Hugh Smith’s let­ter from Is­lay

The Oban Times - - News -

Caol Ila Dis­tillery

CAOL Ila Dis­tillery, on the north-east coast of the is­land, takes its Gaelic name from the fast-flow­ing strait of water that sep­a­rates Is­lay from neigh­bour­ing Jura and is known as the Sound of Is­lay.

The dis­tillery is the largest of its kind on the whisky isle and was set up in 1846 by dis­tiller Hec­tor Hen­der­son, a former owner of the Lit­tlemill Dis­tillery near Glas­gow, and the Union Dis­tillery in the Kin­tyre penin­sula at Camp­bel­town.

The dis­tillery was not a suc­cess un­der Hen­der­son’s ten­ure and changed hands in 1854 when it passed into the con­trol of Nor­man Buchanan, who also owned the dis­tillery on Jura. It also had mixed for­tunes dur­ing the Buchanan pe­riod and, in 1863, it was ac­quired by the Glas­gow whisky traders Bul­loch, Lade and Co.

Among the early man­agers em­ployed by Bul­loch, Lade and Co was one Dun­can John­ston, a nephew of John John­ston of La­gavulin, and a cousin of the noted John­stons of Laphroaig. Bul­loch, Lade and Co pulled out all the stops at Caol Ila and by the start of the 1880s in ex­cess of 147,000 gal­lons of whisky were be­ing an­nu­ally pro­duced at the dis­tillery.

With strong Chris­tian con­vic­tions, as well as pro­duc­ing vast quan­ti­ties of the hard stuff, the spir­i­tual needs of their em­ploy­ees were also a mat­ter of con­cern.

This led the com­pany to build a small chapel at Caol Ila and ev­ery Sun­day a Glas­gow-based di­vin­ity stu­dent would ar­rive at the dis­tillery and preach the gospel to the work­force and their fam­i­lies. At­ten­dance at such acts of wor­ship was com­pul­sory.

Through­out the 1870s the Bul­loch, Lade com­pany car­ried out a mas­sive pro­gramme of ex­pan­sion at Caol Ila , with all the whisky pro­duced be­ing shipped backed to the com­pany’s Glas­gow head­quar­ters.

Even­tu­ally, things be­gan to turn sour and the com­pany went into vol­un­tary liq­ui­da­tion in 1920. This led a group of busi­ness­men to form the Caol Ila Dis­tillery Com­pany Ltd be­fore the Dis­tillers’ Com­pany ac­quired a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in 1927. Three years later Scottish Malt Dis­tillers Ltd (the SMD) ac­quired own­er­ship of all the shares. From 1930 to 1937, the dis­tillery was moth­balled, and it also re­mained closed through­out the Sec­ond World War, a vic­tim of the wartime re­stric­tions on the bar­ley sup­plies for dis­till­ing pur­poses.

Hos­til­i­ties over, pro­duc­tion re­sumed and con­tin­ued un­til 1972 when the en­tire struc­ture was de­mol­ished and a larger dis­tillery built on the site. The three-storeyed ware­houses, a telling fea­ture of the orig­i­nal build­ing, were re­tained.

Pro­duc­tion re­sumed in 1974 and own­er­ship passed on to Di­a­geo, which greatly val­ues Caol Ila’s smoky whisky which is such an in­te­gral part of its cel­e­brated John­nie Walker range of blended whiskies.

Like its near neigh­bour Bun­na­hab­hain, the Caol Ila Dis­tillery en­joys breath­tak­ing views from its coastal lo­ca­tion on the Sound of Is­lay. And the whisky also has much to com­mend it.

Bowled over

BIGS and bias were bandied about when the Brid­gend Bowl­ing Club of­fi­cially opened its new sea­son on April 30.

The green is now in tip-top con­di­tion fol­low­ing months of prepara­tory work by vol­un­teers and club mem­bers. Their lot was made eas­ier through the use of mower equip­ment re­fur­bished by the gen­eros­ity of the Com­mu­nity Ben­e­fit Fund.

The green is di­rectly across from the Brid­gend Ho­tel and is open daily. Fees can be de­posited in the on-site hon­esty box.

Post Of­fice change

BOW­MORE post­mistress Alyson MacGil­livray has an­nounced that she is shortly to give up oper­at­ing the vil­lage post of­fice at the top of the main street. Ad­vised of Alyson’s de­ci­sion, the Post Of­fice con­firmed that it is com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing a post of­fice in the vil­lage and lo­cal re­tail­ers who may be in­ter­ested are asked to pur­sue the mat­ter with the Post Of­fice au­thor­i­ties. Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bow­more, Is­lay PA43 7JX. Tel: 01496 810 658.

Caol Ila Dis­tillery is the big­gest on the whisky isle.

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