Grange Distillery

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Grange Distillery

This is a copy of a photograph of a Grange Distillery whisky label - which has returned to Burntisland after a lengthy trip round the world. (Postscript - Comment from Ian Buxton in February 2009: "The 'label' shown on your webpage is, in fact, I believe a late Victorian showcard or poster. An identical poster was recently for sale in an antique shop in Dundas Street, Edinburgh. It dates from after 1888, as the firm only became a limited company at that time.")

We are grateful to Mary Neill of South Canterbury, New Zealand, for sending us the copy. Mary's late father, William Nicol, was born in 1902 at Kirkton Farm, Auchtertool, which supplied barley to the distillery. William's mother was Elizabeth Bisset, daughter of a flour mill owner in Burntisland and brother of James Bisset who became a well known chemist in the town.

Mary herself got the photograph from a friend, Helen Southen, also of new Zealand. Helen's great great grandfather, Alexander Doig, was a millwright at the distillery at the time of the 1841 census; and an engineer at the 1851 census. And Helen in turn got the photo from a cousin in Canada!

The picture of the distillery on the label shows an impressive industrial complex. Sadly, there is little left today. The distillery warehouses were in use up to 1987, but all save one were demolished around 1990. The distillery manager's house has recently been converted to a modern residence.

Grange DistilleryThe picture (right) was supplied by Andy Wight-Boycott of Burntisland; its provenance is unknown.

The remainder of this page comprises:

* February 2016 - We understand from sources in Ireland that the Grange Distillery was the first Scottish distillery to instal a Coffey still - in 1833.
* January 2017 - Marilyn Edwards of Craigencalt Rural Development Trust has published a most interesting paper, "History of Craigencalt". It provides information on the Young family's involvement with Craigencalt Mill.
* November 2020 - Aberdour resident and vlogger Mitch Bechard has produced a quirky and entertaining piece on the Grange Distillery. Click here to view it (7 minutes; opens in a new tab or window).

A  Brief History of the Grange Distillery

(An extract from 'Scotch Missed: The Lost Distilleries of Scotland' by Brian Townsend (Neil Wilson Publishing, 1997, 7.99). Published in the 'Burgh Buzz' in January 1999 with the author's permisson. 'Scotch Missed' provides a useful history of former distilleries - other Fife entries cover distilleries at Auchtermuchty, Auchtertool and Drumcaldie.)

"The Grange Distillery has a fascinating story - Texas soap-opera stuff rather than the genteel decorum of Victorian Scotland. Like several distilleries, Grange started as a brewery in 1767, the proprietors being Messrs Boog and Thomson, who agreed a deal with the town council in July 1780, to pay 55 a year tax for permission to supply beer and ale to the locality.

Six years later, the brewery was converted to a distillery and for almost all its 130 years of operation, it was linked to the Youngs, who owned the farm on which it stood. They either operated the distillery or leased it to others to operate. They gradually became one of the area's wealthiest families, owning a wide swathe of properties and donating Burntisland's Music Hall to the town in 1869.

The distillery was rebuilt in 1806 and in 1813 was licensed to William Young and Co. The firm was reformed three times in the next 52 years and was leased in March 1855 to Messrs Currie and Gellatley, though how long they held the lease is not known. William Young became a limited company in 1888 and on 7 July 1914, it joined four other distillery companies (Clydesdale, Wishaw; St Magdalene, Linlithgow; Glenkinchie, Pencaitland and Rosebank, Falkirk) to form Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd (SMD) which in turn became a subsidiary of the vast DCL empire.  Grange could well have closed in the mid-19th century but for the determination (the less charitable might call it the obduracy) of the Youngs. To ensure adequate water supplies, Grange tapped two burns, the Binn and the Lonsdale (or Lansdale), which flow from the Binn.

