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Issue 98 - The Heart of the Empire

Whisky Magazine Issue 98
September 2011


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The Heart of the Empire

Gavin D. Smith goes behind the scenes at Diageo's grain plant.

If your idea of a Scottish distillery is something built from whitewashed stone and crowned with bold pagodas, then a visit to Cameronbridge in Fife might come as quite a shock.

The plant is vast in scale and modern in design, and its buildings betray nothing of their function until you get close enough to see that the two glass-fronted structures, the size of an office block, house a range of stills.

However, despite appearances, the distillery boasts a long and honourable heritage, having been established in 1824 by John Haig, of the great Scottish Lowland distilling and blending family.

Today, Cameronbridge is at the very heart of owner Diageo's blended whisky empire; providing a crucial grain component for the company's array of blends, headed by the best-selling Johnnie Walker ‘family.' The site also produces white spirit for Smirnoff vodka and Tanqueray and Gordon's gin.

In 2007, Cameronbridge was already turning out some 66 million litres of spirit per annum (mla), but that year saw the announcement of an extremely ambitious expansion plan, named ‘Project Forth' and designed to increase capacity to 105 million litres by 2013. The budget for this programme was some £45 million, and in addition to that expenditure, a further £65 million was allocated for a state-of-the-art bio-mass plant.

The man charged with overseeing the vast investment at Cameronbridge is general manager Jim McCowan, who has been employed by Diageo for the past 21 years, and based at Camer...

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