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19th-centrury illicit whisky bothy discovered in The Cabrach

The site of an illicit still hidden deep in the Cabrach hills.

The site of an illicit whisky bothy thought to date back to the early 19th-century has been discovered hidden deep in the remote Cabrach hills.

Research historians, Gregor Adamson and Dr Kieran German with Sue Savege, Executive Director of the Cabrach Trust, filming with STV news near the site of the illicit still.

The bothy, which is still partly intact, is sheltered by a small crag and was built into the side of the hill, offering smugglers a vantage point to keep an eye out for excise men on the nearby highway.

The site was discovered by historians Gregor Adamson and Dr Kieran German, who are currently working with the Cabrach Trust to research local whisky distilling methods used in the Cabrach in the 18th and 19th-centuries.

Their findings will be used to shape plans by the Cabrach Trust to transform the existing Inverharroch Farm into a new Scotch whisky distillery operating on authentic historical methods.

Dr German said the find offered an exciting insight into long-forgotten smuggling methods.

“The bothy is nestled in a small neuk and undoubtedly, illicit distillers using this site would have had a clear view of excisemen approaching,” he said. “From the road, the only possible tell-tale sign of the bothy would be smoke arising from the process of distilling, but the backdrop of the hill and the weather would often obscure even this indicator of the illicit activity taking place.

“The existing well bears all the hallmarks of a smuggler’s bothy. In addition to being hidden, it is comprised of built stone walls to the front and side, and also has a entrance.

“The walls remain intact and the footprint of the bothy is easily identifiable. It is built into the side of the hill, so the two other walls are of earth and stone. A stream runs past one of the walls, before disappearing underground, so there was a constant source of running water.”

The site of an illicit still hidden deep in the Cabrach hills.

The site of an illicit still hidden deep in the Cabrach hills.

The bothy measures less than a square metre and would have had a roof covered in heather to disguise it.

The Cabrach was once ‘a legendary haunt of distillers’, with local inhabitants mixing farming and illicit distilling with great skill, using the difficult to access landscape to create a well organised underground network of illicit stills and a distribution system designed to evade customs and excise.

This bothy is located close to Powneed, home of notorious smugglers Ebeneezer and Peter Bain.

In 1823, after a number of attempts by Government to put an end to illicit distilling and smuggling, a new Act of Parliament heralded in the era of commercial distilling. As a result, licenses were issued in the 1820s for three new distilleries in the Cabrach at Lesmurdie, Cabrach, Tomnaven, and Buck at Blackmiddens.

Sue Savege, executive director of The Cabrach Trust, said: “This is a significant find and gives us some important insight into the role the Cabrach and its people played in the history of whisky.

“As well as providing us with information into the way the three legal distilleries operated and how the whisky was stored, matured and transported, the research project is intended to uncover details of the Cabrach’s illicit whisky history.

“While helping to shape the way we run the historic distillery, finds such as this one will directly shape the heritage centre that will tell the complete story of the Cabrach’s part in the dawn of the whisky industry.”

 

 

Kieran and Gregor’s research work is due to be completed by March with the planning application expected to be submitted soon. The estimated opening date of the distillery is 2018.

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