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The Dumbarton Distilleries; Grain and Lowlands.

   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 plant.

Dumbarton Distillery Bottlings
- No current official bottlings

Dumbarton Distillery Independent Bottlings
- Signatory
- Cadenhead's
 

   
 

Short Fact: 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.

   
 

Character: The aromatic intensity is low, and tends to be grassy or herbal, with grainy and floral notes.

   
 

Production at Dumbarton

   
 

Dumbarton Distillery General Information
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 malt distilleries.

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 achievement.

   
 

Dumbarton Distillery, Lowland

   
 

Dumbarton Distillery
High Street
Dumbarton
Scotland

     
 
       
  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.
   
 

Contact Dumbarton

   
 

Dumbarton Distillery
High Street
Dumbarton
Scotland

     
 
       
 

Owner: Hiram Walker & Sons, Ltd. Walkerville Windsor, Ontario N8Y 4S5, Canada. Phone: +1 519 254 5171. Part of Allied Distillers,

Master 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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