It was only a month ago when the world witnessed the most expensive whisky auction to ever take place with an estimated value of US$4.8 million.
It’s little wonder then that whisky fans have been rubbing their hands with news coming from Scotland that a 300-year-old whisky distillery may just have been discovered in a dense forest by archaeologists.
Experts believe the site, which comprises of two ruined farmsteads, were once used as an illegal distillery dating back to the 18th century. The remaining building, which now looks part of nature, was found in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park during a tree harvesting program by a local history society.
Matt Ritchie, who is the FLS (Forestry and Land Scotland) archaeologist tasked with analysing the site’s remains, believes that there are clear signs of its whisky-making past.
“The surviving narrow buildings are unusually long, and are associated with two large corn drying kilns,” said Ritchie.
“Set in a relatively inaccessible area yet close to Glasgow, in close proximity to water and with strong associations with a number of the important families in the district, it is possible that the site was a hidden distillery, producing illicit whisky in the early 19th century.”
An artist’s impression of Wee Bruach Caoruinn as a distillery in the 1800s
Strict laws on whisky production during the time meant that illegal whisky making was rife throughout the 1700s and 1800s. This practice was especially evident in the Highlands where the government was trying to control whisky production.
The 1788 Excise Act banned the use of stills that produced less than 450 litres (100 gallons) of whisky at a time. Excise officers were given the power to search and confiscate any illegal stills or whisky-making equipment they found in a suspected whisky distillery.
At the other end of the spectrum, legally made whisky was considered poor quality thanks to the high taxes imposed on malted grain. This drove some legal whisky makers to cut corners by using unmalted raw grain to make “corn spirits” instead.
Illegal whisky makers of the time bypassed this tax so they could afford to use higher quality malted grains. Their whisky was then smuggled into markets to be sold at a higher premium when compared to those of licensed distilleries.
“You can malt grain in a corn-drying kiln, and the long narrow buildings would have been perfect for fermenting and distilling whisky,” he says.
“I wonder if there had been illicit whisky being made at Bruach Caoruinn on an almost industrial scale. There is no surviving evidence, bar historical whispers.”
The farms of Wee Bruach Caoruinn and the Big Bruach Caoruinn were abandoned in the 1840s and by the 1860s Mother Nature had reclaimed the site. Somehow the narrow roofless buildings of this suspected whisky distillery continue to stand till this day but one question on everyone’s mind is whether there’s a secret whisky stash hidden somewhere inside.