New discoveries add flavour to Scotland's whisky story

Slàinte! New discoveries which tell the story of whisky production in Scotland have been made at the original site of The Glenlivet distillery.

Remains of 19th-century whisky tasting glasses, three fire pits where copper stills were heated and pieces of timber-lined vats were found at the old distillery, which sits around one kilometre up the hill from today’s site.

Archaeologists from National Trust for Scotland (NTS) estimate the old distillery, thought to be first legal whisky-making enterprise in Speyside, could have been producing six hogsheads of whisky – or 1,530 litres – a week.

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Glenlivet: Archaeologists track Scottish whisky story from the black market to g...

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It was owned by George Smith, the founder of The Glenlivet, who made his illicit distilling operation legal following the 1823 Excise Act. He is believed to have been the first distiller in Speyside to get a licence, with his safety quickly coming under threat as he operated in a landscape still thick with black market stills and smugglers who criss-crossed the hills and glens.

Smith relocated to today’s distillery site in 1859 to expand production and take advantage of a greater run of water off the hill.

Derek Alexander, head of archaeology at NTS, who has been leading the Pioneering Spirit project with Glenlivet, said: “The old site at The Glenlivet forms a really nice crossover between the small-scale illicit whisky bothies hidden in the hills, through the medium-scale, farm-based level of production, to the large-scale factory facility that characterises the Scottish whisky-making industry today.

“We can see many elements of the legalised whisky production process here and many of the artefacts also provide an insight into the lives of the staff who lived and worked there."

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Archaeologists Daniel Rhodes and Derek Alexander from National Trust for Scotland with whisky tasting glasses found at the original 19th Century Glenlivet distillery. PIC: Alison White/NTS.
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