William Delmé-Evans

William Delmé-Evans, distillery architect

Born: 1920 in Wales

Died: 2003 in Herefordshire, aged 83

IN THE post-war years, a vast (and very necessary) modernisation took place throughout the Scotch whisky industry. As worldwide demand for the product increased, the entire distilling process required updating. William Delm-Evans was in the forefront of Scotland’s whisky revival and his concern for energy efficiency and conservation was many years ahead of his colleagues.

He undoubtedly helped to improve the quality and profitability of the entire industry by designing three of the most successful distilleries in the country.

He also managed the distillery on Jura and brought to it international renown for the whisky’s particular flavour.

Although born in Wales, he displayed his family’s French connections. He was educated at Wellingborough College in the Thirties but often came to Scotland on holiday. He studied estate management and bought a farm in Northamptonshire, but TB ruled out both war service and manual work. Throughout his convalescence, he studied the manufacture of whisky - he had become fascinated with the process on those holidays as a child.

He mulled over drawings, trying to create "an up-to-date gravity-flow distillery", then heard that an old brewery near Blackford in Perthshire was for sale. In 1947, he bought it and began renovating the building. He discovered to his pleasure that there had been a distillery or brewery on the site since the 15th century and that it had produced a special brew of ale to celebrate the coronation of James lV at Scone.

The Tullibardine Distillery was opened in 1949 and Delm-Evans saw good returns on his investment.

In 1953, he sold it on to the well-known whisky broking firm of Brodie Hepburn for what was described as a "fair and reasonable price". Significantly, the water from the supply burn which Delm-Evans specially selected is now used for Highland Spring mineral water.

He was then approached by two wealthy land-owners on Jura to design a distillery on the island to help revitalise the local economy. Delm-Evans responded to the task with his usual constructive enthusiasm. He first designed and had built an airfield (he also learned to fly), then started work on the distillery, houses for the workmen and an expansion of the amenities of the hotel.

"My intention was to produce a high-quality malt from the typically peaty soil," he said years later.

He had to show imaginative invention as space was limited and everything had to be "imported" on to the island, including the workforce, which was divided between Rangers and Celtic supporters. This led to some scuffles on a Saturday, and Jura was without any local constabulary. Despite such minor problems, in 1960 the distillery was opened, offering a very different whisky from the ones produced on nearby Islay. Delm-Evans stayed on as the distillery manager until he retired in 1975. It then went through some troublesome times and was sold to Invergordon a few years later.

In the early Sixties, Delm-Evans was approached by the brewer Scottish and Newcastle to design a distillery on Speyside. He was concerned to get the right texture of water for the site he had chosen at Aberlour, and eventually had water piped in from Benrinnes.

The Glenallachie Distillery was a whole new concept in whisky distilling. The most modern technology was used and Delm-Evans drew on his years of experience in ensuring that the most efficient equipment was installed.

In the Seventies, Delm-Evans bought a farm in Herefordshire and he retired there, although he made frequent trips back to Scotland to see his distilleries at work. At the age of 70, typically of this most active and purposeful man, he took up golf, and invariably brought his clubs north with him to sample some of the Speyside courses.