The town of Dumbarton stands on the
confluence of the River Leven and the Clyde, 15 miles
downstream from Glasgow. Dumbarton lies slightly inland
from the north bank of the River Clyde and astride the
River Leven, flowing south from Loch Lomond. The twin
peaks of White Tower Crag and The Beak dominate the
surroundings where the two rivers meet.
The name Dumbarton [dumBARton] refers to the origins of
the region and it comes from Dùn (Scottish Gaelic -
fortified stronghold) and breatainn (Scottish Gaelic -
Britons) meaning ‘fortress of the Britons’. It was the
Ancient Britons who first recognized the strategic
potential of the basalt rock which stood 254 ft in
height and commanded such magnificent views over the
surrounding territory. It became the capital of the
Ancient Briton's powerful Kingdom of Strathclyde. It
remains is one of the oldest fortified sites in Britain.
The town was the capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde
in the 8th and 9th centuries and became a Royal Burgh in
1222. For the next 600 years much of the history of the
town is reflected in the history of Dumbarton Castle.
The Castle officially remains a Scottish Royal Fortress
along with Edinburgh and Stirling, and the reigning
monarch, on his or her coronation, comes to the Castle
for the ceremony of handing over the keys.
Shipbuilding first became a really major industry in the
town in the early 1800s, best known of the shipbuilders
are probably William Denny and Brothers and their ship
Cutty Sark, the famous tea clipper. More recent
industrial ventures have included the building of
Scotland's largest grain distillery on the site of a the
old McMillan Shipyard in 1938.
There are two distilleries by the name Dumbarton
Distillery, one is the large Grain distillery acquired
by Hiram Walker in 1936 and founded in 1938 and the
other is a small lowland distillery founded in 1817.
Dumbarton Distillery, Grain
Hiram Walker acquired George
Ballantine & Co. of Dumbarton in 1936 and by 1938 Hiram
Walker (-Gooderham & Worts Ltd.) founded the Dumbarton
Distillery on the site of McMillan Shipyard on Castle
Street in the town Dumbarton. It was one of the largest
distilleries in Scotland and at one time the largest
grain distillery in Scotland.
The distillery is known to have used a rather unorthodox
security guard, "The Scotch Watch", to protect the
premises. It was formed in 1959 by Tom Scott and
commanded by a gander, Mr Ballantine. Originally it
consisted of five geese plus a gander and by 2001 the
flock had grown to about 100 birds. Most of them were
Chinese geese, but the regiment also counts a few
European geese among its ranks of excellent guards.
By 2001 Dumbarton had an annual production on 25 million
gallons of maturing whisky. It was the major contributor
to Ballantine’s blends.
Between 1938-1991 the Inverleven Distillery was located
on the premises, and in 1938 the distillery that opened
was a stunning £3,000,000 grain distillery. Inverleven
used two different types of stills; two pot stills
producing Inverleven malt and one Lomomd still, which
produces Lomond whisky at Inverleven even today.
In 1988 Allied Brewers acquired Hiram Walkers and Allied
Distillers was created shortly after. The Dumbarton
grain distillery was closed and mothballed in 2002, with
no plans to take up production in the future. The site
is currently being dismantled and the buildings
demolished. Reconstruction of the site includes plans by
architects to build either housing or a large combustion
Dumbarton Distillery Bottlings
- No current official bottlings
Lowlands typically have a
dry finish, which makes them excellent aperitifs. The
dryness comes from the malt itself, not from peat (Lowlands
tend to use unpeated malt), which also lends a certain
sweet fruitiness to the spirit.
aromatic intensity is low, and tends to be grassy or
herbal, with grainy and floral notes.
Production at Dumbarton
Water source: unknown.
Dumbarton whisky was distilled from maize and a
percentage of malted barley
The grain whisky in the 17 Years Old is unique, produced
exclusively from maize, by a special process, in a
continuous still which is a variation of Coffey's
original design. The mash is separated from the wort
before fermentation, a method introduced in Dumbarton by
Hiram Walker. Unmalted maize used to be the main
ingredient but a certain percentage of malted barley is
also required by law in all Scotch whisky. The spent
grains and evaporated spent wash are made into a dry
animal feed compound which has 27 per cent protein.
Grain whisky is widely produced for the blending
industry and is made mainly from wheat in Coffey-style
continuous stills. One of the advantages of the
continuous distilling system is speed; a grain
distillery the size of Dumbarton will produce as much
whisky in a week as the entire annual output of some
At Dumbarton, the rectifying column used around 50 per
cent more plates than the traditional Coffey still to
produce a whisky of finer quality. Otherwise the
principle is the same as that developed by Coffey: the
liquor passes down the column and the vapour rises. One
of the problems of a continuous still is that it has to
be checked for wear and tear while it is in operation.
But they often have a remarkable life span. Dumbarton's
rectifier, built in 1938 when the plant was constructed,
was replaced as late as in 1990.
By 2002 Dumbarton had become a very old-fashioned
distillery since no major reconstructions had been made
after the site was built in the 1930's. The distillery
proved to be very difficult to upgrade because the
column stills, typical of grain whisky production, went
up through the concrete floors, thus making the
structure of the building very difficult to expand.
Production was therefore moved to the Strathclyde
facilities, where Allied Distillers has another grain
whisky complex. The Strathclyde facilities use wheat and
a whole mash process where the grains are fermented with
the liquor, rather than separating the wort,
Dumbarton-style. The Strathclyde site was much more
flexible and was able to run on both maize and wheat.
Allied Distillers have made additional investments
(investing £6m) in the Strathclyde Distillery to raise
production by 25% to 40 million litres of alcohol per
year. There are currently seven grain distilleries in
production in Scotland.
Dumbarton grain whisky was extremely rarely bottled,
only for presentations and special occasions. Obtaining
a bottle is viewed by collectors as quite an
Dumbarton Distillery, Lowland
Also known as Dumbarton Bridge Distillery. It was
founded in 1816 and it is believed to have still been in
operation in 1851 but its current status is closed.
It was founded by John Hamilton, possibly the same John
Hamilton whom in 1790 founded the John Hamilton
Distillery in Kentucky in the US, also closed.
There are also vague records of another Dumbarton
Distillery that was founded in 1827.
Blender was Robert Hicks.
'Dumbarton supplies us with a perfect grain whisky -
a spirit that comes off the still light, fresh and with
a slightly sweet background.'
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