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Issue 79 - Burning Issues

Whisky Magazine Issue 79
April 2009


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Burning Issues

How often have we read in a distillery's history a phrase along the lines of “…the following year much of the site was devastated by fire…”? Gavin D Smith investigates in the first part of our series.

The fact is that many of our older distilleries have, at one time or another, experienced a serious fire, and some of these blazes can be attributed to the use of ‘direct-fired' stills. High strength spirit and naked flames are not always a happy mixture. However, incidences of fires within production areas have been virtually eliminated since the widespread introduction from the 1960s onwards of steam and oil to heat stills indirectly.

Another factor relevant to distillery fires is that bonded warehouses containing millions of litres of flammable spirit are always just a source of ignition away from an inferno.

Traditionally, fear of fire has dictated that distillers do not store all of one year's production in a single warehouse or group of warehouses.

As many distilleries are located in comparatively remote, rural areas, some of the more prudent, or pessimistic, distillers took the precaution of investing in their own fire-fighting appliances, horse-drawn examples of which are now on display at Dallas Dhu and The Glenlivet visitor centre.

While the majority of distillery fires have been accidental, a number were quite deliberate, including those which destroyed the Deeside distillery of Lochnagar in 1826 and again in 1841. These episodes of arson were caused by illicit distillers, who resented Lochnagar's owner John Robertson taking out an official licence as a result of the 1823 Excise Act. That legislation made legal distilling more tempting than had previously bee...

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