Malt of the Moment
Port Dundas was a former grain distillery and a recent entry in the closed ranks having shut its doors for good in 2010. Distilling on the site stretched back to...
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Port Dundas was a former grain distillery and a recent entry in the closed ranks having shut its doors for good in 2010. Distilling on the site stretched back to 1810 with the establishment of the Cowlairs distillery, which was then joined by the neighbouring Dundas distillery. Both took advantage of their positioning alongside the Forth & Clyde canal to receive and distribute supplies. The site was a Glasgow landmark being situated on the highest point across the city and offered additional transportation options with road and rail access, as well as a thriving local market.
Both distilleries operated on their own merits until sometimes in the 1860’s when they consolidated forces thereby becoming the Port Dundas distillery. The uniting of both sites created a behemoth and a new powerhouse in Scottish distilling that resulted in Port Dundas being the largest distillery during this boom period. An annual capacity of over 2 million litres was a mind-boggling amount for the time and it’s 5 pot stills and 3 Coffey stills supplied the needs of spirit merchants and blenders. This strength in turn played a part in 1887, in the creation of the Distillers Company Limited that would grow and prosper for decades before eventually becoming part of the future Diageo that we know today.
Thankfully, Port Dundas features in Alfred Barnard’s opus of distillery visits during the 1880’s and he devotes several pages to the distillery, including several sketches. From his outline, the distillery was the first stop in his extensive voyage and he describes the 9-acre site in detail. The grain stores for instance were 4 stories high and contained a range of grains including rye, barley and American corn. It’s a cavalcade of impressive statistics with 16 engines providing power, 10 boilers, 4 mashtuns that were 3 stories high and just 35 washbacks. The trio of Coffey stills were noted to be 70-foot-high and a 30-foot-long worm tub, before the impressive array of warehousing that formed a boundary around the site. It’s an impressive historical account of the sheer industrial nature of the distillery that employed 250 men and required 21 officers from the Inland Revenue to ensure taxes were applied correctly.
The distillery grew in strength as did the Distillers Company, expanding the size of the site to 21 acres in 1902 after the neighbouring Dundashill distillery closed. This expansion offered more warehousing and cooperage space that remained in use until its closure in 2010. Throughout its existence Port Dundas was active, being allowed to produce during both World Wars and even the threat of fire in 1903 was quickly overcome. In the 1960’s ownership was transferred to the Scottish Grain Distillers who in turn modernised the site and only grain whisky was being produced from the remaining 2 Coffey stills. A dark grains plant was introduced in the 1970’s and the distillery continued to produce grain whisky for the growing scotch market with principle recipients being the Haig, Johnnie Walker and White Horse range of blends.
The end when it arrived in 2010 was as a result of consolidation across the industry regarding grain distilleries. Many after the downturn during the 1980’s were closed including Cambus, Garnheath and Caledonian as production was centralised. Diageo in deciding to concentrate production at its massive Cameronbridge plant in Fife with its nearby bottling plant and storage facility, meant the end to distilling in this part of Glasgow that had existed for centuries.
Thankfully, we do have the enduring legacy of Port Dundas releases to enjoy with Diageo having released a handful of expressions from its sizeable stocks. The distillery is widely supported by the independent sector and due to its recent closure and scale, remains relatively affordable and overlooked. It’s style of grain whisky is very approachable and has a flavoursome character when compared to grain styles of that continue today as Girvan, Cameronbridge and Invergordon.
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