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Issue 57 - Still crazy after all these years

Whisky Magazine Issue 57
July 2006


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Still crazy after all these years

The small illegal stills of Speyside have been romanticised time and time again. But what was distilling really like way back when? Jim Cryle of Chivas Brothers decided to find out, and Dave Broom joined him

The thin trail of smoke was the giveaway. No matter how well the bothy was hidden, there was always the smoke. He'd heard of some who had built chimneys to draw it some distance from the bothy, others led it through peat stacks, or, like him, filtered it with the smoke from the farm itself.

Smith was safe enough here. Not as safe as the lads in the Braes, but who could get near them – the Bochel at one end, the Ladder Hills at the other. You could distil with impunity in the Braes, make no mistake. Right enough it wasn't so bad here. He looked down the valley.

“A crossroads of illegality,” as someone had called it.

You could meet with the Braes men and head north up Glen Rinnes; or jink over to Avonside to the Cromdales to meet the drove roads leading to Perth and all points south; or head across the Gallow Hill to Strathdon, Deeside and Aberdeen.

He was high enough to see the gaugers coming, he had time to make his whisky. It was a good place right enough and he was making decent money for his poor quality bere. The ponies would come, the cogies would be filled and that would be the last he'd see of it.

The Sassenachs seemed to like it fine, though it could be a struggle to make. Distilling bere was like distilling porridge.

“Smooth as milk,” someone had said in Edinburgh. “Bloody strange milk,” he thought.

But then who knows what they were used to drinking down there.

A thin trail of smoke is rising from the back of Glenlivet distillery. It leads to Ji...

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