Around 1858 one David Logan started operating Grange Quarry uphill from Grange and his expansion plans would have eventually affected both streams. The Youngs obtained an interim interdict to protect their water supplies, which led to a 40-vear legal tussle between them, Mr Logan and the farmer from whom he leased the land.  David Logan had to install a one million gallon reservoir on his land at his expense (600), plus piping from the Binn Burn's source at Dunearn Loch. It was not until November 1898 that a final water supply agreement was signed between the parties, duly registered in February 1899.  The correspondence file on the matter was said to be inches thick and the exasperation felt by Mr Logan and his lawyers surfaced in their letters many times.

By the 1880s Grange was a well equipped place with much modern plant.  Insurance valuation for whisky stocks and equipment was a respectable 141,165 in 1888. That was when new spirit was traded at 2/4d a gallon, with two pence a gallon being added each year up to five years of age. In the 1890s Grange employed a travelling salesman, Andrew Keddie, to sell its Old Burntisland Malt Whisky. He was followed by William Reekie, who was paid the princely salary, of 200 a year.

Barnard commented that, for all its old-fashioned appearance, Grange was well laid-out and equipped. However, all this was to no avail when the bad times came 30 years later.  Shortly after helping to found SMD, distilling at Grange was closed down for the duration of World War I.  Production resumed after the war, but ceased totally around 1927. Extensive use was made of the warehouses until 1987 when they too were decomissioned. The great cast-iron reservoir built at the hilltop is still there and water can be heard running from it under the steep, hilly site in a culvert.

Grange may never be a distillery again but there is more than enough on site that bears silent witness to its former existence."

 William Erskine's Memories of the Grange Distillery

(William Erskine, in his 'Glimpses of Modern Burntisland' (Fifeshire Advertiser, 1930), writing shortly after production ceased in the mid 1920s, recalls the history of the distillery.)

"THE RISING OF THE 'GRANGE' - Prior to the rise, decline and fall of the fishing industry, there had arisen one of the mighty sons of 'John Barleycorn'. He took up residence on the outskirts of the burgh, to wit, the Kirkton, fully 140 years ago, the date of his rising being 1785. He selected a site near the base of the Binn, and nestling cosily there from the chilly north wind, took to the distilling from malt grain, aqua vitae. In other words, the 'Grange' distillery was added to the few of the burgh's industries. The promoters of the establishment were the Messrs Young. Where they came from is immaterial, but their coming infused fresh life into the dry bones of the burgh. The direct effect of their coming was to give employment of a special kind to men who were in need of it. To those, however, who are anxious to earn only an opportunity for doing so is needed, and before long the 'worms and still' were at work. The spirit was turned out in thousands of gallons, and distributed over the length and breadth of the country, and to countries both adjacent and remote. The product had a flavour peculiarly its own, inasmuch as it was of the 'peat-reek' order, so acquired because of peats being used in the process of distillation. This, however, was no deterrent to its consumption, and the fact that the annual production rose to 200,000 gallons demonstrated that the flavour had created a demand. It can hardly be said that the distillery was a large employer of labour, as a few scores sufficed to carry on, but the most of them were experts in their special departments. It necessitated, too, the presence of those who are classified as 'gaugers', men who not only regulate the 'proof' of the product, but who keep watch and ward over its prepara-tion and distribution. Such men are generally a step or two above the common, and in point of intelligence become an asset to any community. In the case of the 'Grange', the Excise men for the most part were 'jewels' of the first water. Many of them were of Irish extraction, and well-endowed with wit of a sort that was both facetious and free. To the inquisitive visitor they were generous even to a fault, and if proof were requested of the strength of the 'dew', they invariably found that they themselves speedily developed a 'weakness'. Such guardians of the State's interests imparted to the 'Grange' a high tone, and made friendships that lasted for years.

