A new label marked our first release from the Dumbarton distillery, one of Scotland’s more recently closed grain distilleries.
The Dumbarton Distillery was once Scotland's largest distillery. Built in 1938 where the river Leven meets the Clyde, and on the site of the former McMillan Shipyard. It was a major contributor to Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whisky. Sadly the gates closed in 2002 and has since been demolished, but what else do you know about this distillery?
About the distillery
Dumbarton opened in the 28th of September 1938, and represented a significant investment by its owners Hiram Walker, who were struggling to acquire enough grain whisky to satisfy export demands for their blends.
Built on the nine acre site of the old MacMillan Shipyard on the river Leven, Dumbarton took 600 men about a year to complete. Its industrial lines were tempered by its construction in two million red Accrington tile bricks, chosen to mimic Hiram Walker's Canadian distillery in Walkerville, Ontario.
The distillery used maize exclusively, imported from Canada and America (naturally, given the ownership). However the stills were modified sometime in the 1990s so that wheat could be used if they so desired.
Unusually, they had a “clear wort” process where they separated the mash from the wort before fermentation. It was said that this gave a cleaner, lighter spirit that made for better blending.
The ‘clear wort process’ created considerable production of draff from the removed mash, which was much in demand with local farmers.
Dumbarton's column still was an American design rather than the traditional Coffey still, manufactured by Vulcan Copper & Supply Co. of Cincinnati. It could produce both potable whisky and neutral grain spirit, but was designed to work only with maize - possibly one reason for the clear worts process.
Sadly the distillery was closed in 2002 as it proved to be impractical for the column stills to be replaced without destroying the still tower completely. The distillery was mothballed, and in 2008 demolition began, and soon only the still tower was left, as something of a local landmark. It took until 2017 for the still tower to be demolished, and the site will soon be home to housing.
It’s capacity on opening was 3 million imperial gallons (13.6 million litres) which is pretty impressive. Prior to its closure in 2002 it had the capacity to produce 25 million gallons (113.6 million litres) and at the height of it’s production it was the largest grain distillery in Europe.
At its peak in the 1960's the Dumbarton complex with its distilleries, warehouses and bottling plant employed nearly 2000 people.
Did you know?
There were two malt whisky distilleries housed within the Dumbarton complex? The Inverleven distillery was built at the same time as the grain distillery. By historic coincidence the distillery sat right on the famous Highland Line, but it was always regarded as a Lowland malt. The other malt distillery, Lomond, sat adjacent. The Lomond distillerys claim to fame was that it was where the first example of a Lomond still was used. But which came first, the still or the distillery?
The Lomond distillery was mothballed in 1985 and Inverleven followed suit in 1991. When the Dumbarton distillery complex was being demolished, Lomond’s quirky still was secured by Bruichladdich for the production of The Botanist gin. It’s now known as Ugly Betty
In 1959 the owners acquired around 100 Chinese Geese who were encouraged to patrol the grounds as guards over the spirit in the bonded warehouses. They were known locally as ‘The Scotch Watch’ The geese became part of the tradition of the facility and were featured in advertising for Ballantines, and even became a small local tourist attraction. At one time there were 120 geese led by a gander called Mr. Ballantine. In 2012 the seven remaining birds were retired from their duties, and ended their day in a sanctuary in Glasgow.
About our bottling
Our first bottling from the Dumbarton Grain distillery is a 22 Year Old, bottled at 47.8% abv, and is a release of just 155 bottles. Jim Murray once said that the top-notch new make spirit was probably the fattest currently made in Scotland, so our label plays on that heaviness of the grain...Oh we are a giggle eh?
Batch 1 Tasting Notes
Nose: Creamy rum and raisin fudge, cocoa nibs and cherries.
Taste: Well-worn leather and a bitterness that in time reveals sweet vanilla and cherry flavours.
Finish: Vanilla ice cream, more cherries and a hint of white chocolate at the end