Cambus, near Alloa, Clackmannanshire
Alloa's main industries, according to the first Statistical Account of Scotland, published in 1793, were brewing, distilling, glass-making and textiles. They are the same today. The availability of coal for their furnaces, water for processes and power, and a harbour for cheap transport, encouraged the town's early industrial growth. More particularly, the fertile lands of the Carse of Forth and part of Clackmannan supplied the brewers and distillers with their raw material, barley. Much barley was also imported in sloops and other boats through Alloa Harbour and the wharf at the village of Cambus, where by 1815 there was a brewery, mills, and "a large distillery".
Cambus Distillery is said to have been founded in 1806 by John Moubray. The title to the ground, adjoining the River Devon, and formerly occupied by a mill, was acquired in 1823. The distillery produced Lowland malt whisky in pot stills until about 1836, when John Moubray converted it to grain whisky production. His successor, James Moubray, combined distilling with dealing in cattle, of which 450 head were kept at Cambus, growing fat on cereal residues from the process. Robert Moubray carried on the business after his father became financially embarrassed in 1843. He installed new distilling apparatus, "similar to Coffey's", under a licence of 11 March 1851, and greatly increased the scale of operations.
Robert Moubray was one of six firms which combined to form The Distillers Company Limited in 1877. The new owners bought Cambus Old Brewery in 1882 to increase the distillery's malting capacity. Four years later, a visitor wrote that the buildings covered eight acres (3.24 hectares) "everywhere intersected by the railway, with sidings to all the principal warehouses". Most of the supply of grain came in by rail, and the balance by horse and cart from the wharf on the River Forth. The machinery was driven mainly by steam power, supplemented by "a huge water wheel" fed by a lade from the River Devon. The engine house contained "four handsome engines with a combined horse power of 105", and six boilers. There were two stillhouses, each containing a Coffey still. A new stillhouse was being built, four storeys high. Service units comprised "coppersmiths', engineers' and carpenters' shops, a good cooperage, stables for five horses and cart sheds".
These scenes would have been familiar to a young man who joined the excise service in 1886 and worked briefly at Cambus: Philip Snowden. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first Labour Government, he became, as he wrote in his autobiography, "the political head of the State Department in which I had served for a time in the humblest position".
Early in the morning of 24 September 1914 fire broke out in the grain store and maltings. Workmen on the night shift made a vigorous attempt to put out the flames, but failed, and the Alloa and Stirling fire brigades were called out. The grain stores, mills, maltings, kilns, grain conveyors, stable and "motor house" were entirely destroyed; and because the flames were fanned by a strong south-west wind, there were fears that the bonded warehouses might be engulfed. This ultimate disaster was not realised; but the distillery had to close. It did not reopen for twenty-four years.
After the end of the Great War, Cambus was used as a bonded warehouse and as a maltings for Carsebridge Distillery. Demand for Scotch whisky revived strongly in 1936, largely as a result of
the reopening of the American market after the repeal of Prohibition. The Distillers Company accordingly decided to rebuild and refit Cambus at an estimated cost of £20. Demolition began on 7 January 1937. The debris, amounting to about 0 tons, was deposited on the foreshore of the Forth, with the aim of preventing floods in time of river spate or high tides. By May, when building began, nothing was left of the old distillery except a part of the stillhouse of 1886. This was incorporated in the new and larger accommodation for the stills and receivers. Production of whisky started early in December, and the distillery was formally reopened on 6 January 1938, with the prospect of employing about 200 men when it became fully operational in March. The Alloa Advertiser reported the event under the banner headline "Prosperity Returns to Cambus".
A scheme to build a mechanised Saladin maltings never got off the ground. Malt for Cambus is now supplied by bulk road transport from a Saladin maltings at Kirkliston, West Lothian. This plant, and Cambus itself, is owned by Scottish Grain Distillers Ltd., a subsidiary of The Distillers Company p. 1. c., of Edinburgh.
When whisky production started up again after the second world war, the buildings at Cambus were still comparatively new, and did not need to be altered or re-equipped to the same extent as those at other grain whisky distilleries. Three new projects, all for ancillary products, were however planned and put into effect in the post-war era.
The first was a rectification plant, commissioned in 1952. It provides a reserve production unit in support of Wandsworth Distillery, London, which makes gin spirit for the gin companies in the Distillers Group.
Recovery of carbon dioxide gas from the fermentation process began in 1953. Substantial quantities of C02 are produced for sale by The Distillers Company (Carbon Dioxide) Ltd. and despatched to customers by rail.
Cambus was the first grain whisky distillery in Scotland to make an economic re-use of the solids left over from the distillation process. A plant was built in 1964 to make "grain distillers' dried solubles", which was marketed under the trade name "Scotaferm" to compounders of animal feedingstuffs. This plant was converted in 1982 to make "dark grains", which combines the residues from the fermentation and distillation processes.
Storage capacity was increased to the equivalent of about 10 butts by the construction of eighteen warehouses in 1955-57. Space for future expansion was secured in 1982 by the purchase of Strathmore Distillery, which had closed two years earlier. These premises, operated as Knox's Brewery until 1957, had been converted to make "silent" malt whisky, and then grain whisky, in continuous stills.
S.G.D. also owns some 125 acres of grazing land adjoining the River Forth. As the riparian proprietor, it exercises its right to net fish from just upstream of the mouth of the Devon down to Alloa. This operation is directed from the former distillery jetty, locally known as "The Pow". Salmon, sea trout and some flounders are taken. The river is tidal at this point.
The Company owns nineteen houses in the village of Cambus for occupation by employees. A row of cottages, previously occupied by employees, was demolished, together with Cambus House, the former home of the Moubrays, to make room for the dried solubles plant. The distillery has its own football team and pitch, and helps to maintain the village bowling club.
Process water for the distillery comes from Lossburn Reservoir in the Ochil Hills and water for reducing spirit from Loch Turret.
Once a jewel in DCL’s grain distillery crown, Cambus now exists as Diageo’s cooperage hub in Alloa.