The Messrs Young themselves, for many years, not only enjoyed the fruits of their venture, but amalgamated their personality with that of the people. 'Wullie' Young became a familiar personage, and the name of the firm one to conjure with. They became patrons of pastimes that brought them in touch with the people, and patrons of all that was worthy of patronage. They were the only persons in the burgh's history who have perpetuated their name by making a gift to the people. In 1869, they presented the Music Hall to the town, and although the population has increased since then by a few thousands, it still remains practically, the only place for public meetings. Influential as the Messrs Young were, they were ably supported by a band of colleagues, who added to the Company's strength. Of these there were Mr Wishart and Mr Gavin, Mr Henry Thomson and Mr John Blyth, the latter of whom only passed away recently. In those days the 'Grange' was a privately owned concern, and limited liability companies were only in the matrix of commerce. For generations it remained so, and flourished; when it became ' Limited', it gradually reached the stage of 'limitation', and dropped to the state of 'care and maintenance'."

 The Grange Distillery in the mid 1880s

(Anyone interested in the history of Scotch whisky will have heard of Alfred Barnard, whose magnum opus, 'The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom', was published in 1887. Between 1884 and 1886 and using every imaginable means of transport then available, Londoner Alfred and some friends undertook an amazing tour of the whisky distilleries of the United Kingdom - 129 in Scotland, 28 in Ireland and 4 in England. Fortunately for us, the Grange Distillery, Burntisland, was on his list. It got a good report from him, and this is reproduced below. Copies of the 1887 book are very rare, and the extract came to us via the 'Burgh Buzz' of January 1999, the editor in turn having got it from Norman Mackie of Burntisland.)

"To the Distillery we bent our steps next morning and were deeply interested in this ancient work. Although, on a near inspection, we found that the buildings possess an old-world look, they are most conveniently arranged internally, the proprietors having brought to bear considerable ingenuity and experience in their rearrangement, and  the Distillery will now compare favourably with any work of its size in the Kingdom.

The Grange Distillery has been in existence 100 years, having been established in 1786 by the grandfather of the present proprietor. It possesses a fine water supply; that used for mashing comes from a loch belonging to the Distillery on the top of Dunearn Hill, in the neighbourhood, some 100 feet above sea level, and is pure soft water free from any contaminations, and is conveyed through a copper pipe nearly a mile in length direct to the Distillery. The condensing water comes from a burn which rises among the hills to the north and west and runs through the works, over which supply there is a servitude.

The ground enclosed covers over six acres, and is all built upon. The buildings are of stone with tiled roofs, except the Still House, which has a roof of iron. The Distillery forms three separate ranges of buildings along the valley. The brewer, Mr. H. Thompson, who resides in a charming, old-fashioned house on the premises, was our guide, and conducted us first of all to the five Granaries and Maltings, all of which are three-decked buildings. The Maltings or Growing floors are concreted, and the Steeps built of iron and stone. We commenced our inspection at the No. I Building, which stands beside the entrance gates of the Distillery, and passed on through the series of floors, which communicate by a gangway bridge, to the Kilns.  While crossing one of these bridges we had a magnificent view of the Forth, with Arthur's Seat and Carlton Hill in the background.  

The Maltings have a storage capacity of 3,500 quarters of malt and 4,500 quarters of barley, with a malting power of 400 quarters per week. The barley is purchased principally from the farmers in the district, who deliver at the door of the Granaries. We noticed that the Kilns were more lofty than some we had seen; they have open roofs, are floored with iron plates and heated with peat and coke in open chaffeurs. From this department we crossed the yard to the second range of buildings, and were first shown the Mill Building, which consists of three floors, and contains in the Mill two pairs of Malt Rollers, which pulverise the malt at the rate of about 25 quarters per hour. The Grist Loft is underneath, and the grist is conveyed by Elevators and Screws to the Hopper and Mashing Machine over the Mash Ton.  

We next made our way to the Mash House, a well-ventilated building, containing a Mash Ton, 22 feet in diameter and 7 feet deep, capable of mashing 100 quarters at a time, and possessing the usual revolving stirring gear. The draff from the Mash Tun is removed by elevators and screws to the farmers' carts, this valuable commodity being in great demand for feeding cattle. On a stone gallery in this house are placed three fine Heating Coppers of the shape of an orange, heated by steam, and holding together, 20,000 gallons.  

