Friday, 17 December 2010

Speyside Life - Too Much White Gold

As you may have heard, the winter of 2009-2010 has been one of the harshest in living memory in Scotland. Over the last twenty five years we have become used to mild winters. We get snow at the distillery, but after a couple of days it is followed by a thaw. Not this year. The snow started to fall in mid December, and it kept falling, and unlike other years it was not followed by a thaw. There was snow on the roof of my house from the 15th of December to the 13th of March. Even now, as I write in June, there is snow on the tops of the Cairngorm Mountains, to the south of Glenfarclas.

Now distilleries need snow. Water is one of only three ingredients in Malt Whisky, and we need a lot of water. A good snowfall ensures we have a good supply of water into the summer. A couple of years ago, following a mild winter and a dry spring, which led to a water shortage, we had to cut back production in May, not something we like to do.  The distillery also runs more smoothly if the water is colder, and it stands to reason, that if the water initially fell as snow, it will be colder. So important is snow that the late George Grant, the fourth generation of the family to manage Glenfarclas, described snow as ‘White Gold’.

This year however there was rather a lot of white gold, so much most distillery managers were not referring to the white gold in such an affectionate manner. Most distillery workers had trouble getting to and from work. Some were late in, other left early, but most at Glenfarclas did not miss a day, so we were able to keep the stills running.

The snow also caused quite a lot of damage. At Glenfarclas we lost gutters, and had leaking window frames, but compared to others this was a minor inconvenience. The weight of 60cm to 90cm of snowfall on some distillery warehouse roofs caused them to collapse. One distillery went to the extent of hiring a helicopter to spray antifreeze on their warehouse roofs, so as to melt the snow, and save their warehouse roofs.

Thankfully we did not loose any warehouse roofs at Glenfarclas, probably because they have all been built in the traditional dunnage style, a style which dates from the 1880s. The roofs of the traditional warehouses have much shorter spans than the more modern racked warehouses. Our approach of preserving traditions that have stood the test of time, has paid off, but in the most unlikely manner.

Robert Ransom
June 2010

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