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A Sleeping Beauty Awakens
When the Annandale Distillery opened in 1830, The town of Annan was an established embarkation port for emigrant Scots. As a tribute to these intrepid souls, the ‘A’ of Annandale is in the image of a billowing sail.
In April 2007, David Thomson and Teresa Church formed the Annandale Distillery Company Ltd and bought the land and buildings associated with Annandale Distillery from local farmer, Robert Robinson.
Prior to 2007 there had been four eras in the life of Annandale Distillery:
1st Whisky Era -- George Donald (1830 -- 1883)
George Donald was an excise man from the Elgin area of Northern Scotland. In or around 1830 he leased land from the local landowner (the Mackenzie family) at Northfield, Annan, Dumfriesshire and began the process of creating Annandale Distillery. George, along with his son George Junior ran the Distillery for over 50 years.
During the 'Donald era' it seems that the distillery was powered exclusively by the flow of water and there is still physical evidence of the damns, sluices, gullies and mill wheel fixtures.
The motive power thus created would have milled the grist, revolved the tines in the mash tun and turned the rummagers in the stills. Flow of liquid through the various parts of the whisky making process would have been via gravity. Water would probably have been heated by coal, perhaps from the adjacent Cumbrian coal fields.
2nd Whisky Era -- John Gardner (1883 -- 1893)
After the death of George Donald, the tenancy past to John Gardner who was the son of a former mayor of Liverpool. He seems to have invested heavily in the plant and machinery of the distillery and even installed a steam engine to supplement the water power.
It was during the Gardner era that the legendary whisky writer, Alfred Barnard, visited Annandale Distillery as part of his tour of whisky distilleries of the United Kingdom. Much of what we know about the whisky making process at Annandale Distillery has been gleaned from Barnard's book (The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom).
Of particular interest, is Barnard's comment that: "The malt is raised by elevators to the Kiln at the end of the Maltings, which is floored with wire cloth and heated with peat." The peat may have been dug from the local peat moss at Creca.
At the time of Barnard's survey, there were 3 other distilleries operating in Southern Scotland (Glen Tarras, Langholm and Bladnoch). Of these, Barnard is quite specific that Annandale and Bladnoch both used peat to dry their malted barley. Unfortunately he makes no comment about the others. None-the-less, this alone provides compelling evidence that two of the major Lowland Single Malt Scotch whiskies of that time would have been smoky/phenolic in character.
This hopefully dismisses the myth that Lowland malts are characteristically light in style. They may be now but they weren't always so!
Two styles of whisky are planned for Annandale. The first of these will be smoky/phenolic, although beyond this, the precise character is still to be determined.
3rd Whisky Era -- Johnnie Walker (1893 -- 1924)
Whisky consultant Dr Jim Swan holds the view that Johnnie Walker may have acquired Annandale as a source of smoky/phenolic whisky for blending. At that time, this style of whisky came mainly from the island of Islay; with all the associated difficulties and costs of sea transportation by 'puffers' from Islay to the mainland.
Annandale, on the other hand was located very close to the Carlisle to Glasgow railway which passed through Kilmarnock where Johnnie Walker still has a huge facility right next to the railway. How convenient this would have been!
When Johnnie Walker acquired Annandale Distillery in 1893, it became their second distillery, having previously purchased Cardow (now Cardhu). Whilst Cardhu has remained with the Johnnie Walker business ever since and contributes significantly to their famous blends, Walker's tenure at Annandale was fairly short-lived and their plans to expand Annandale never really came to fruition. However, they did build the magnificent sandstone bonded warehouses along with some rather elegant houses for the distillery staff (all now in private ownership).
During WW1, a massive munitions manufacturing complex was created along the Solway Coast from Longtown (in England) to Dornock and Eastriggs near Annan. In order to curtail lost production due to drunkenness amongst employees, most hotels, bars and breweries in the area were brought into state ownership (something that prevailed until the early 1970s).
