The forgotten blend
Tynron is a sleepy Scottish town and it once had its own whisky. Dave McFadzean goes in search of this unusual blend
It is almost two decades since I first heard tales of the whisky making that once took place in the sleepy hamlet of Tynron.
Some older folk could remember the hard stuff being produced and consumed around Tynron and who actually produced it.
However it remained an elusive mystery whether this business was a legal or illegal distillery or a blending and bottling operation.
Nestling on the banks of the Shinnel Burn it’s one of the last places you would expect to be famed for its former trade in whisky but further investigations proved that Tynron Kirk, as the village was previously known in past times, had a different story to tell.
It was suggested that the whisky came from an illicit still hidden on the wooded braes of Shinnel Glen.
Somewhat in desperation I contacted the modern Customs and Excise people in Dumfries to see if they could help me find information on this elusive whisky trade.
Roger Ede, one of the officials at Dumfries, is a keen and very helpful amateur historian, particularly on whisky related subjects.
Roger looked into past records for the Dumfries Collection and pointed out that no illegal whisky operations had been recorded in that vicinity. In the end it fell to the late Robbie Dobie to solve part of this whisky puzzle for me.
Robbie was a retired publican and whisky connoisseur who was born in Tynron.
“Whisky was never distilled up at Tynron,” Robbie disclosed. “Tynron Kirk Whisky was only blended and bottled there from whisky brought in from elsewhere.” Robbie said he had tried a dram from one of the blends of this whisky and found it rather poor quality. He also knew a woman in Penpont who still had an unopened bottle of Tynron Kirk.
It was the local merchant Jimmy Laurie who founded the whisky trade. Laurie had a general store and ran the post office in Tynron.
He was also the 19th century equivalent of the modern travelling grocer hauling all the needs of the folks from the surrounding glens in his horse and sprung cart.
Laurie’s trademark on goods he packaged from bulk was a curling stone. He carried all life’s necessities including his own whisky.
The whisky proved popular overseas and consignments were sent all around the world.
Politicians enjoyed Laurie’s dram and he gained the contract to supply his spirit to the Houses of Parliament. Laurie retired in October 1914 and his former apprentice Willie Wilson carried on the business.
It was Kevin and Jill Bailey who solved the final part of the story of whisky trade in Tynron. They bought the old post office and over time several valuable papers were found during their refurbishment that relate to the whisky business.
These documents show that Laurie and Wilson were only whisky merchants and they bought their spirits from various distilleries for bottling and blending.
The whisky came by steamer and rail from the Highlands. The horse and cart then brought the raw liquor to Tynron.
Secret recipes were then used to blend the different whiskies.
Water from a well behind the village was also used in the blending. The whisky was then pumped into bottles or large earthenware jars known as pigs. The whisky was sold in two strengths: 70 proof and 80 proof. In Wilson’s time eight separate whiskies were offered for sale. Old Lagavulin was there most expensive dram at 4/6d (221/2 pence) a bottle or 27/- (£1.35) per gallon.
The finished whisky was carted back to the station for shipment around Britain.
Customers abroad had to be more patient and wait for their boat to come in.
“A bottle of Tynron Kirk was once found in the Sahara Desert,” one local explained.
“Sadly it was empty.” There is a large Tynron Kirk whisky pig in Dumfries Museum and alas that is also empty.
Wilson lost the parliament contract around 1918 and not long after that gave up the trade.
A local tale persists that Willie watered down the whisky so much that even the Westminster politicians complained. When the Excise checked his whisky he was politely told to cease operations.
Another theory is that he gave up the trade due to his religious convictions. This may be true as he was a Kirk elder of some 40 years standing. In later years several local businessmen approached Willie to try and buy his secret recipes and revive the trade.
“Those secrets will die with me,” was always Willie’s determined reply.
That is exactly what happened and when Willie Wilson died in October 1969 his recipes were lost forever.