We then ascended a few steps and found ourselves in a lofty apartment, called the Tun Room, which contains ten Fermenting Backs, with a working capacity of 6,000 gallons each. The Wash Charger, having a capacity of 6,500 gallons, is placed on an iron gallery next to the Still House so as to command the Stills, and is built of metal, instead of wood, as in most places. Our guide then conducted us to the Still House, an entirely new building, well lighted and ventilated, arranged on the most modern principle and fireproof  It contains two old Pot Stills, by Fleming and McLaren, of Glasgow, of 4,000 and 2,400 gallons, cubic content; the Still power is capable of producing 6,000 to 7,000 gallons per week.  In this house are also placed the following vessels: - the Low-wines and Feints Charger, holding 3,000 gallons, and the Low-wines Receiver 3,000; also a Safe with sampling apparatus. There are two large circular tubs at the rear of this building, with condensing worms. The Spirit Receiver Room adjoins, and contains a Spirit Receiver and Feints Receiver. Nearly all the work in this Distillery is done by gravitation. We noticed that the Coolers, assisted by a large Refrigerator, cover the entire roof of both the adjoining Granaries. This is an excellent arrangement, and is frequently adopted; but we have often wondered in our travels why distillers do not put all their vessels which contain hot and cold water on the roofs of buildings, as besides making use of the room taken up on the ground, they have water ready to flood the buildings always at hand in case of fire; the plan is frequently adopted in Ireland.  

Attached to the Still House is the Engine Department and our attention was directed to a fine new steam engine, by J. Brown, of Kirkcaldy, which drives the Still chains, and pumps the low-wines, feints and spirits to their respective chargers. The two steam boilers measure 23 by 6 1/2 each.  Adjacent to the Still House is the Spirit Store, which contains a vat holding 3,895 gallons. The fire arrangements are most complete, extincteurs and stop-cocks are placed on every floor, whilst the hose commands every building. At one end of the courtyard there is a smithy, a joiner's shop, and a capital cooperage, also stables, cart-sheds, and stores.  

The gas-works are quite detached and are most complete. Messrs. Young & Co. make all the gas used on the premises and in the houses adjacent occupied by the managers, clerks, and Excise gentlemen. We next retraced our steps to the lower part of the enclosure, where are ranged 19 Bonded Warehouses; having a storage capacity of 650,000 gallons. Some of these buildings are new, they are all well ventilated, and on the ground floor. There is a capital arrangement in this Distillery for collecting all the foulage into a settling tank, and running it there from through a pipe into the sea. The old-fashioned mansion, formerly the residence of the proprietor of the Distillery, has now been turned into fine offices for the clerks, managers and principals.

The Whisky is a fine Lowland Malt, and the annual ordinary output of about 200,000 gallons is within the capacity of the work, as 260,000 gallons have been made under pressure of orders. All the produce is sold in Scotland, England, India, and the Colonies.  There are six Excise officers on the premises and a supervisor, Mr. S. T. Kinsman."

Whisky label

2,585 for a Bottle!

To end, here's an interesting tale from the April 2001 issue of the 'Burgh Buzz': "Kirsty MacDonald, who is Assistant Manager of the Whisky Shop in Edinburgh, is also a native of Burntisland. She spotted an exceptionally rare bottle in a recent auction. Described as 'O.B.Grange, a 7-year old malt from the early 20th century', the whisky had been matured and bottled by William Young & Company, Grange Distillery, Burntisland. The whisky was in a green, hand blown bottle, with driven cork, and had a lead capsule embossed 'Finest Scotch Whisky' on top. The distillery was described in the catalogue as being incorporated in 1888 and 'silent from 1925'. Tempted though she was, Kirsty couldn't compete with the successful bid of 2,000 for the single bottle, which went to an American collector. With commission and VAT, the total cost was 2,585. Its sale price placed it firmly in the top ten most expensive lots in the auction, out of about 500 malts."

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