Port Dundas Distillery
74-80 North Canal Bank, Glasgow
The village of Port Dundas was named after the first president of the Forth and Clyde Canal Company, Sir Lawrence Dundas of Kerse. An advertisement for the sale of building lots in 1792 assured buyers that they would be "well situated" at the canal basin "for carrying on trade to great advantage with many towns in England, Scotland and Ireland". It added that the availability of water, and of coal brought by canal from the Monkland collieries in North Lanarkshire, would make the village "a most desirable residence". The intention that Port Dundas would be protected from "noxious or offensive manufactures" did not long withstand the play of market forces. It was recorded as "a busy place" in 1803.Robert Macfarlane bought a site in North Canal Street and Harvey Street, and paid feu (or land) duties for the first time in 1810. The business traded as Daniel Macfarlane & Co., which suggests a connection with the distiller of that name who worked in Paisley in the 1790's, at the same time as the Gourlays, who also established a malt whisky distillery in Port Dundas. Both firms took up the production of grain whisky in 1845, when they installed Coffey stills. The families in the two partnerships were connected by marriage, and eventually combined their distilleries in the 1860's. Additional premises in Borron Street were acquired, on which feu duty was first paid in 1871. Macfarlane & Co. was one of the six grain whisky companies which combined to form The Distillers Company Limited in 1877.
Port Dundas was the largest distillery in the British Isles, with an annual output of 2,500,000 gallons, when Alfred Barnard paid a visit in 1885. He was filled with wonder by the scale of its operations. Grain, in enormous quantities, was "imported by rail, canal and carts, direct into the works, where it is emptied into hoppers, and taken by elevators and screws to any part of the buildings at will". The necessary machinery was driven by seventeen steam engines, including one of 150 h.p. that worked eight pairs of millstones night and day. Ten boilers, each thirty feet in length and eight in diameter, raised steam for the engines and for the two Coffey stills. There were also five pot stills. The cereal residues from the process were sufficient to feed four hundred pigs, including some "highly-bred animals of great size" housed in pens decorated with their prize cards. An outbreak of swine fever wiped them out at the end of the century.
Port Dundas began to make bakers' yeast by an improved process, perfected by the Company after prolonged trials, in 1887.
An outbreak of fire on the night of 7 November 1903 destroyed the whole of the grain store and makings, with some operating parts of the distillery. According to the Glasgow Herald, "the fire had a peculiarly alarming aspect. The flames reached a great height, and their reflections could be seen all over the northern sections of the city. Heavy volumes of smoke also rose from the burning material". The distilling industry was then going through a period of recession; so it was resolved to close Port Dundas until the Company's surplus stocks of whisky had been sold. Its productive capacity was not needed, until a rise in demand for grain whisky, and the importance of safeguarding its yeast business, encouraged DCL to reinstate the distillery. A new maltings, mechanically equipped with a Galland pneumatic drum system, and a new boiler house, were built in 1913-14. Production of whisky and yeast resumed just before the Great War began. All spirit produced between 1916 and 1918 was devoted to the manufacture of munitions.
Port Dundas Distillery
Another great fire broke out in No. 6 warehouse, on the corner of North Canal Bank and Vintner Street, on 19 December 1916. This building, seven stories high, and measuring 250 feet by 120 feet, housed 0 hogsheads, each containing 65 gallons. "Fed on the inflammable spirits", the Glasgow Herald reported, "the flames assumed alarming proportions and at times shot into the sky to a height of over 100 feet. As the fire attacked the whisky casks, the latter began to burst with loud explosions, and each new crash was followed immediately afterwards by a stream of blazing whisky which rapidly found its way to the streets and thence to the canal". The burning whisky on the surface of the canal presented a danger to other buildings until it was extinguished by water pumped from the bottom. The roof of the warehouse collapsed at an early stage, "and its fall heralded a general collapse of the interior of the building. At regular intervals, as the fire ate away the supports, floor after floor fell into the basement, each in turn seeming to rival its predecessor in volume of noise". The possibility of fire on this scale occurring in warehouses of modern construction is fortunately remote.
Yeast made in DCL's whisky distilleries did much to safeguard the nation's bread supply throughout the Great War. Difficulty in delivery arose in the course of the General Strike of 1926, when arrangements were made to take Port Dundas yeast under guard to Greenock, where it was loaded on to destroyers and shipped to England. Production was transferred in 1938 to Glenochil Yeast Factory, near Alloa.Production of whisky, which had dropped severely in the first half of the 1930's, stopped completely when the Second World War began. All stocks of grain were requisitioned by the Government, and large quantities were dried and stored at the distillery on its behalf. A "shadow yeast factory" was built on the premises in 1942, in case others were knocked out by enemy action. In the event, it was never used.
Production of whisky, using only home-grown barley, started again on 1 January 1945. Maize was not available on the market for another ten years. A new boiler house was brought into use in 1949, and two new Coffey stills in 1954 and 1959. Stainless steel washbacks replaced the old wooden types in 1958. A carbon dioxide recovery plant was built on North Spiers Wharf in 1960-61.
The replacement of old plant, and the introduction of bulk grain deliveries, effected a gradual increase in productive capacity. A major programme of modernisation and re-equipment, de-signed to double output, and estimated to cost seven million pounds, was carried out in the 1970's. The necessary space was found mainly by the purchase and demolition of adjoining premises. A new grain intake and a new spirit store were completed in 1974; a new still-house, on the site of the old spirit store, began production in 1976, when the tunroom was also extended; and a new boiler house, and a dark grains plant, were built in 1976-77.
The makings, said to be one of the earliest reinforced concrete buildings in Europe, were closed in early 1983. The distillery is operated by Scottish Grain Distillers Ltd., a subsidiary of The Distillers Company p.l.c., of Edinburgh. Loch Katrine is the source of its water supply for all purposes. The Forth and Clyde Canal was closed to navigation on 1 January 1963.
Port Dundas grain distillery will close in march 2010
Glasgow’s Port Dundas distillery was a landmark, even though not many people actually knew what it was. It was built in 1811 at the highest point in the city next to the banks of the Forth & Clyde Canal. Another distillery, Cowlairs, started operation soon after and in 1860 the two sites – by then both with Coffey stills installed – merged. In 1877, Port Dundas was one of the founding members of the grain distillers’ conglomerate DCL.