Saturday, 18 July 2015

Site of an Illicit Whisky Still?

We've been looking for one of these for ages. Now we think we have finally found the site of an illicit whisky still of the sort that was used in the Highlands in large numbers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and up until relatively recently.

It's tucked into a glen on the slopes of Ben Hiant on land that was part of the clachan of Choiremhuilinn. The site is perfect as it's secluded, invisible except from close-by, has a burn running beside it, and has woodland - a now carefully preserved area of Sunart oak woodland  - close by.

The site consists of a platform of rock which protrudes from a steep slope into a small bend in the course of the burn, just below a waterfall. The remains of a stone wall run around the burn-side of the platform, which might have supported a protecting roof.  The pile of stones just to the right of the rucksack....

....form what may have been the hearth on top of which stood the copper pot.

This picture shows a pot still of the sort used to make moonshine in the US, an apparatus which probably came across with Irish and Scots immigrants. The pot at right contains the malted barley mash which is heated over the hearth to produce an evaporate which travels up the copper pipe and into the coil which stands in a butt filled with water. Since this water needs to be as cold as possible to aid condensation, an ideal arrangement is to have water ducted into it from a nearby burn - this would have been easily done at the Ben Hiant site.

This picture shows a Highland whisky 'pot still' in action.  The pot - grey - can be seen inside the lean-to at left, with the pipe coming out of it leading into a barrel in which water would have cooled the copper coil.

Judging by the size of the hearth, the copper pot at the Ben Hiant site would have been easily large enough to produce whisky by the barrel-full, as shown here.

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