is Robertson Sanderson & co and it is their name, in full, that is shown on the “Original Mountain Dew” and “Celebrated Mountain Dew” labels along with other brands such as “Second to None” and “Naval & Royal Marine Blend”. The company also produced at least four advertising postcards in the early 1900’s using the well known artist at that time, Phil May. While the name used on the postcards is purely “Sanderson” the style of the “logo” is that belonging to Robertson, Sanderson & Co and not William. Kind Regards to all, Jim

  • Have just been sent some info from Barbara (she’s mentioned in the post) that Langholm Distillery is now up for sale.

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