Cambus as a distillery may be no longer in existence since its relatively recent closure in 1993, but it remains widely available and supported by bottlers who appreciate the distinctive charms of this former grain producer. Culled as part of Diageo’s reorganisation around its numerous grain distilleries, the convenient location of the grain plant was unfortunately not enough to warrant its survival as a producer but it retains other uses.
The Cambus story goes back to the early 1800’s when a former mill was converted by John Moubray to produce malt whisky. This was the era prior to many of the distilleries we know today when taxes were high and legislation was very much against distillers. The waterways of Scotland provided an essential bloodline as Cambus resided near the Forth and along this river many of the major whiskies producers resided. The sizeable presence of Kennetpans and Kilbagie distilleries were still in operation, whilst Cambus was a smaller operation in comparison.
Then after an unremarkable 3 decades or thereabouts of existence, John Moubray decided to convert his distillery to produce grain whisky. This switch saw the existing stills changed for 2 Column stills invented by Robert Stein – owner of Kilbagie – to provide a continuous distillation at Cambus. This increased output considerably and was a remarkable step forward when developed by Stein in 1826 and utilised across his distilleries before being adopted throughout the Scotch whisky industry. For Cambus, this change allowed them to become more competitive and provide the backbone to many blended whiskies that were gaining considerably popularity.
A Coffey still followed in 1851, by when the Cambus site itself was spread over several acres and remained in family ownership. However hard times were on the horizon due to the numerous options that blenders had for their grain whisky that restricted prices. This advantage was perceived as unfair by many grain producers and in 1856, several teamed up to split demand amongst 6 Lowland grain distilleries. The arrangement worked for producers including Cambus who could plan accordingly and support a sustained level of demand. This initial club formed the basis of the creation of the all-powerful Distillers Company Limited in 1877, which was a forerunner of the Diageo we know today. In an enviable position, DCL expanded the Cambus site once again and started to exert its presence in the market.
A distillery outline here at Abbey Whisky would not be complete without the mention of a fire or another natural disaster. In 1914 a sizeable fire at the site brought an end to production until 1937 when the site was repaired and revived only to be halted with the arrival of World War 2. After the conflict, DCL sought to further expand its options including a by-products plant that was re-developed to become a dark grain plant. However, the end arrived in 1993 with Diageo utilised other grain sites in favour of Cambus although the site remains within their portfolio. Today, Cambus is utilised for large scale warehousing and Diageo’s modern cooperage facility forming part of a central whisky hub for Diageo.
In whisky terms the grain from Cambus remains very flavoursome and distinctive with a lovely texture. It lacks the neutral aspects that we associate more with Girvan and Invergordon as current grain producers. Cambus in comparison has more to say as a grain whisky and remains relatively overlooked and affordable. Diageo as part of its 2016 Special Releases included the distillery as a 40 year old expression priced at £740 that showcased the best of what it could offer. However, with numerous releases sub-£100 for whiskies aged 20 years or more it remains a fertile hunting ground for enthusiasts.