Auchnagie Distillery

Auchnagie Distillery (or Tullymet as it was later known) was located near the hamlet of Tulliemet, approximately 6 miles South East of Pitlochry in Perthshire. The land in this area is rural, a mixture of pasture and rolling hills, with ample supply of water flowing off of the high ground.

The Early Days

Local farms in the area (from the 17th century) were built next to the streams, and many generated power by water wheel. Auchnagie Distillery augmented its water supply by constructing a water pool just above the distillery site – the remains of this can be seen to this day. Auchnagie was reliant on water for both power and production. The water came from Loch Broom and flowed past the distillery via the Auchnagie Burn. The water had a particularly high mineral content, having been filtered through peat moss and granite. It was understood to be particularly good for making malt whisky.

Auchnagie’s channelled water source drained into a specially constructed pool, with a sluice gate positioned at the bottom to control the flow. This construction helped to prolong the distillation season. Barnard noted that there was no production when he visited as it was too warm for mashing – this was considered the norm, as Auchnagie, like other water-wheel powered distilleries was entirely at the mercy of rainfall for power supply.

Vital Ingredients

Bere barley (also referred to as beer or bygg) was the most common strain used. This was an ancient strain brought to Scotland by the Vikings. Availability of local and surplus barley generally governed the beginning and end of the distilling season. As an ingredient of whisky, its major drawback was inconsistent size of grains. This created unevenly malted barley, leading to partially malted barley being mashed adding a greenish flavour note to the flavour of the whisky.

Commercial yeast was not available until the 1870’s, although its influence in fermentation was understood. Farmhouses could maintain a homemade yeast culture made from potatoes and sugar.

Alternatively they could harvest a culture from the remnants of the washback. However this technique was prone to contamination with bacteria, and was not an efficient way to initiate fermentation.

The Equipment

Auchnagie peats were cut from the high ground above the distillery, adjacent to Loch Broom. Each family devoted time to securing their fuel for home and for industry. They were dried on the high ground and carted down to Tulliemet. The major components of the dried peats were heather and moss, which gave off a delicate, perfumed note when tossed on the fire. The copper mash tun would have been direct-fired by a mixture of coke and dried peat. The tun itself would have been made of wood and in the earlier years probably an oak puncheon. The washback would have been of wooden construction and in early years at least, unlikely to be purpose built. Early distilleries on this scale would have used a puncheon, or other portable vessel. The main problem would have been keeping the vessel free of yeast bacteria from previous batches of wash. Yeast works best in ambient temperatures and in the absence of any impurities. A build-up of bacteria would contaminate the wash with pungent farmyard off-notes. If this was in sufficient concentration it could halt yeast activity altogether, with potential loss of the entire batch.

Successive owners improved Auchnagie’s capacity, not by adding bigger stills but more likely they developed techniques to lengthen the season, such as adding the water pool, or providing consistent supply of barley.

Remains Of The Past

Today, the water pool remains and can be inspected as it is on Atholl Estates land, but it is an overgrown weed bed. The old water course is stone-lined for quite a distance upstream, creating a deep channel for funnelling water down to the distillery. The pool itself is pear-shaped, approximately 25 metres long, and 15 metres at its widest. There are the remains of a concrete sluice gate at the bottom. Aside from some old stone walls, there is little evidence of the old distillery itself, or the renowned whisky it produced.

Until now.