A visit to Dalwhinnie, at over 1073 feet one of the highest distilleries in the land, is an opportunity to sample the `Gentle Spirit` of the glen.
See the distillers at work, harnessing the snow-fed waters of the Allt an t`Sluic, fresh from their journey through moorland heather, producing a wonderfully full-bodied, smooth and warming malt whisky. Dalwhinnie, in Gaelic 'The Meeting Place`, was where, in the past, drovers from the north and west would meet before driving their cattle onwards to the markets in Crieff and Falkirk.
The History of Dalwhinie Distillery
Situated high in the Grampian mountains, near the geographical centre of Scotland, Dalwhinnie has for centuries been a meeting place, principally for the cattle drovers travelling down from the north, or over from Kintail, Skye and the Hebrides,to the main markets at Crieff and Falkirk in the south. It is probable that there was at that time an illicit still at Dalwhinnie, to meet their needs, as the journey was long and arduous, and required frequent resting periods.
Despite the fierce weather and isolated site, 1057 feet above sea-level, the pure abundant water from the Lochan an Doirre-uaine high in the mountains, an ample supply of peat, and good communications by road and rail, were deciding factors in building the distillery at Dalwhinnie in 1898.
The three highlanders who promoted the business were in complementary professions for a distillery venture: John Grant was a solicitor and sheriff clerk depute for Inverness-shire, Alex Mackenzie, who designed the distillery, was an architect and burgh surveyor, and George Sellar was a grocer and draper.
They chose their site well, near the pure,cold source waters of Lochan an Doire-uaine, which flows underground to the distillery burn, Allt an t'Sluic, and bounded on one side by the Great North Road, and on the other by the main railway line south from Inverness
However, the owners of the Strathspey Distillery, as it was first called, had formed their enterprise at the end of the speculative boom in distillery building, and only months after it first began production, severe recession hit the industry and the company went into liquidation.
The next owner, AP Blyth, managing director of a distillery company in Leith, changed the name to Dalwhinnie, and called in a celebrated distillery architect of the time, Charles Doig of Elgin, to improve the building and plant.
In February 1905, AP Blyth & Son sold Dalwhinnie for £1250 to Cook & Bernheimer of New York and Baltimore, at that time the largest distillers in the united States. The purchase led to fears of a US takeover of the industry, but other Scotch whisky traders saw it as the first opportunity to promote sales in the North American market. The new owners proudly flew the Stars and Stripes above their warehouses in Leith where they blended "Scotch whiskies to suit the American palate"
Following the decision in 1919 to introduce prohibition in the US, Dalwhinnie Distillery was sold to Macdonald Greenlees & Williams Ltd of Leith, which in turn sold it, in 1916, to the Distillers Company Ltd. From 1930, Dalwhinnie was operated under the subsidiary, Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd., now part of United Distillers & Vintners
In the early 1930s Dalwhinnie was still untouched by many of the conveniences of the 20th century. There was no telephone and no electricity in the village, the distillery was lit by parafin lamps and equipment was powered by steam engines.
Then in 1934, a severe fire caused extensive damage. The distillery was rebuilt and refitted, and opened in 1938, only to shut down again during the Second World War as a result of government restrictions to conserve barley for food supplies.
Dalwhinnie was refitted again in the 1960s and the malt barns were converted to warehousing in 1979. The private railway siding was closed by British Rail in 1979, and a new stretch of the A9, built in the 1970's, bypassed the village and the distillery.
In 1992 the distillery closed for a £3.2 million refurbishment, re-opening in March 1995, and now employs 6 people in the production of the "gentle Spirit".