Somewhat paradoxically, it seems that Annandale Distillery may have escaped this particular fate (although we seek more information on this point). Perhaps this was because the distillery was 'silent' during the war years due to lack of manpower and malting barley?
It seems that Johnnie Walker retained some sort of presence at the Distillery until about 1924. Perhaps this was when the lease finally expired or perhaps it corresponds with the absorption of John Walker & Sons into the Distillers Company Limited (DCL -- predecessors to Diageo). By this time, all of the whisky making machinery had either been transferred elsewhere (possibly Cardhu) or scrapped.
The Farming Era -- Robinson Family (1924 -- 2007)
Some time around 1924, the Robinson Family acquired the leasehold and then the freehold of Distillery Farm, Northfield, Annan, including the now redundant distillery buildings. At that time, the Robinsons were producing the (then) famous 'Provost' brand of porridge oats from their mills in Annan.
The maltings, kiln and mash house were eventually converted into a grain drying plant, possibly in the 1950s. Thankfully, this involved only minor alterations to the buildings. The bonded warehouses were used for housing cattle.
Unfortunately, it seems that the still house complex was either demolished or had collapsed by the 1950s, as had the pre-Johnnie Walker era bonded warehouses. Fortunately, they have some idea of how these buildings might have looked based on the plans lodged in the Doig Archive in Elgin and on the etching of Annandale Distillery presented in the 1st Edition of Alfred Barnard's 'The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom'.
Robert Robinson sold most of the land and buildings associated with Annandale Distillery to the Annandale Distillery Company Ltd in April 2007
4th Whisky Era -- Annandale Distillery Company (2007 - )
The distillery buildings were in a rather sorry state when acquired in 2007 by the newly-formed Annandale Distillery Company Limited. During the past year, They have worked very hard to stabilise those structures that were in imminent danger of collapse (especially the crown of the chimney and the east wall of the mash house) and to minimise the ingression of rain water. In the words of their structural engineer John Addison...... "you didn't buy the Distillery 5 minutes too soon!" They are still in the process of clearing the site however all of the buildings have now been stabilised and stripped of the equipment and detritus of the farming era.
Annandale Distillery is a 'Category B' listed building so Historic Scotland and Dumfries & Galloway Council (The local authority) need to be consulted and must issue formal permissions for every step of the process. Both have been supportive, preferring the restoration of the buildings to their original purpose rather than seeing them demolished or turned into housing (the ignominious fate of too many 'lost' distilleries in Scotland). Indeed, Historic Scotland has offered the company a grant which will help in a small but important way to repair some of the existing buildings.
Although They paid a 'very fair' price to acquire the Annandale Distillery site, the company is grateful to the Robinson Family for formally consenting to the distillery project, for their stewardship of these precious buildings over the past 20 years (many farmers would have demolished them to prevent them becoming 'listed') and for their neighbourly help and co-operation since then.
So now to the future!
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Lowland Region Southwest district "The first Distillery in Scotland"
Originally Founded in 1830 Closed 1924
Now being restored to former glory
Equipment details are as follows:
Mash tun -- 2.5 tonnes (semi-Lauter - Forsyths)
Washbacks -- 6 @ 12,000 litres (wooden)
Wash Still -- 1 @ 12,000 litres (Forsyths)
Spirit Stills -- 2 @ 4,000 litres (Forsyths)
Output -- 250,000 LPA (litres of pure alcohol per year) with single shift working
The Distillery also plans a whisky acadamy
Returned to whisky production first casks filled 01/12/2014
2013-2014 Distillery Progress update.
February started recruiting staff
July 2014 Stills instaled - work in progress on Mill room. Should be announcing start of distillation soon.
2013-Restoration of the historic buildings is essentially complete,commenced installation of the distillery equipment in late Spring.
Towards the end 2012), re-design Filling Store and Boiler House which, along withr visitor toilets and Distillery Office completed Christmas 2013