History of The Dalmore Distillery
In 1839 The Dalmore Distillery was established by Alexander Matheson, a partner in the Hong Kong trading house of Jardine, Matheson & Co, the trading firm which took over from the East India Company and oversaw much of the trade (including opium) in and around China. Matheson leased the distillery to the Sutherland family, but with limited success.
The Mackenzie Brothers
In 1878 the lease was transferred to Andrew and Charles Mackenzie (forming Mackenzie Brothers), and it’s at this point that the Dalmore also acquired its signature 12-pointed stag crest.
The Mackenzie family received the royal crest as a reward in 1263 after Clan Chief Colin of Kintail saved King Alexander III’s life from a raging stag.
The Mackenzie Brothers expanded and upgraded the distillery. They worked closely with Matheson to increase the available market for their whisky and became the first malt whisky to be exported to Australia.
They did not overhaul the distillery entirely though, as they believed that small stills were best for distillation, and continued using the two original pot-style stills. A second still house was added in 1874, doubling the number of pot stills to four.
A third brother, William Mackenzie came on board in 1877 after a three year period of weak sales hit the industry and the distillery hard. There was a further downturn from 1884 to 1886, and an issue with their Australian distributor in 1887-88 proved costly.
According to Alfred Barnard, annual output was 80,000 gallons / 363,687 litres when he visited around 1887. Barnard states “the product of the Dalmore Stills [is] so highly prized … on account of its delicate, refined flavour and purity … [it is] used largely as a ‘self’ whisky without any admixture of the product of other Distilleries’. (1)
Uncommon for the time, The Dalmore was predominantly a single distillery malt, rather than blended with other distilleries’ whiskies. Barnard puts The Dalmore’s popularity down to its high-quality barley, peat and water, much of it sourced from the surrounding area.
Barnard notes that there were six bonded warehouses and three malt houses. One malt house was three stories high, with the top two floors used for storing barley and the bottom floor for malting. A second had only two floors, both used for malting, and the third malt house was four stories high, with three levels of storage and 1 for malting. Each malt floor had it’s own Steep, capable of wetting between 50 and 52 quarters of grain (1 quarter ~ 12.7 kg). The single peat-fired kiln was 40 ft by 30 ft and capable of drying “50 quarters every 48 hours” – this equates to roughly 635 kg. The mash tun was 16.5 ft in diameter and 5.5 ft deep, holding 2,700 gallons / 12,274 litres. (1)
In 1891 the Mackenzie Brothers purchased the distillery, and the surrounding 500 acres from Sir Kenneth Matheson, his father Alexander having died in 1886.
The Dalmore fortuitously had access to both rail and sea making it easy to receive and distribute goods. Rail track connected the distillery to the Alness station on the main line, which permitted the direct delivery of barley and coals and removal of finished whisky. The estate also contained the Belleport Pier, which stretched out into the Cromarty Firth, permitting the landing of steamers carrying further supplies of barley, coal and other goods such as casks.
From Boom to Bust
In 1892 the Mackenzie Brothers commenced additional works to expand further and upgrade the distillery. The works would take almost eight years to complete, but by 1892-1893 enough had been done to see Dalmore produce 100,000 gallons / 454,609 litres for the first time. Output climbed to 271,694 gallons / 1,235,145 litres in 1895. Whisky was a booming industry! However, anyone familiar with Scotch whisky history will know this doesn’t end well. By 1900 the works were finally completed, and the market had collapsed under an oversupply of whisky. The Dalmore had been operating at half capacity for two years.
Andrew Mackenzie attempted to get into the blending and bottling business via his son Thomas, forming T M Mackenzie & Co at Invergordon, but it was to little avail. A costly legal battle saw the Mackenzie’s and Dalmore in financial strife by 1908. They were forced to offload the bulk of their stock, and although they found a willing buyer in John Dewar & Sons, the fortunes of the Mackenzies did not improve.
After a distillery fire in 1911, and mounting debts, Andrew Mackenzie was forced to sell the estate in 1913 to keep the distillery alive. The distillery and the industry had just started to recover when war broke out.
Commandeered by the US Navy
Not only was the use of barley prohibited due to rationing, but the distillery’s convenient proximity to the Cromarty Firth and the nearby port of Invergordon saw it commandeered by the US Navy from 1917-1920. Transformed into Navy HQ, the site was used to assemble mines. The completed mines were sent by rail to Invergordon for loading onto Naval ships which would then unload them into the North Sea, forming an impenetrable line from Norway to Orkney.
The Naval operations had severely damaged the distillery (including a fire in the peat store, which destroyed other buildings) and it required substantial restorations to get it running again. Andrew’s son William Farquharson Mackenzie attempted to get compensation from the Admiralty. Andrew Mackenzie died in 1923.
A New Company and Another War
William F was forced to close the distillery in 1926. He opened it again under a new company, Mackenzie Bros, Dalmore Ltd in 1927 with a capital of £70,000 and the intention of selling it. Distilling commenced, but they could not find a new buyer. The distillery ran at a loss in its first year and continued to limp along until 1933, when the USA finally lifted prohibition, ushering in increased production and the construction of new warehouses.
Just in time for World War 2.
The Dalmore ceased production from 1939 until 1945. William F Mackenzie died in 1946, and his son Hector Mackenzie took over.
Whyte & Mackay
From 1955 to 1958 Hector added three new warehouses, introduced a new stacking system, and in 1957 had the stills upgraded to mechanical stoking. Since the early 1900s, The Dalmore was sold predominantly for use in blends, and in 1960 Hector merged Mackenzie Bros. Dalmore Ltd with its long-standing customer Whyte & Mackay Ltd, forming Dalmore, Whyte & Mackay Ltd. In 1966 the number of stills was increased to 8.
Whyte & Mackay has seen a few corporate changes in the last couple of decades. The present overseers of Whyte & Mackay and the Dalmore distillery are Emperador, part of Alliance Global Group (Philipines).
Where Is Dalmore Distillery?
The Dalmore Distillery is in Alness, Ross-shire, Scotland IV17 0UT. For bookings and enquiries phone 01349 882 362
The Dalmore Distillery is an easy 21 miles / 34 km from Inverness along the A9.
The 25X bus Inverness-Invergordon can drop you at the nearby Morrisons, a 750-metre walk from the distillery. See http://www.travelinescotland.com for more information
Scotrail runs trains from Inverness to Alness station, a 1.1 km walk from the distillery. See http://www.travelinescotland.com for more information
Dalmore Distillery Photo Gallery
References & Further Reading
- Alfred Barnard, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 2008 Edition, first published in 1887 by Harpers Weekly Gazette
- Canmore, “Alness, Dalmore Distillery” as at 26/07/2017
- JISC Archives Hub, Records of Mackenzie Bros, Dalmore Ltd, whisky distillers, Dalmore, Highland, Scotland. as at 26/07/2017