Iron Rails and Whisky Trails
The wealth of Scotland's physical heritage lies in its heather clad mountains, moors and lochs and ancient pines with their wild life but of course there is much more; tartan, bagpipes, castles and the stone built distilleries with their quirky oriental style pagoda kiln roofs, nestling in Straths and Glens. Here is made Scotland's 'Liquid Gold'; Scotch Malt Whisky or 'Usquebaugh', so closely linked with moors and rivers. The people who work in the whisky industry always extend the warmest of welcomes to visitors, who are now catered for in over seventy-five distilleries, of which some thirty have full facilities including retail shops; it goes without saying that the welcome extends to a 'wee dram'.
Railways played a major part in the growth of so many of the isolated distilleries. Standing as they do in sparsely populated hill country, such distilleries depended on the local railway to bring in coal and barley and sometimes peat. A vital and equal part of the equation was that railways carried the casks of malt whisky to a newer and wider market. In the earlier times, whisky was sold by the wooden cask as many local brewers, pub owners, blenders and retailers blended and bottled by hand or served direct from the cask on stillage. With the growing whisky industry, not only was malting centralised but so were several industries that were once ancillary to the trade. Bottling rose to increasing importance, with the establishment of brands and the marketing of Scotch worldwide. This led to individual bottle shapes and label designs to affirm the brand, supported with memorable slogans; ceramic flagons have also been used to great effect especially to promote premium blended whiskies. Many of these pottery flagons are in turn made in Scotland, as are the glass bottles. Other associated industries included the making of copper stills and brass foundry castings for plant, and also the cooperages to repair the thousands of casks 'in trade'.
The early 'moonshiners' should not be forgotten, as are the 'misdemeanours' (an abstract noun annexed by the Trade to describe thieves) who illicitly abstracted whisky from railway wagons, in ever more ingenious ways. As well as all this we look at the whisky industry as it was of old down to present times, concentrating on those distilleries which relied upon the local railways, but not forgetting those built beside canals and those out in the Western Isles that rely to this day on small vessels sailing out of Glasgow. The Clyde 'Puffers', special three-man ships, they were made famous in the film Whisky Galore; they keep the islands supplied and bring back to the mainland their precious cargo. Not to be forgotten in these times of environmental concern, the disposal of spent grains and burnt ale is discussed. Last but not least, just what is the ill-sounding but wonderful 'Reek of Peat'; that flavoursome fuel with its impact on the malt used to make the initial brewing wort?